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Why Don’t People Know How to Dress Appropriately?

There are some social situations that I *assume* people will dress appropriately for... but clearly I am wrong. Basic etiquette when it comes to clothing seems to be disappearing in society. Have you ever made one of these errors? Know how to dress properly!

Earlier this week I attended Jayden’s awards ceremony for JROTC. It was a proud moment in my life – this is the first time he has participated in an extracurricular activity since he was very young. Plus I think it was the first time he has ever received an award other than the “Yay, you participated!” kind.

Hilarious sidebar: He didn’t want to go to the ceremony because it would cut into his computer time. I encouraged him to “take one for the team” and, in true Asperger’s fashion, he looked at me like I was insane and said, “Um, JROTC isn’t a team, Mom. It’s an organization.” *headdesk*

Anyway, we arrived about 45 minutes early to allow him time to find out where he needed to sit and get all his other OCD rituals out of the way. Once he was settled, I sat back to engage in some people watching.

Okay, a few things you should know: (1) We live in Kentucky, where people watching is almost a competitive sport. We could keep People of Walmart going all by ourselves. (2) I am no stranger to casual dress, especially since I became a self-employed hermit. (3) I realize that some people may not be able to afford dressy clothes. With all that said, OH. EM. GEE.

As people started filtering into the seats in the auditorium, I couldn’t help staring at what some of them chose to wear. Keep in mind, this was an end-of-the-year awards ceremony held in the evening. The JROTC kids were in their uniforms. Photographers from the newspaper were there. It’s not like we were at a Little League baseball game or a picnic or something.

I saw baseball caps (most of them camouflage). I saw jorts and dirty sneakers. I saw tank tops and tube tops. I saw plaid pajama pants and flip flops. One lady had what looked like muddy paw prints on her shirt. I’m sitting there looking at all these people and wondering, When did it become okay to go out in public like this? It gave me flashbacks to my college internship with a law firm – people used to show up to court in similar attire all the time.

Why So Casual?

I know the world is changing and expectations aren’t quite what they used to be when it comes to what people wear. I grew up wearing dresses to church every Sunday, for example, and these days I usually throw on dark jeans or dress pants and a semi-dressy shirt. I don’t even know if I own a dress anymore. I can handle the fact that most people no longer maintain a separate wardrobe for special occasions, especially if they don’t have to dress up for work.

What I can’t deal with, though, is the blatant disrespect some people show in social situations (at least in my mind). I no longer dress up for church because no one else does, either – the norm has shifted in the last 10-15 years. But I wouldn’t dream of wearing flip flops and a NASCAR shirt to a wedding or graduation ceremony, and I make a point to dress neatly for anything that involves going to my son’s school. I have a limited wardrobe, especially now that I work from home, but I still know how to put together something appropriate when I need to.

As I said before, I know some people can’t afford nice clothing; I’ve definitely been there myself. But a simple t-shirt and jeans would have been fine! I find it hard to believe that the adult women walking around in booty shorts couldn’t have come up with something else to wear. Poverty has nothing to do with this – it isn’t an issue of brand names or white pants after Labor Day. It’s about realizing that a high school awards ceremony isn’t the time or place for certain wardrobe choices.

If my parents had shown up at my school in pajama pants when I was a teenager, I would have absolutely died. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about it because it never would have happened. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the kids whose family members came to the awards ceremony in wildly inappropriate clothing. At the same time, though, I wondered if the kids even noticed or cared. Would they have looked the same way if they hadn’t been required to wear their uniforms?

Like most things that annoy me, I’ll turn it over to you guys. What are the expectations for “dressing up” where you live? Have you noticed a downward spiral when it comes to what people wear? Is this the new normal or are some people just too lazy/apathetic to put on decent clothes?


  1. I’ve noticed this everywhere too. Especially weddings. I think my number one casual dressing faux pas is for interviews. I see people coming in either to fill in applications somewhere or for an interview, and they’re dressed in casual clothes! When I was younger, my parents always taught me that if you go to look for a job, you DRESS UP to make a good impression on the manager/whoever you’re applying to, and the same goes for interviews. The worst part is that the way things are changing, some employers don’t even care what you wear to the interview. Gah!

    • Agreed! When I was a supervisor, it amazed me how people dressed for interviews. Sure, they were interviewing for a job that paid $8/hour, so it’s not like I expected anyone to wear a suit. But I think people could have done better than jeans and a t-shirt, regardless of whether that’s what they would be wearing to work.

