Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Women voted 'best dressed' always underdress rather than overdress."

Here's an interesting tidbit about style from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing that I thought you all would enjoy.

In the "Selecting Your Patterns" section of the book, there are some thoughts about choosing the correct fashions for each occasion in your life. So says VoNBBS:
Always select a design with where-you'll-wear-it in mind, remembering that the women voted "best dressed" always underdress rather than overdress. Nothing can be more embarrassing or awkward than to arrive at a gathering and discover yourself too "dressed up." No matter how smart and pretty you looked in the privacy of your bedroom, if you're overdressed for the occasion, you'll wish you were back home, slipping into something more simple.
While I think this was probably good advice for the time, when supposedly many more women had ball gowns in their closets, I'm not entirely sure it applies to today. I find that I am often "overdressed," and it doesn't embarrass me in the least. But, then again, it's not like I've ever worn a formal gown to a cocktail party. It's just that I work with people who wear jeans and flip flops to the office on a daily basis. And I'm someone who doesn't entirely believe in casual Fridays. Work is kind of like an "occasion" to me, I suppose. When else would I wear all my cute dresses, skirts, and heels?

But also, in today's culture, I think it's pretty hard to be underdressed. I mean, people wear jeans to the opera, for goodness sakes.

VoNBBS goes on to make this (excellent, I think) point:
One of the best-dressed women we know measures fashion by comfort, and it's an excellent yardstick for making your choice. For if you are uncomfortable, the chances are you will never feel well dressed, no matter the occasion.
Now, there's an idea I can get behind!

What do you all think? Do you agree that the best dressed women always underdress rather than overdress?


  1. I'd rather be overdressed than underdressed. But you are right people don't get dressed up anymore. I go to fancy restaurants, shows, and plays and there are people in every attire imaginable. I love to get dressed up so I'll take my chances :)

  2. I think it was definitely true in 1952 but in the day and age where, like you said, people will wear jeans to the theater, I prefer to be dressed to the level I see the event holding. Even at the local theater, I will wear a dress (not a fancy one, but not a hang around the house dress) when people are wearing sweats and while that is "overdressed" I think it is not overdressed for the occasion.

  3. I think a lot of people today just don't care at all how they look. I look around at a restaurant that I had to make a reservation to eat at, and I see people wearing baseball caps and logo tees. And I think, "You went through the trouble of making a reservation, but you couldn't be bothered to take your hat off and comb your hair? Seriously?" So if that is what passes for "dressed for the occasion," count me in as preferring to be overdressed every time.

  4. I definitely love the last quote--that's so true! :)

    I dare say when this book was written, it was easy to be overdressed. Society as a whole had a sort of peer pressure and know-how about dressing well. The mere fact that women could have a morning gown/housedress, afternoon dress, and dinner or cocktail frock is evidence that people were much more attuned to dressing appropriately! With that sort of variety and occasions, I can see why they put the admonition to take into consideration not over doing it! Unfortunately that isn't our problem anymore... ;)

    I always end up overdressed, no matter where I go. Backyard bbq? There I am in a simple 50s style cotton sundress, amidst all the jeans and natty tshirts. I was definitely one of the most dressed up women in my age range at my husband's grandfather's funeral earlier this year. What was I wearing? A very simple, knit early 60s black sheath (a gorgeous thing with a draped neckline!), black pumps and a black a-line coat from the same era. My hair was done nicely and I had appropriate makeup on (nothing too flashy). But to everyone else that was wearing office casual, I was "overdressed". In my mind, I was just showing respect for a man that my husband and I both loved dearly.

    It's kind of frustrating when I walk out of the house wearing what women 50+ years ago would have considered casual wear, to be asked why I'm "so dressed up?". lol. But then again, the joke with my friends has always been that I'm incapable of dressing down. Even when I was attending college, I couldn't go to school in anything less than a nice outfit, my hair done, makeup and some pretty shoes. I guess in the sea of denim and track suits, I am overdressed. lol!

    Sorry for the ramble... this is one of those topics I think about a lot (probably too much!), and feel rather passionate about. ;)

  5. I don't mind being "overdressed." I think most people are far too casually dressed--especially where I live. If I wear a tailored shirt I'm overdressed. I do agree that you need to be comfortable to an extent. When you're shifting things around constantly, you look uncomfortable and awkward, and no one will care how nice your clothes are if you're doing that. On a side note, I'm personally horrified when people come to the opera in jeans. Seriously, it's one of the few truly classy places--at LEAST put on a nice pair of slacks.

