Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter 1960: When Grownups Dressed Like Adults

In anticipation of Easter, I am posting a photograph of the Darling family going to Easter Sunday service back when we still lived in Grosse Pointe.  I think it was taken in 1960.  It was probably snapped by Granny Darling, my father's mother, who was likely standing at the entry of the church where my Grandfather Darling was the Rector.  Yes, one of Reggie's grandfathers was a man of the cloth.

Mummy Darling in navy, Camilla (Sister) in white, Father Darling bringing up the rear
Hermione in white dress with blue sash, Frecky in short suit with glasses, Reggie in shorts

My parents were in their late thirties when this photo was taken.  My sister Camilla is the eldest of their offspring, and is seen here at 15 years old, at the brink of womanhood, and home from boarding school on spring break.  Frecky is the next eldest, followed by Hermione, and then me.

This is one of my favorite Darling family photographs. Mostly because I love what we are all wearing.  We are what I consider to be appropriately dressed for attending church on Easter Sunday, at least for the time.  When this picture was taken young women of the American upper-middle classes still wished to dress in styles their mother's approved of, and their mothers still aspired to dress like ladies.  Boys looked forward to turning in their shorts for long pants, and a jacket and tie was considered daily wear for men.  In other words, this photograph was taken before all Hell broke loose in this country and the vast majority of Americans decided to throw off acting or dressing like adults when they grew up.  Nowadays it seems to me that most people I see out in public aspire to dressing like overgrown toddlers, or tramps, or worse.

In this photograph my mother is wearing a navy linen dress with a white collar and oversized, decorative white buttons, and she is sporting a straw hat decorated with a navy ribbon embroidered with what I recall were little white flowers (she had that hat for many years).  Camilla is wearing an attractive, waisted white dress that demurely shows off her lovely figure, and she appears to be wearing a hat made of white flowers and netting.  Camilla is artistic and clever with her hands, and probably made her pretty chapeau.  My only surprise is that neither of them is wearing white cotton gloves.  I came across a box of half a dozen pairs of such gloves wrapped in tissue paper that my mother had saved for forty years when we emptied out her apartment after she died.  [Editor's note: according to Sister, who graciously supplied me with this image, she was carrying her white cotton gloves that day and suspects that Mummy Darling's gloves were hidden in the jumble of the coats she was carrying--see her comment as Anon 1:18 p.m.]

My father is shown taking up the rear wearing a poplin sack suit, most likely bought at Brooks Brothers, and brown oxfords.  To this day one of the sense memories from my childhood is the smell of the wax he used when polishing his shoes, which he took great care with.  Frecky and I are wearing little boy shorts outfits likely assembled from a combination of Best & Co. and the Junior League "Nearly New Shoppe" where my mother volunteered once a week.  Hermione is the little girl in the front wearing a white dress with a blue sash.

Do you ever find yourself wishing that people still dressed as well as we did in those days?  I do.  I understand that styles and tastes change and always will, but I still find it a bit "off" when I (infrequently) attend the Episcopal church near Darlington that I (sometimes) go to and see grown parishioners arrive for the services wearing tee shirts and jeans, even on High Holy Days.  At least they're attending church, I suppose.

I believe that grownups should dress like adults when visiting places that merit the respect of appropriate attire, and that too few in America do so today.  Did you notice that I used the word "respect" here?  Because that is what I believe appropriate attire conveys--respect for one's surroundings, respect for one's hosts, and respect for one's peers.  I am not so assinine as to think that today men should only wear suits and ties and women should wear white gloves and hats every time they walk out their front door.  But I do believe that the casualness of the clothing I see many people wearing today in better restaurants, the theater, concert halls, houses of worship, and private parties is disrespectful, and that people should dress up more when they go to such places and events.  Since when did the supposed comfort of the wearer trump all other considerations when determining what constitutes appropriate attire?