  2. I’m on the East Coast, so it’s a bit more formal here, but the trendline is the same!

  3. HS @ Our Debt Blog says

    No Pictures? Jorts – Too funny, chances are you know someone who wears them…


  4. My clothes are entirely holey jeans and old t-shirts since it’s all I wear to work and on the weekends. Except. My wife insisted that I have one pair of nice pants and a nice shirt. And one suit with one tie. Because even me, the blue collar dude who blows snot rockets out his truck window, knows that there are times when you need a suit and times when you need nice pants and a shirt. If I can figure this out, a dude with a GED, I don’t know how other people can’t.

  5. I’ve noticed the same trends! My girlfriend and I work with some business owners in our area and it’s amazing how often they mention how impressed they are with our attitudes and attire compared to others our age. I don’t think it’s just a “casual dress” problem anymore, people just don’t seem to care like they used to.

  6. I work as a receptionist in the corporate office of a property management company and I am constantly amazed and appalled at what people wear to interviews for on-site managers! Or some of the questions they ask, like one guy asking his would-be boss how much she makes because he hopes to move up from an on-site manager to a portfolio manager. What?! It just amazes me that people wear pajamas in public. Ugh, some people…

  7. There are only two times when I wear pajama pants. When I’m in my house or when I’m making a quick stop at home depot or a fast food restaurant.

    Other than that, I like to at least wear a pair of jeans. Well, that or booty shorts 😉

  8. It is pretty bad. Some people do respect important occasions … they’re the people who go to them. If it’s just slobs that once in a while find themselves at something a little special, they only know how to slob it up so they don’t even recognize it. One time I wore sweats to work when I was young and rode my bike, I thought it was better because I was a computer programmer and it fit with the computer programmer sterotype. But once I got to work, it was like … no, I don’t need to show these people the maximum of how much I can disrespect myself and them. That was the last time.

    Now you can buy sweats for $100 that look pretty close to the sweats you could buy for $5 10 years ago and be embarrassed.

  9. Sets my teeth on edge. I’m totally nostalgic for the times when everyone dressed up for everything. Watching Downton Abbey is NOT helping that either.

    I refuse to know what jorts are. 😛

  10. Too funny! I felt embarrassed when I answered the door and stepped on my deck in pajamas the other day. Of course it was my birthday (was not going to work or school) and I was only answering the door, because it was my father, but still I was embarrassed to be in PJ’s. (They were quite hilarious PJ’s at least, they said “I’m crabby in the morning”.)

    I cannot speak for other parts of the country, but for church, weddings, and celebrations I try and wear at least business casual. I save the blue jeans for school and the yoga pants for running or yoga only.

  11. For the past few years, I have noticed a decline in proper interview attire at my jobs. The jobs I worked at (and currently work at) allow for a casual dress code, but people showing up to be interviewed would be dressed in cut-off shorts and tank-tops. These aren’t jobs where you would need to buy a whole new outfit for the interview or even for the job itself, but come on – when you are being interviewed, put on a clean, nice pair of slacks and a simple button-up shirt and DON’T wear tennis shoes.

  12. Saw this at my brother’s high school graduation. Left less than impressed. If nothing else, I think there’s some kind of duty to make your school at least LOOK like a place to be, even if it is hell on earth. I won’t leave the house in sweatpants. It just doesn’t feel right. And, in the off chance I did, I’m sure I’d run into someone I didn’t want to see looking like I had barely stumbled out of bed this morning

  13. Catseye says

    I feelz ya, Andrea. Apparently, it’s the new normal. I don’t like it either, but it looks like the trend is here to stay indefinitely. I wear business casual to my current job and I wore it to my old one, too, otherwise, I would have been sent home to change. I’ve never gone out anywhere in sweatpants or pj’s, I certainly wouldn’t wear something like that to a school function! Oh, and congrats to Jayden on his award.

  14. One of my (many) pet peeves is people going out in public in pajama pants. It is not uncommon to see women (let’s face it, it’s almost entirely women) walking around my neighborhood and going to the corner stores in pajama pants. I think I see more now than in my college classes just a few years ago.

  15. I don’t know exactly what they’re called, but too many fat people wear those tight-fitting, skin-hugging pants around here in Connecticut. It’s really not attractive. Same thing with tight tank tops that accentuate every bit of flab. Why would people wear that and think it’s ok?

  16. Oh, you hit one of my pet peeves on the head. I was at Starbucks this morning and the lady in line after me had her pajamas on including fuzzy slippers and bed head. Yuck!

    Another thing that sets my teeth on edge is baseball caps at the dinner table.

