We know that as society loosens the bands of protocol, sorting out appropriate attire for ritual events becomes more difficult.
For weddings, showers, corporate casual, and, yes, funerals, human societies are re-architecting the social dress code. But based, we might ask, on what? Unsurprisingly, a complex algorithm drives what we decide to wear. But how heavily weighted is cultural heritage, and how much does personal unconscious contribute?
When my uncle died recently, his daughters were unsure of what the formal memorial ceremony might look like, and when it might occur. So, as an immediate response, one of them invited all the local family over to a remembering dinner. Here is a photo of my sister and I standing together that night. We did not discuss what we’d wear. I didn’t even know she had this shirt.
That’s me in the blue. Rose Red and Snow White, we were.
I imagine the protocol heuristic of our thinking went like this. It was a casual, family event. In Northern California, that means jeans. It was a serious occasion, however, so “good” jeans, however defined. It’s not surprising that we were both in 7 for All Mankind dark wash, since I had given my sister the pair too short and too small for me. “Good” shoes in our generation still means defaulting to black, perhaps influenced by our decade in patent leather Mary Janes. We rather miss those pink-edged scalloped socks.
But the shirt coincidence may have derived from a more intimate, family part of the what-to-wear equation. The year my family lived in London, we gave my father a Liberty of London tie for his birthday. It was the first time I remember that we, the children, picked out a present ourselves. Probably at Harrods, or Harvey Nichols.
Liberty of London was so mod, in 1968, and my uncle was a mod kinda guy. As I looked at the photo above, trying to decode why on earth my sister and I both wore semi-transparent flowered long-sleeved button-fronts to a remembering dinner, it dawned on me that possibly my sister and I dressed with these memories as guide.
And the constant, the equation terms that prevented either of us from wearing the right color undergarments? High WASPs like to pretend that underwear doesn’t exist. Unfortunately the laws of physics refuse cooperate with our ideals. We’ll invoke impunity, just this once.
Surely you and your siblings, or your virtual family members, have shown up dressed eerily alike to events, all unawares? Tell me the stories. We found ourselves terribly amusing, which added, somehow, to the night.