Look At Those Clothes!

Musings on style and fashion

Do Manners Matter?


“I always try to look nice for shows. It’s good manners, like getting dressed to go to work.”

—Meredith Graves, lead singer for the band Perfect Pussy, quoted in an interview  by Elizabeth Bristow in Sound & Style, New York Times, 21 July 2014


“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little—if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

—Coco Chanel

Here, my friends, we have two comments in favor of the idea that dressing well is a matter of politeness, of responsibility to those with whom you inhabit public space, from two women who are more similar than you might think.

Photo by hurley_gurlie182

Born in Syracuse, New York, 26-year-old noise-punk rocker Meredith Graves (a dedicated thrifter!) appears on stage with a good number of tattoos setting off her neat pixie haircut, ballet flats, and dresses that look rather Chanel-like. (Her boy bandmates do their more typical thing in jeans and untucked  t-shirts; no tattoos visible.) In appearance, Graves is as demure and graceful as Chanel; like Chanel, she’s intelligent, articulate (although, from my perspective, a bit of a potty mouth at times), and insistent about the right of women to be treated as respectfully as men—no matter what they’re wearing.

Photo by sssh221

Photo by sssh221

And like her pearl-draped counterpart, Graves shares the Parisian attitude toward dressing in public. Even today, nearly 45 years after Chanel’s death, Parisians generally dress in nothing less formal in public than business casual (and that does not mean jeans, t-shirts, and running shoes, for any gender, no matter your business). To dress otherwise is to indicate that you consider the people you encounter unworthy of any effort on your part to make yourself presentable.

On the one hand, this “you must dress up in this particular way” behavior seems to me hopelessly rigid and old-fashioned. It harks back to unliberated, pre-hippie, uptight, 1950s America, when you wouldn’t think of going into town (whatever “town” meant for you) without spiffing up a bit (at the time, that meant dresses for women and sometimes gloves and for men, tucked-in shirts, non-jeans, and non-sneakers). Why, this come-as-you-please, dressed-down democratic hand wants to know, do Parisians find clothes so important? Doesn’t what you think and what you say and do matter more than how you’re dressed? Can’t you show respect while wearing leggings, jeans, or a hoodie just as well as you can while wearing a dress or a button-down shirt and a tie?

On the other hand, I rather like the Parisian/Meredith Graves idea of dressing well in public, of being polite, of showing respect for others (and yourself) by taking care with your appearance. Yes, it’s about manners, about realizing that you’re impinging on the consciousness of others and therefore have a responsibility to them. Yes, it’s about propriety—and despite the American allergy to dress codes (whether formal or informal), most of us do realize that clothes send messages and that some messages are more appropriate at certain times than at others.

Of course, Americans are not Parisians. We have different ideas about the importance of clothing and grooming and public manners. And with the American focus on individualism, it’s not easy to say exactly what “dressing well” or “fixing yourself up a little” or “being presentable” consist of for us. Still, each of us knows when, according to our own definitions, we’ve made an effort and when we haven’t.

And if the whole politeness/self-respect thing doesn’t do it for you, consider this: Taking care with how you dress when you go out can also be about cultivating your creativity.  Every day presents the opportunity for you to create a living, breathing, walking work of public art.

Now get dressed, go forth, and give ’em something worth looking at. And tell Destiny I said hey.

Photo by SDRandCo




Categories: Fashion Quote of the Week

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