  17. I guess I’m showing my age, but people who do not dress appropriately once they step outside their door are showing to others that they do not respect themselves or others. How I dress definitely impacts my mood and attitude. Church on Sunday it seems to depend on the person’s age on how they dress. Older people dress up more, the men especially wear suit coats and ties; some of the older women wear dresses/skirts, if not then dress pants and tops. The younger you go the more casual. Of course there is always at least one person who shows up that is an exception to this rule!

  18. The points you made in your article are well taken.

    What do you say to:

    I have worked for many companies as direct employee. In meetings there were folks from other departments as well. I have seen it many times a female employee in miniskirts so mini when she sat, she would cross her legs. Many times I could see her panties. Some were not wearing anything.

    And then they tell me staring at someone is not good etiquette. But nothing stops me from staring. As a matter of fact, many girls enjoy it.

    Many times I have seen female employees wearing tops with no bra. Open shirt. What’s so special about unbuttoning the top couple of buttons so everyone could see what she is not wearing underneath. So everyone could see a couple of pears. Is it pairs?

    I know you are not going to publish my comments. I intend to write a post about the clothes that female employees are not wearing.

    You went to a sport complex or award ceremony. That’s nothing compared to what I have seen at places of work.

    Did you ever notice the NBA players shorts? They are down to their knees.
    Did your ever see women beach volleyball? They leave nothing to imagination.

  19. I’m 18, and I agree. We just had our end of the year, Golden Scholars award ceremony the other day, and if my family had shown up in what you described, I would have been super embarrassed. I didn’t dress up because it was during school, but I wasn’t wearing PJs, and none of the adults I saw were dressed that way either.

    That being said, while I dislike when people exit their homes wearing the PJs, I can’t say anything, because it is their body, and they should be allowed to wear whatever they choose without being judged by me.

  20. This is one of my largest pet peeves. I’m always over dressed and I’m okay with that but when people are grossly under-dressed it really gets on my nerves. It just feels like they have no respect for the event they are attending. AHH!

  21. Where I’m now living in China dress code is kind of a mystery to many locals. Some because they cannot afford “nice” clothes so cannot really build their wardrobe. Some just think that if they wear any type of designer clothing it’ll be ok because they’re rich and can do most of whatever they way. I’ve had parent-teacher meetings here one mother wore *I swear* booty jean shorts and hooker boots (platform too!) and Iet’s just say it was hard to have a conversation with her during that meeting.

  22. Last Saturday night I argued with my husband in the car on the way to dinner (white tablecloth, tuxedo wearing waiters, $$$$, etc.) before a broadway show that it wasn’t appropriate to wear white gym socks with his dress shoes. I lost the argument when we arrived at the restaurant to find the family at the table next to us wearing shorts, t-shirts and gym shoes (and that was the parents!). The teenagers wore their baseball hats throughout the meal. We continued to the theater and found a lot more of the same – including tattoos on display and skirts that barely covered anything. I may just be getting old, but I kept hearing my mothers voice in my head complaining about the the younger generation and their lack of propriety.

  23. I thought I was the only one noticing the downward trend on dressing! Though I have been working at home for a couple of years now and I rarely attend formal gatherings, I see to it that I dress appropriately for the occasion. I must admit that I wear jeans and shirt on birthday parties and church services but I see to it that I have some decent clothes for formal occasions like graduation, awards ceremonies, and weddings.

    It is so disappointing when I see people wearing pajamas and jean shorts as if they are inside their own homes, not in a convenience store, a restaurant, or some other place in this world.

  24. I’m a big fan of sweatpants and PJs in public. Vanessa Page and my Mom are not impressed by this, haha.
    That said, I obviously know the difference between popping into a coffee shop on a Saturday morning and attending an event!!
    We went to the Rod & Gun club dinner once and were afraid we would be a bit under dressed (Ducks Unlimited apparently has a vastly different clientele!) My spouse was more dressed up than our MLA (provincial legislature member)! Camo and jeans was the way to go, especially with running shoes. Others at least were rocking their cowboy finery.

  25. Hubby and I went out to eat in E-town Friday night and Oh. My. Wow. There was a woman who was in her late 50’s or early 60’s and she was a mess. Jogging pants at least a size too big, and she was pretty large herself. Maybe a size 20 or so. She was wearing the thinnest, most threadbare spaghetti strap white tank top with no bra. She was on crutches and this made the picture more difficult/bothersome. It was awful.

    We’ll wear jeans to church on youth Sunday – more contemporary music and such. Also, we’ll wear shorts, but only if we’re not meeting in the sanctuary. Like if we’re having VBS or something. We don’t try to outdress anyone, but we try to look nice.

    What gets me is when a student comes to work in the bookstore for this university while wearing a shirt from another university. Um, no.