Believe me, I don't want to turn the sartorial clock back to 1960, I just would like people to make more of an effort to dress more thoughtfully and respectfully of the places they visit and the sensibilities of the other people they find there.  I recognize that there are times that it is appropriate for grownups to wear the tee shirts, cargo shorts, jeans, flip flops, sneakers, and baseball caps seen everywhere today, such as a quick trip to the corner store to pick up a quart of milk or when knocking about on a Saturday afternoon.  But in my view the preponderance of the grown Americans that I see out in public dressed so casually would be better served if they left such clothing to the sandbox set it was originally intended for, and made more of an effort to dress in an approximation of what used to be called an adult.  It would certainly be easier on the eyes of those of us who have to look at such people.

Tell me, am I preaching to the choir here?


  1. You are -- people just don't dress up anymore -- for anything!

  2. A voice from the choir - I consistently see people actually out on the streets wearing clothing that you might wear to clean a very dirty house. Although I prefer not to return to itchy slips and stockings, there should be some standards for everyday dress!

  3. Better than an episode of Mad Men! I remember back to Easter Sundays, when I wore Peter Pan- collared dresses with crinoline slips underneath, little white gloves, patent leather shoes and a miniscule pocketbook. Dress up for church, we did!

  4. I think your frustration makes perfect sense and I share your frustration but our dress today is part of a much larger picture of our ever increasing much freer society. Fewer rules about marriage, sexuality, art, music, office on your lap etc. All the things we fought for. Sociologically speaking all these elements combined are the cause of our current state of dress and less that of a plague of disrespect. I don't think the two worlds of yesterdays dress and todays ideas could live together.

    Curiously, today how one dresses at the kind events you've listed has much more to do with your socioeconomic status than it ever did before.

  5. You are preaching to the choir in my case as I agree with everything you say. I live with a peacock, someone unable to dress inappropriately, and merely provide the beige background to his splendor. Reticent as my attire is it has to at least be clean and well-pressed. What amazes me the most is men who appear in my local Wholefoods early in the day wearing what appear to be PJ bottoms and flip-flops. Crumpled,logo-ridden, T-shirts seem to be de rigueur for most occasions as do caps, on the young, worn in restaurants.

  6. Putting Church aside, when I was a child we were expected to wear a jacket and tie when we took an airplane- and we were flying economy class. In my "neck of the woods" (the North Shore of Long Island), people still seem to pull it togather for church so I have thus far been spared the indignity you encounter in the Darlington parish. But I fly frequently and I am invariably astonished by the hideous, inappropriate and sometimes downright offensive outfits that my fellow travelers array themselves in (and now i'm often flying first class). I try not to view it all as the end of civilization, but I'm not so sure sometimes.

  7. I couldn't agree with you more! Luckily the church I attend (also just on occasion) still retains a BIT of formality in dress at least. What really bothers me most though is flying. As if the experience wasn't bad enough, you're confronted with people with ugly feet in flipflops and wearing sweatpants that say 'juicy' over their rear. AWFUL. I don't wear a 3 piece suit but whats wrong with some nice slacks and a button up or polo shirt? It's perfectly comfortable and you don't look like you just rolled out of bed.

  8. What has been lost over the years is a general sense of appropriateness. We’ve cultivated a generation of “me”, those whose only consideration is themselves. What makes ME comfortable, etc. We’ve eliminated rules and protocol in so many areas of life, it’s no wonder that there are throngs of people who simply don’t know what’s appropriate anymore. When I lament the loss of restrictions in establishments such as hotels and restaurants, I do so because I see those rules as our one remaining hope in preserving a semi-civilized society.


  9. I too am a member of the choir. What amazes me is the inappropriate wardrobe I see at the office. Flip flops and sun dresses are not professtional attire. (Spaghetti straps - what are you thinking?)If you choose to dress that way - don't be surprised when you are not taken seriously nor given the plum assignments - while your professionally dressed coworkers are!

  10. Upon enlarging my scan of the photo, I see that I am carrying a pair of white cotton gloves. I can't tell if Mother Darling is carrying a pair as well because she is laden with the Spring coats shed by my younger siblings. I think there probably was a pair hiding somewhere in the pile of little garments from Best & Co.

