In Defense Of Dressing Up: Why Society Style Has Lost Its Way

by Christie Grimm · September 23, 2016

When was the last time you got dressed up? Like, properly dressed up? Shoes as uncomfortable as they are smart? An ensemble that demands a level of posture you've never in your life even come close to achieving, let alone seriously attempted to hold?

The kind of get up that calls up curious looks from plebeian passersby as you oh so casually stroll down the street, on your way to what must be some fabulous affair? Dressed to the nines - pulling out all the stops? The kind of look that no matter how much you adore, how much you love, you'll always feel a smudge unlike yourself in?

And true, you're not a Rockefeller on the host committee of many a charity, nor some Victorian era heroine who's in full on coming out mode. But feeling a smudge unlike yourself, a bit out of your comfort zone, when did that stop becoming fun?

New York is still an incredibly well dressed town, one must admit. But as of late, we've been concerned most with perfecting casual wear. How can leggings be pants? How far can I stretch this whole high-low dressing thing? I'm sorry, but so long as yoga-pants-painted day walkers still strut about, there is something rotten in the state of style. 

Where is the sense of occasion? The art of dressing and presentation?

With the start of autumn comes the start of gala season, filled with many a fancy fete. That singular time of year when the finely calligraphed invitations of propriety and dress code seem more than requests; they're expectations - demands. A group of guests who cannot be trusted to fashion themselves, and must be explicitly explained the anything but subtle logistics of Black Tie.

Having a position such as mine, where social engagements and cocktail parties and gallery openings and galas and after parties and after after parties and just about any other excuse one could think of for an open bar are considered work, I'm confident I've a relatively accurate view of the general mise en scène au moment. Where dressing up for work is a novel past time of yore, and no one has the time nor the energy to change for post-5 o'clock social obligations. A sartorially Lost Generation.

This week, the New York Philharmonic's Opening Gala celebrated its 175th anniversary. 175 years of New Yorkers and cultural patrons coming together to enjoy the unique experience of refined relaxation. The youngest person there by miles, the feeling that this was in a sense perhaps one of the closer moments one could get to catching an air of true propriety was unavoidable. 

No longer in a world of step-and-repeat driven costumes, and Instagram socialites dressing for their followers.

A crowd of men and women to whom great joy comes from a two hour sitting of beautifully performed concertos, and the elegant pursuit of putting oneself together. 

An orchestra of men and women who've reached the height of instrumental skill - a stage of chirping crickets draped in gowns, tapping timpanists stood in tuxedos. 

How rude it would be to not arrive in some gesture of garb that matches their level of commitment? To show up in a pair of jeans, slugging around with some poor excuse for footwear that looks like the very streets they've just crawled off of. It just wouldn't be right, no?

And sure, a closet of gowns or black tie appropriate pieces may not be a reality for many. But with things like Armarium and Village Luxe -  not having a closet of formalities is no longer an excuse. And even so, chances are you've at least five items in your wardrobe you're always dying for an excuse to wear anyway, but are simply too afraid to take out for a casual spin. 

Every day may not be a gala day, but there is no need to wait for an occasion to arise. Make instead an occasion out of the usual. Polish your presentation, even if just for a dinner with friends, or a late-night round of drinks. 

The only way to be one of those people, is to be one of those people. To not keep up with the Joneses, but to be the Joneses. So get going.

[Photos courtesy Getty, @houseofherrera]