The two men stood out in the crowd. They were wearing suits and ties. The Friday night audience nearly was filling the theater to see a production by the respected professional resident company in the university town where we live. Our seats near the entrance provided us a perfect view of most arriving patrons, an overwhelming majority of them dressed in casual wear, plenty of jeans and sandals among them. Except for the two men in suits and ties, one who appeared in his 40s, the other much older. They were dressed for an evening at the theater.
Maybe we should blame the Aloha shirt movement, or credit it, for the change. In the early 1960s, fashion interests in Hawaii began a campaign to make the casual shirt bearing a floral print an acceptable part of business wear. The argument was that Hawaii’s hot climate made the dress shirt and tie uncomfortable, thus unsuitable business wear for most men. This shift started a trend that quickly spread to the U.S. mainland. That in turn segued into our popular Casual Friday tradition, freeing men to leave their suits and ties at home and show up for work wearing jeans and sport shirts. Before we knew it, casual wear became more the rule than the exception, pretty much any day of the week.
I first noticed a change in the ’70s, when one could spot one or two showing up in the audiences at symphony concerts in jeans. Soon, dress shirts and ties disappeared from attendance at weddings, theater performances, even religious services. Ball caps cropped up everywhere. One might expect jeans and ball caps at an outdoor event such as a ball game or pig pickin’, but in a worship service? One man who attends my church regularly shows up wearing his ball cap and never takes it off during the worship service. Did his mama ever teach him manners? Whatever happened to removing one’s hat when seated at a table for a meal?
Remember when we dressed up to fly on a commercial flight somewhere? Pajamas and fitness wear now dominate the cramped passenger cabin. Comfort rules. Hard to argue with that. Fair enough.
Still, something inside me wants to wear a tie and dress shirt, at least some of the time. A few others appear to agree with me, very few. I suppose this is another sign of my age. I prefer to believe that it’s my way of showing respect for the setting, the event, and the especially the people who share the space with me.