  26. I used to work in a call center where the dress code was business casual. HR had to circulate a memo at least once a month reminding people that they are not supposed to wear pajamas to work. It completely floored me.

  27. Stephanie says

    I absolutely hear what you’re saying. While I don’t necessarily want to go all Mad Men every time I leave the house, it would be nice if most people could make an effort. Pajamas are for sleeping in your bed. That’s it. My mother raised me to know how to dress and I am so thankful.

    You should see the drop off/pick up at my daughter’s school. It’s all over the place – there are pajamas, clubbing outfits, normal wear and more. It’s a feast for the eyes in all the wrong ways.

  28. Forget the formal dress. Look at the behavior. People don’t know how to act at formal events anymore. We went to a band concert this weekend. The kids were in ties, but the audience was dressed everywhich way. During the whole show parents were texting on their phones. Siblings were playing their video games on tablets and DS’s. There was also a low murmur of chatter through the whole thing.

    I was always taught that at a live concert you remembered that the people on stage can see you and you should give them your full attention. Now, God forbid someone doesn’t get a text saying “whr u at?” instantly. I guess everyone has taken a job as a missile silo commander! Then again, given that you can’t be talking to people or even have a meeting without people texting, I guess putting the phones away for a few hours would be too much.

  29. Sad, but true~ Very true!

  30. It’s remarkable how people could actually dress like that in such situations. I find that socially unacceptable, but clearly they don’t share the same standards.

    I was once in in Rome, and took a day trip to The Vatican. While there, I saw a woman wearing what amounted to basically a thong, and trying to take a tour. Or, at least approaching as if that’s what she was trying to do. She obviously turned around right away, so our assumption was that she was turned away the instant she approached. Can you imagine what this person could have been thinking?

  31. Coincidentally I am always the most well dressed in my team at work. I tend to become more casual while I am with my wife, don’t know why but this is the fact. Strange! Still my definition of casual is jeans and t with crocs

  32. MissMolly says

    I think this all started with the “Casual Friday” concept. Somewhere in there people became confused with casual and downright sloppy. My office is casual. We wear jeans. Casual does not mean you wear dirty clothes, t-shirts with advertisements, holes in your clothes, etc. Casual clothes are clothes that are clean and presentable. I think many people don’t understand the difference.

  33. This drives me CRAZY! I’ve written about this on my blog and not only people dressing super casual but NOT bathing. WTF? Who ever said it was ok to be dirty? To go outside your home in pajamas it’s not ok. I think the problem is casual dress for work. If we don’t take the time to bath and dress for ourselves and the place that is providing our income why would we take the time to do it outside of work? Thanks for the post.

  34. I don’t people watch but my husband likes to point out his favorites. I honestly have no idea what some people were thinking but I also don’t care – just glad that they aren’t with me, lol.

  35. I believe that we should la least make an effort to dress for the occasion. Some of us has gotten waaayy to comfortable with wearing sweatpants and yoga pants in just about anywhere.

  36. How funny! I just viewed pictures of a graduation I could not attend today, and the parents were wearing t-shirts with bar logos, jeans, camo pants, tops and jackets. The kids graduating wore shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. And I thought the same thing, “don’t people know how to dress up anymore?” I googled that phrase, and here I am on this page…A little self-respect goes a long way.

  37. Phew! There are sane people in the universe! I thought maybe I was just getting old. I grew up in Northern Kentucky and I have seen some sights myself, but we were still taught to dress appropriately for the occasion. At one of my jobs, a student intern showed up in one of those sweaters that are supposed to pass as dresses–you know the ones that stop just above mid-thigh–she had some cute flats on with it, but little else–completely ignoring our dress code–I kept wanting to ask her if she forgot her pants/skirt/bottoms. C’mon, people! It’s called decorum!

  38. I’m out in SF and I can tell you, it’s a dress slum. I moved here 23 years ago and everyone dressed for work — in business suites, skirts, dresses or slacks. Now, I’m one of the few who still wears a suit (yes, sans tie). But if I interview or go to an important first client meeting… tie goes on.

    My first job was a busboy outside of Philadelphia. I wore a 3 piece blue suit (yes, it was corduroy, but it was 1978), and a tie to interview for the job. We also wore dress trousers, dress shirts and vests to clean tables as our uniform… but it was expected. I wore the same suit to my graduation under my gown. I also wore a burgundy tux with pink ruffled shirt to my prom… it wasn’t the “in” fashion, but I was excited about being so “dressed up”.

