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Is That What You're Wearing?

Lynn Harris -- For some, fashion sense is no sense.

I know it's hot. I know it's even hotter in Washington. I know lots of people waited many long hot hours in the sun. But shorts and tank tops? To view a president's casket? If you watched even a few minutes of the television coverage -- which seemed to last longer than his actual presidency -- perhaps you noticed that the throngs swarming the capitol to mourn Ronald Reagan were basically dressed for spring break.

Reagan, folksy though he was, was not sax-playing, Saturday-Night-Live-hosting folksy. He was old school. In his day, men wore hats. The fashion emergency that passed as paying "respect" must have had him turning in his grave even before he got there.

If I'm upset about dressing respectfully for a man for whom I have only limited respect, you can imagine my knickers are in a twist about, oh, tee-shirts in church, sneakers at the Met, baseball caps nowhere near a diamond. Or comedians for whom we pay a cover and two-drink minimum (total: $571) who tell jokes in ripped pants and a shirt fresh from the hamper. Even I, at the tender age of 35, remember when people used to dress up to fly on a plane. But today, we dress to depress. Welcome to Schlep Nation.

When I'm president, I shall abolish Casual Day, which is basically a goofy high-school Theme Day, like Pajama Day! (Careful what you joke about: Gawker reports that MSNBC has already held "Hawaiian Shirt Friday" and is planning, for Fridays throughout the summer, occasions such as "Crazy Hat Day" and "Disco Day -- no hotpants please." Get breaking news -- and help the sophomore class pay for prom!)

Men: It's unfair that you can't throw on a sundress, at least not without unwelcome comments. I sympathize: even kilts are wool. But still. No shorts, unless you are defending Stephan Marbury, or have a really nice khaki pair with a zipper and pockets (only two, though) for long casket-viewing queues. If you absolutely must wear shorts, commit to shorts. None of those clamdiggers that make you look like Little Frat Boy Fauntleroy.

Women, you're not off the hook. Flip-flips are not shoes. Sandals are fine, even sandals that go "flip-flop." But if you are wearing those rubbery schlubbies, you darn well better be wearing cotton between your toes and a fresh coat of polish.

I'm not saying we have to dress schmancy all the time. Or expensive. (All hail Century 21.) Or uncomfortable. (Elastic waistbands are my friends.) I'm all for the democratization of fashion, taste, and access: you should be able to see Carmen even if you don't own black tie or vintage Valentino. And your religious life should feel like your life, not a stiff dress-up occasion.

I also don't think that those mourners, or, say, guys who wear football jerseys on dates, are making a consciously disrespectful statement -- at least not to the late president or, say, me. But what about self-respect? Saying, in effect, "It doesn't matter how I look" is a teeny-tiny bit like saying, "I don't matter." Well, you do. See how you feel when you dress the part.

Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel Miss Media (www.miss-media.net) -- which New York Magazine called a "sharp, smart satire" -- as well as co-creator of the award-winning Web site BreakupGirl.net. The "Dating Dictionary" columnist for Glamour Magazine, Lynn also writes about culture, media, gender, and politics for Salon.com, Nerve.com, and many other publications.

© 2004 Lynn Harris

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