  6. I used to overdress all the time, aka look nice. i hated sneakers and never wore them. then i started studying photography and was spilling chemicals all over my nice clothes. now my closet consists mostly of underdressing wear. jeans and tees. and i am dying for some good dress up occasions!

    I agree that people don't get dressed up like they used too. you can wear jeans everywhere and business casual is usually boring and something someone owns because they have to. i am also not fond of the way most young people "dress up" to go out. but i am kind of a grandma and i admit it!

    i think dressing so you feel comfortable is a good recommendation no matter what that entails, you r pajamas or a ball gown and tiara.

  7. I agree with you that being a tiny bit more dressed up than most everyone else these days is better. I'm sure that is because people dress so incredibly casually. Maybe it doesn't even require being dressed up, just put together. I think there are a lot of people who take very little consideration of their appearance, and take the comfort thing as a excuse to wear sweats everywhere.

    I didn't used to dress as nicely as I do now, and frankly it was because my self-esteem was low. I thought I wasn't worth taking the extra time and effort. I still struggle with sleepiness in the morning, but the only thing I have in my wardrobe that isn't at least flattering is my "painting clothes", and I only wear those when I'm doing things that could ruin my other clothes. My shoes could really use an upgrade, but I don't know where to shop for good shoes...

  8. As a SAHM, I tend to look overdressed on most days.I try not to look too dressed up,but it is hard when a lot of moms wear workout clothes ALL day long. As you see from my 'dress collection'(lol)...they are simple, cotton dresses, but I am constantly asked "where are you going today?" Thinking I am dressed up and going somewhere fancy. I always reply--"going home to vacuum!" I think, today underdressed is at a whole different (lower) level than 1950's!

  9. I agree with all the above posters.
    However, I don't think we, who chose to dress appropriately for an occasion are "over dressed", but rather those in jeans at the opera, or wearing baseball caps and logo tees or shirts without collars to work or out to dinner, are under dressed.
    I think when people make a comment like, "why are you so dressed up?" It's to make themselves feel better about they poor level of dress they chose.
    By feeling overdressed (or allowing others to make us feel that way) , when we are merely dressed appropriately for the situation, it allows the lower common denominator to become the new standard.

  10. I love this! I think it was true in that time, but nowadays when sweat pants, mini skirts, and Uggs run amok, I'd rather be "overdressed", though I never feel that way myself!

  11. Kristina, very good point!

  12. I definitely wish I had time to say more about this subject, because I think about it alot but instead I'll just say ditto to what Kristina said, which was brilliant. I am proud to be one of the so-called "overdressed" on most occassions. I mean, didn't I comment just a few days ago about how I have more formal clothes than I have places to wear them?'s a good thing.

  13. ditto ditto ditto.

    My sister and I used to joke that we never looked like we were going to the same event because she was always in flip flops and jeans and I always had a skirt on.

  14. I agree with everyone who has talked about being asked why they're so dressed up when wearing a simple dress & heels that let's face it took less effort to put on than if you had put on jeans, socks, and tied your tennies, it's more than what you're wearing, it's the dressing-up that is so symbolic and even off-putting to some people. I find at work in particular, there is a mindset among surprisingly many of "We don't have time for THAT" and looking down their noses at dressing up, and I think depends on the person whether because it's seen as vain to focus any attention on yourself rather than family, or just petty because dressing in something fun or in any way deliberate demonstrates having priorities way out of order. That may be a kind of midwestern thing though too, reluctance to stand out at all, suspicion of straying outside of the norm.

    My schoolteacher mom has said a few times that she doesn't understand why I dress up at work, because all of her coworkers my age dress so casually. But my dad, who worked in business, always kind of got it, not only is there something about the confidence you feel when you like what you're wearing, know you look put-together, but in many work environments, particularly larger organizations (even where like mine there is a business casual dress code) where you have to interact with a lot of people who may never get the chance to know you by the quality of your work, that first impression means a lot. I guess usually I'd rather start off on the footing where they think I came overprepared (ie. overdressed, taking the situation more seriously) than underprepared.

