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Lost Art of Dressing Up

Text by: Amy Carpenter

The house is eerily quiet. My two youngest children are down for a nap, and I've sat down to rest for just for a moment. Outside, the rain patters on the patio and windows, and the sunshine hides behind ponderous, thick clouds. It is not a day for the playground or the garden. Instead, it is a cozy-up-and-read-a-book day. After a few minutes of rapturous reading, I look around the room and incline my ear. Where is my four-year-old songbird? I don't hear any Dora songs. I don't hear that little voice conversing with her dolls about preschool. Oh, no. What is she into now?

Stealthily, I sneak my way down the hallway. No watery, splashy noises emanate from the bathroom where she usually works her worst mischief. Hmm… maybe she's playing her DS in the toy room? No, she's not there either. I walk softly toward her room. Perhaps she is taking a nap, like the rest of the house seems to have done. Ever so quietly, I turn the knob on her bedroom door. Will I find a sleeping beauty or a tornado? As the door opens, I discover that the answer is somewhere in-between. My little preschooler stands amidst a sea of clothes, crowns, and jewelry. She wears an elbow-length, white glove on one arm, and a shorter, black glove on the other. Her hair is pinned back at odd angles with a gazillion butterfly barrettes, and a sparkling, pink tiara perches precariously on her head. Her dress is a frilly, purple thing, with lavender high-heeled shoes to match. Around her neck hangs a neon-pink boa and five different beaded necklaces. "I'm ready to go to the ball, Mama," says my little princess. I'm ready to go get my camera, thinks this proud and laughing mama.

Ah, to be a little girl again. One of my favorite things to do is dress up. I love Halloween parties, because I get to put on a costume and pretend, for one night, to be a gypsy, or a flight attendant, or a witch (or whatever). I get to put my hair up in wacky hairdos, put on lots of make-up, and go out dressed in something I'd ordinarily never be caught dead in. But, alas, for the rest of the year, I must be responsible. I must look like a thirty-something mom, not an escapee from the local mental institute.

Dressing up, however, is not just about wearing a costume and pretending to be something you're not. It is about dressing up the best part of yourself and showing it to the world. My mother (I was adopted by my grandparents, so when I say "mother," think of a woman born in the 1920s) used to complain loudly when I would leave for high school in my "grunge" outfit (early 1990s) — baggy jeans, boyish plaid shirt, and worn sneakers with au naturel hair and face. In my mother's day, women wore skirts (mostly), and men wore trousers. Everyone wore hats. Women always wore nylons, and clothes were tailored to fit. Hair was curled prettily and hair-sprayed in place (or else!). No woman would ever leave the house without her makeup perfectly done. Men wore collared shirts, and t-shirts were considered underwear. People back then cared about how others perceived them. They liked to put their best face forward.

Nowadays we just want to be comfortable. The typical outfit for both men and women is jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Sometimes, we don't even bother changing out of our yoga pants to go to the store. It's so bad, businesses post signs to enforce at least some degree of dress: "No shirts, no shoes, no service!" It's a symptom of our Western culture. It's all about "me," how "I" feel, and how much "I" can hide. We want to duck out of the limelight, blend into the crowd. We want to stay in our comfort zones and hide under mounds of sweatshirts. We're too busy to bother with beauty. After all, it's personality that counts in the end, right? How we look doesn't matter that much.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

Yet somewhere in the buried depths of our fashion sense, we know that how we look really does matter. Do we have to look like a supermodel every day? No, but we should look clean, presentable, and respectable. In fact, dressing up shows respect towards others. In some churches, it is still considered important to dress in "Sunday best" for church, because it shows respect and reverence for God. As a performer, I learned early on to dress up for cultural events. Recently my two oldest daughters and I, clad in skirts, blouses, and dress shoes, attended a local middle school's production of "Seussical the Musical." It was an excellent production, which sold out all three of its shows. Sadly, my girls and I stuck out like a sore thumb because we dressed up, while most of the audience wore jeans and t-shirts. Dressing up for plays, concerts, and other performances not only shows respect for the performers, but also gives a special feeling to cultural events. When we go to the opera, we dress up, just as we dress up for special dances like prom. Wouldn't it be sad if prom became just another casual dance? Yet that is what has happened with many of our cultural events.

Today I dressed up in one of my nicer outfits, not because I really wanted to, but because I needed to do the laundry and was out of my normal, everyday comfy clothes. It was amazing to see how differently people treated me. Men held doors for me. Receptionists were more patient with me. I even treated myself with more respect. I put my shoulders back and walked with confidence in my black high-heels. Today, I was a WOMAN — a woman (not just a frazzled mom) hauling four kids around to a dental appointment, the gas station, the doctor's office, school, and the military vehicle registration office. I had so much more energy, so much more vivacity.

So go ahead. Dress yourself up. Let your inner prince or princess out. Be a high-heeled mama or a hat-toting papa. Shine those shoes, paint those nails, get your best dress or suit out of the back of the closet, and go show the world how wonderful it is. Go out and show the world how wonderful you are!