    For those who still have some of those white gloves stored away - they make marvelous gardening gloves, protecting your skin and nails while enabling you to feel what you are doing.


  11. Good Lord, yes. I now live near Berkeley, California. Even at Easter, you will see people here at services in their fleece jacket and birkenstocks (or Croc's!!!).

  12. Thank you for posting this lovely photo of your family. It could be one of The Sartorialist's vintage fashion photos.
    I remember attending Easter services where the ladies were dressed properly with hats and gloves!
    If only we could go back to more fomal dress for these types of occasions...I do believe, for the most part, that as a society the better we dress, the better we behave.

  13. Of course you are preaching to the choir. The internet allows us to easily find others who are like-minded and voice our frustrations. I suspect somewhere between one and five percent of the adult population feel as most of us do. I often wonder if there is anything constructive to be done. In an era of downright sloppy dress at houses of worship, fine dining establishments, first class sections of airplanes - is it possible to find venues that attract those who value appropriate and respectful dress? Are there those who can be "converted"? Ballroom dancers seem to enjoy dressing up, but otherwise it is difficult to find kindred spirits, and I prefer not to be the only one not wearing crocs, track suits or flip flops.

  14. Teaorwine: Thanks for your comment, good luck with the wedding festivities.

    Anon 8:49: Your comment is interesting food for thought.

    Blue: You, too?

    Magnus and Architect: Yes, flying is an unpleasant experience, made worse by the cattle on hoof one flies with. BTW, I loathe Juicy Couture.

    Anon 10:38: It is difficult to take seriously someone who dresses like a child, when they have long since stopped being one.

    Sister: Thank you for clarifying!

    Bumby: I figured as much, glad you confirmed it.

    Robin and DocP: I rue the day that Crocs ever blighted the face of the Earth. It's one thing for a small child to wear them when playing outside, say in a stream. It's decidedly another when seen in public on the (usually sock-less and none-too-clean) feet of adults who've obviously given up any pretense of dignity and have completely let themselves go.

    BdV: I believe you are correct: well-dressed people carry themselves with more grace and elegance than the slob on the street seen scuffing along in dirty flip-flops or Uggs.

  15. !) There is so much to be offended by in the world as it is given to us. (I remember well the little boys Reggie's age charging up the steps to church in their shorts. At the time, I thought that deeply irregular.)

    2) Everything else aside, I feel more objectively oppressed by the increasing obesity of the American people than I do their penchant for throwaway clothes.

    (And I cherish, in a twisted sort of way, the drive I once took through the back roads of upper New York State. On a beautiful summer afternoon, I passed by a small house where the backyard was filled with laundry drying in the sun. There must have been 60 t-shirts there, each held by clips.)

    3) Imagine, if you can, the whales of the Wal-Mart world stuffed into Brooks poplin or what passes for today's Peck & Peck. Would that really be an improvement?

    4) And really, who wants to live in Palm Beach?

  16. Reggie --

    You did see, in WOI, what has been done with the ill-gotten gains of Juicy Couture?

    (I really liked the rugs.)

  17. Hello Ancient: I always love your comments. Not quite sure what PB has to do with this post, though. I did see the spread in WOI, and another in Vogue previously (or was it Tatler?). I think Robert Kime is a genius. I am happy that he found such a rich client. He can't only decorate for the Prince of Wales.

  18. Magnus,
    Do please email me as I would like to discuss the suggestion you made, not for publication, and have no way of contacting you myself.

  19. Count me in the choir, Reggie. A cautionary tale, lest one ever be tempted to follow the under-dressed herd. Once, in the 80s, I let my standards lapse for a flight (must have been drinking) wearing the little running shorts from the time, a tee, and flip flops. I figured what the heck - none of them know me, and half of them were similarly attired. My suits were in my luggage. I was meeting with clients at an insurance company the next morning. Right. They lost my luggage so I had a suit to buy at 8:00 AM. Now my flights are all slacks, a polo shirt, and a sport coat. Not sartorial perfection, especially in my line of work, but certainly more workable in a pinch than the getup I wore on that flight.
    Older and wiser –
    - Mike in SC

  20. as always,I error on the casual side- but I do dress if going to church. In such a small Southern town-you might say it is still one of the things we do best-our Sunday best, and all that. I do adore this photograph and from the look of darling little Reggie Darling- he is just a few years wiser than little augury. A child of the 60's.