    But you know, maybe I just am vain & shallow, but I just really, really enjoy clothing. A cute dress makes my whole day just feel more joyful, puts a spring in my step all day.

  15. Overdressed! People just treat you better if you look like you make an effort.

  16. So many good comments here, I don't even know where to start! I think it's so true that it's up to us to determine exactly what is appropriate for an occasion--in other words, it's more subjective than it would have been in 1952 when there were very strict standards for time of day (the sheath dress in VoNBBS, for example, is called an "after 5" dress).

    I suppose what I like about our current culture is that we have the choice. I certainly have had Fridays where nothing is clean and it's all I can do to throw on a pair of jeans and a blouse to make it to the office. But I'm also free to wear a taffeta skirt if I want! We've come a long way, baby. :)

  17. Wow, what great comments! I totally agree with you Hillary and Casey :)!
    I feel I have every right to be 'overdressed' in today's 'anything goes' dress culture- I mean, if people can wear jeans to the opera as you say why shouldn't i do the reverse and wear a 50's dress to the corner store? There are no rules anymore apparently!
    But also, I personally like to make an effort with my appearance because I associate it with self confidence, and acting like I am worth making the effort if that makes sense. To explain it better, I think it is because when I was in highschool I was quite depressed. I used to dress in the plainest clothes imaginable, so that no one would notice me, and because I just couldn't be bothered,I didn;t care about myself and didn't want to make myself look nice. Now, when I make an effort to get dressed in the morning, I feel like it gives a sort of ceremony to my day, like saying, 'sure, I might only have some errands to run today, but thats my life and it doesn't mean I'm not worth it, that the friends and people I see during the day dont count, and that this day in my life isn't special enough to make an effort. I get to be creative every day too in my dress!
    Sorry for rambling, but this really is a topic I find interesting!

  18. I do not, ever, leave my house in sweat pants. I own one pair, black, for around the house but even if I need to run to the gas station next door...I will put jeans on. Unless perhaps I'm most awfully ill with the flu.
    You'll find actually, that its the same way in Europe (NOT the UK). Standards of dress are much more prevalent today there than in North America.
    As for this comment:
    "But also, in today's culture, I think it's pretty hard to be underdressed. I mean, people wear jeans to the opera, for goodness sakes."
    If I were to go to the Opera, I would wear a gown. I own one, my grad dress, but it would be worn. Much like my friend Julianne, who is known at the Opera by the box-office girls as the pretty girl who is always done up to the nines, with the guy in the tux. She told them she was going to Yale for a year, and they were all very depressed they would be missing her outfits. But then....her entire closet is vintage and repro from the 1950s!! The girl owns NOTHING modern.

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  20. I am totally blog stalking your archives.

    My workplace runs the gamut of appropriate wear. Personally, I'm usually in what my friends call 'full office drag' for the first part of the week (professional, with a naughty secretary twist) and by friday I've given up and I'm wearing jeans. But I would be sad if I worked somewhere where I couldn't wear my pencil skirts - and why would you give up a chance to dress up for anything?

    That said, I'm glad I can change into my jeans when I get home...

    I've had several arguments with older people becuase while I don't agree, I can see that people my age are going on the PRICE of an item of clothing, not its style. They will have regular tshirts, and then their fancy designer tshirts that are for the opera, etc. Again, I don't think I would, but maybe there's something deeper in there about people not having the same awareness of how things are made and where they come from, so that something like a tshirt (a couple of seams and we're done... don't forget the designer logo) is as much a status symbol as a more complex item of clothing that would previously have been more expensive and more of a status symbol.

  21. I am also archive post stalking, I can't help myself.
    Wow, its so validating to hear other people get "accused" of "overdressing" as well. I live and work in Australia, and let me tell you they well deserve their reputation as a laid back country. Laid waaaaaay back.
    I think it is insulting when I am forced to look at dirty, uncombed people out in public. And the uber-casual, shapeless clothing, usually without underwear. Or if there is underwear, you can see it all hanging out. It is disrespectful of the public space.

    And yet those same people look at me like I'm some kind of freak with my clean, pressed blouses (blouses that you can not see through), pert little skirts, tiny heels, and my hair combed and pinned back. I refuse to exit my house without putting up my hair.

    I think that the longer I am an American living in this place, the more "formal" I'll become in my dress. For me it has become something of a way to express how I feel separate from the people around me.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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