Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pajamas and Pancakes: Anytime & Anywhere

At Wal-Mart the other day, I saw people wearing pajamas while shopping.  Just search “shopping in pajamas” to see commentary and videos about it.  I wondered:  when did it become okay for such casualness?  Also, why do I think it is casual?  After all, some people think it is just normal.

As a kid, I grew up in a world where the social rules of conduct were based in Modernism, a world of order and hierarchy.  Everything in its place and a place for everything was a common phrase.  That meant that there were acceptable clothing styles for different parts of the day, for working or leisure, and for being in public or in private.  Various activities all had their clothing selections and were defined as formal or casual.   Golf shoes were for golf and not hiking; tennis shoes were for tennis not basketball.  Pajamas were worn while sleeping and maybe having breakfast with the kids--not shopping.

There used to be all kinds of rules for formality and being in public.  Restaurants had dress codes.  The more formal or upscale the place the more strict the rules.  Dinner jackets and ties for men; dresses and nylons for women.  Many places had No Shirts No Shoes No Service signs by the entry.

Clothing reflected social status.  Family restaurants were casual and noisy with children.  Formal dining was quiet, reserved, and full of ties and dresses.

Under Modernism there were three meals a day and each had its separate items.  Breakfast was eggs and pancakes or cereal.  Lunch was sandwiches and/or soup; dinner was a main dish and maybe a dessert.  Restaurants had different menus for each meal.   

In the 1980s and 90s this all changed due to the spread of our new Romanticism.  Casualness spread everywhere because formality declined everywhere. Public and private blended, as did work and leisure. Modernism was steeped in its domestications and hierarchies of cultural class.  All of it was defined by what you did, what you wore, what you read.  Paul Fussell (here) described very well America’s classes as they were at the end of Modernism.   He takes the three old classes of early Modernism (High Brow, Middle Brow, and Low Brow) and breaks them down into several subclasses of each. 

Under Modernism, the upper crust abhorred egalitarianism.  Under Romanticism, egalitarianism is the dominant theme.  Modernist social class (based on education, occupation, & money) has collapsed into Romanticism’s two groups, the Haves and the Have Nots (money and power divides everything); the Alpha personalities against everyone else.

Today, we have few outlets for formality.  You still see it in weddings and some ceremonies.  Graduations tend to maintain the old sense of order but the number of people wearing spoofy outfits (or nothing) under their gowns has turned these events into opportunities for satire.

In terms of clothing, there has been some backlash to the casualness.  Mild dress codes are still in force or are being reinstalled with different levels of acceptability.  However, meal categories are now useless.  Restaurants now have breakfast all day ads or their menus are a blend of separate meal categories and items served all day (see here for the Jack in the Box menu). 

Some have yet to figure this out.  McDonalds--Does it really matter what time of day I buy a Big Mac or an Egg Mac Muffin? 

You won’t see me in pajamas at Wal-Mart (because I don’t wear them).  However, if I want pancakes for dinner, I will have them.

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