  21. And we wonder why other countries refer to us as slobs. It is so out of control.

    My personal pet peeves: women who can not accept their age and insist on wearing their teenage daughter's cast offs and people(say anyone over 10) wearing shorts on airplanes! Seriously, I don't care what kind of shape your in, I for one do not want to be that close to all your flesh and/or hairy legs!!!

    Happy Easter...loved the picture of your family!

  22. Mike in SC: That was an amusing cautionery tale, thank you.

    LA: Am just back from church where I, among other things, checked out the outfits. My favorite was the spaghetti strapped sequin top on one of the members of the congregation. I had a lovely time!

    A&A: Thanks for visiting, do stop by from time to time. At Darlington we refer to such mothers as you describe as "muttony lamb-chops." I enjoyed your comment.

  23. Wonderful photo, and I agree on the "respect" issue. I am appalled at what I've seen people wearing to funerals lately. If you aren't going to even try to wear something appropriate at a friend/family member's funeral, then when ARE you going to make an effort?

  24. Indeed, wearing “the tee shirts, cargo shorts, jeans, flip flops, sneakers, and baseball caps” is seen everywhere today. For the young male it is now standard clothing and world wide. Although appearing casual it has a strict formally to it enabling the wearers to seamlessly fit in with the group or disappear into ordinariness.
    In fact, only today I saw a group of lads in cargo shorts and tee shirts as though just back from a game of baseball. But this is Edinburgh and we had knee-deep snow last week!

  25. Another choirster chiming in! It never ceases to amaze me what people will wear in public. Church: my episcopalian easter service was probably 75% appropriate but then it's Connecticut. The office: when I first started working after college, my firm would not allow ladies to wear trousers and stockings were worn at all times. Though I am glad to be able to wear trousers and do away with stockings for all but the most conservative settings, I actually saw someone wearing HIGHTOP SNEAKERS entering my office! I have noticed its largely the "younger" generation (20s) and as another commenter aptly noted, they wonder why they do not receive promotions. Luckily, I have two other fellow traditionalist work colleagues to gripe with and we smile every June when the "appropriate dress" email goes out as the interns arrive. Sadly, it needs to be sent to some of our colleagues.

    I think another facet of this debate is whom people view as role models. With our increasingly celebrity/sports driven culture, there is no aspiration to traditional markers of success, like public service, business, law, doctors, etc. that require the commitment of often extensive, education, hard work and study.

    A final note; I hate to say this, but I think the only places to see everyone dressed are private clubs..

  26. Late to read this post but must say -- the choir is saying Hallelujah -- if you can find a way to get this message out to the world it would be such a blessing.

  27. A bit late to the game as I just found your blog, but another member of the choir chiming in.

    In addition to your wonderfully written post, I find myself agreeing with many of the comments as well - particularly that of "respect" through what we wear.

    At the theater recently, I had the horror of sitting behind some people who felt it acceptable to walk in after the curtain was raised (where were the ushers?!) and wore jeans...with holes in them. They also left before the curtain call in order to "beat all everyone else out" - apparently leaving the theater is now a competition.

    It was instilled in me as a child that even for small activities, one dresses up. Not to the nines mind you, but even a trip to the grocery warrents a well put together outfit, and a pepto bismal pink velor sweatsuit it not it.

  28. Hello Beanie, and welcome! Glad to hear from you. I growl about this a bit more in an earlier post that you might like, "The Theatuh, The Theatuh, What's Happened to the Theatuh" that I posted back in January. It is shocking what people wear in public today.

  29. Amen, brother!! I have never forgotten an evening performance of La Boheme at the Opera House in Budapest where we were seated next to a pair of American tourists who showed up in shorts and sandals . . .