    That takes me to my upcoming wedding (yep…3rd). I stated White Tie on the invitations and within a week, got into an argument with a friend who said she would not wear a gown and that she wanted nothing to do with silly etiquette. Now, she’s college educated, a business person herself, married to a scientist — not rich, but not poor. I mean, I wouldn’t have turned her away if she wasn’t in a gown, but the fit she threw.

    Needless to say, I think people are embarrassed with dressing up. I think they feel they need to “act” differently and put on unfamiliar mannerisms. I don’t buy the fact that people don’t have the money. Unless they are “really poor”, and I mean wondering were the rent is coming from and where the next meal’s coming from; and that is only a small portion of the population. Everybody should own at least 1 dress outfit… During the depression, even the poorest farmers owned their “Sunday Best”. Yes, it was only work for Church, weddings and funerals… and certainly wasn’t the height of fashion, but it was clean and showed respect.

    It’s a “why bother” mentality… and I can’t image what it’s going to be in 20 years.

    • george blumfield says

      Dear Sir–
      I was born in 1933; my parents are from Scotland, a cousin of my Dad was a tailor who visited persons homes, took measurements (men only), cut a suit, blazer, topcoat or overcoat then made the garment in his home. He had a corner on the business. From being around this relative and my Dad’s brothers, I was taught that dressing up was a thing of respect to others. It seems as if now, dressing up is an almost corrupt practice, as movies by ultra liberals, (Robert Redford, etc) picture all corrupt people (heads of large corporations and gangsters) in suits and in a dressed up manner; the Hollywood set runs around with stubble beards, tee shirts, and appear on talk shows looking as if they jumped out of a depression era railroad box car. Guess that is the image that they want to portray. No matter what the Hollywood set standard is, you still show more respect to others if you dress better. You can dress as good out of Ross Stores than out of Nordstroms

  39. “I’m not shaming, but I’m totally fucking shaming.

    Good thing I have a bunch of equality judgemental asshole followers!

    Also, something something ‘church.'”

  40. Wow I am so sick of this. I’m 30 and also wondering if I’m “old”, sometimes but how am I old? Most of these people dressing like crud are in older than me! I feel the pajama thing is disrespectful in the least and I am sick of seeing people with hideous clothing. You are so right about everthing you said in this article. I will never understand it. I don’t even own a pair of pajamas. I couldn’t take myself seriously if I did. I have cotton workout clothes I use as nightwear if it’s cold and usually I’m walking around the house naked. I have some “house dresses” as I put it which I got from my Meme who still goes around in moo-moos. But her moo-moos are not offensive. They are a little weird. But at least she is covered and looks decent. My favorite relaxing everyday pants are a pair of pure cotton Anne Klein “fake jeans” as I call them. They are too thin to be real jeans. They are a dark, relaxed fit pant that is just as comfortable as any pajamas would be. I can wear them anywhere and look okay without being stuffy and overdressed. They go well with a nice button up, tunic or anything really.That’s seriously as lazy as I get. What I don’t understand is that a lot of this ugly stuff people wear doesn’t even fit them. It’s too tight or small for their bodies. I’m sick of seeing everyone’s butts showing through their pants and this getup they wear where everything is so tight it is cutting into their fat. I mean it”s so tight they are actually used to it and don’t even notice it, anymore. How can people live like that? I would never in a thousand years show up anywhere looking like the people you described. I see them everywhere. I think it is so disrespectful. My Aquarius uncle showed up to my sister’s wedding with his hick clothes on-old t-shirt and SHORTS. I’m not lying. I was like…wow f you. Can’t even wear something decent for your nieces wedding? Everyone was all dressed up and she looked like a little princess and he just showed up and got looked down on. Was he trying to show his disrespect for her marrying a Puerto-Rican? You have to wonder what someone like that is thinking. It didn’t help that he looked dishevelled in other ways, too. When I see people do this I think they have a major behavioral problem and it’s definitely a social issue. Then he posed for a picture. He might as well have said “you’re a slt”. Because that’s what I was getting from him towards her. If anyone showed up to my wedding looking like him I would make them leave. I don’t know why I’m talking about Aquarius people because I don’t have an issue with them but this one lady was the worst case I’ve ever seen. I saw her wear the same horrible tank top for two weeks straight. She refused to wash it at all and it was turning colors. I know for a fact she didn’t wash it. She would even admit it with pride. I saw that same tank on her for many months with only a few times where she she changed it. My mom, another Aquarius wore these horrid green sweat pants with a visor and a t shirt for years. They just pick items and wear them until they are in rags. We begged her for years to stop showing up to public events with this outfit on. Finally she stopped. Another Aquarius lady in town here won’t shower or shampoo her hair and she wears the same rags day in and day out.

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