  30. Hear, hear!! I am in the "choir"...
    and totally relate. My mother always wore the most elegant white blouses and navy skirts...and always hose and beautiful pumps. She sewed for my two sisters and me...totally traditional little girl clothes--silk blouses and woollen or linen skirts with wide waistband and crossed straps...and slippers.

    I truly enjoy your writing and most distinctive voice. Your family does look beautiful!

  31. Amen. I'm 28, was born and raised in New Orleans where tradition rules and to this day we "dress for dinner" in a jacket (minimum) and ladies put on dresses.

    Having lived in DC for the last 10 years and minutes from my grandparents in Old Town Alexandria, I have had the benefit of learning from their New England, WASP lifestyle and the etiquette that surrounds going to Christ Church on N. Washington, brunch at Belle Haven and out to dinner when it could just as easily been to adopt a more casual "easy" and frankly sloppy lifestyle.

    Here's to decorum, respect and etiquette.

  32. Thank you, DAM, I am glad to hear from a fellow congregant!

  33. It bothers me to no end that people no longer dress appropriately for religious services. I feel it shows a lack of respect to the particular deity and to the community with whom one is worshipping. Honestly, a person cannot find something else to wear other than a track suit????

  34. I wish women still wore gloves, it was always fun to wear them when I was a child.

  35. Do you remember Al Capp? He was a sociologist at heart. And his comic strip was incredibly prescient.
    "Dogpatch......USA" was populated by "hillbillies" but they were cute and well-groomed! Lil Abner had a bit of hay in his mouth....but he sure was attractive! Daisy Mae was adorable in her mini-skirt and top made out of skins.......always clean and beautiful. And great hair!

    It was those neighboring towns....."Inner Slobbovia" and "Outer Slobbovia"........remember them? These were all "archetypes".......and he predicted where we all live NOW. We live in "Slobbovia"!!!

    Even Santa Barbara! Men in running shoes and dirty jeans........out to dinner in nice restaurants! "Puffer"vests and sweatshirts.........out to dinner? Baseball hats on backwards........inside at dinner?

    Tragic; really. Al Capp saw it coming. And called it.

    Also "Joe Bltzflcksvkstsctvkczxvc" (sp?) who had the rain cloud over his head and everywhere he went.......a hurricane would come......your house would burn would be struck by lightning......another archetype......who doesn't know one of those?

    But Slobbovia is the most tragic. We all live there. ALL!!

    Is there anywhere left where elegance exists??? In the world????

  36. Everything has changed since 1960. Back then it was all for one and one for all. People actually cared about how they looked and acted. Fast forward to now and it's all for one and none for all. Far too many people don't give a hoot about your opinion of them or their clothes or dressing for church or anything else. Smart people know better - these things DO count.

  37. I couldn't agree with you more!
    I have been saying this for years!

  38. I had to come back and comment some more, only because this is SUCH a big pet peeve of mine.
    I have 2 boys and I am always telling them, "dress respectful, speak respectfully, act will be respected."

    I absolutely HATE when I see young men wearing pants down around there ankles and hats that are askew..I HATE IT! I will not allow it in my home, I tell them..."If you dress like a dope, people TREAT you like a dope."

    Everyday in the school I work in I see young girls dressed very inappropriately for their age and then if you look at their mothers they arealways dressed inappropriate for THEIR need a roll model, and as a parent WE are EVERY WAY, not just by the things we say or the way we act or how we treat others but by HOW WE DRESS.

  39. I like the way your family members are dressed in the photograph and the fact that you were going to Church on a sunday.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photo.

    I think if suits and smarter clothing was publicised or marketed as regular wear/ware rather than for special occasions; it would make more of the younger generation (80's lot) attempt to look fashionable.

    I have to say though, living in England (UK), in certain areas (towns/ cities) people always dress smartly. This may have something to do with class, upbringing and peer mindedness (peer pressure).

    Peace to you.

  40. I found your post while searching for 1960 clothing details. I am sewing Easter dresses for my twins, and while working on the coats wanted to include details fit for the occasion. Thank you for your beautiful post. Well said. (Lovely photograph as well).


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