As Labor Day looms on the horizon it puts a spotlight on the new rules for wardrobe choices, and their correctness (or not) and together with memories of the just-ended Olympics reminds us how little clothing it now takes to be a winner. It seems the right time to take a fresh look at the quaint expression “Sunday Best.” It used to mean the “dress up clothes” you could wear to Church and be more or less assured that you would not stand out like a pesky weed in a garden of elegant predictability. Those whose worship was on a different, designated day of the week have traditionally been tolerant of the fact that the said “Best” was a no less demanding set of requirements for them and their fellow worshippers. A matter more of correctness than calendar, you might say.
Some of the genteel elements of the “Sunday Best” might have included a large hair bow, a collar and tie (remember when those weren’t just for weekdays, minus Friday, at your job in a corporate office that included both bricks and mortar?). Gloves, not the kind you use for warmth but ones made of cotton (preferably white) or kid (Look it up!) or crochet linen were musts. The dresses (unless you were Katherine Hepburn and had been given a pass on wearing skirts) were to be tailored, elegant (not too) and cover the knees. The Shoes were wing tips for him and closed and not too high of heel for her. Crocks were spelled with a K and used for storing pickles and children were definitely not to wear the plastic foot coverings that leave out the “k” as an acceptable “Sunday Best’ wardrobe selection. Hats, presumably were recommended (or not) with a nod to gender. Men’s hats were seemingly synonymous with a range from Fedora to Irish Walking Hat (especially if you were the late, great Patrick J. Moynihan) to Derbys and other styles made of felt. The “Sunday Bests” in this category did not include baseball caps or otherwise designated promotional items that identified you with cause or sporting loyalty.
In houses of worship from which the Aretha Franklins and Mahalia Jacksons of the world emerged into the vocal halls of fame, hats, I believe, remain an absolute requirement. It was not by accident that the musical based on this fashion statement was called “Crowns.” Purses were not to be confused with backpacks or similarly luggage grade carriers suited to accommodating the majority of one’s earthly possessions.
If you are wondering why a mention of Labor Day set off this train of thought, it’s because the rules of costuming have calendar standards that are probably mostly “honored in the breach” of late. Not so long ago, the white shoes that were not to be brought out before Memorial Day were also scrupulously to be retired after Labor Day. The same general rule applied to white trousers as worn by both males and females and suits (unless you happened to be the writer of Bonfire of the Vanities and named Tom Wolfe.) Then there came the vogue for “winter white” and in its fashion wake, all bets were off for the whole universe of white garments.
While waiting to speak with the buyer for a nicely managed super market in my urban village, I observed a note on the bulletin board recommending certain wardrobe choices for the men and women employed there. It included the recommendation to avoid wearing “openwork” denim trousers, see-through tops and other clothing and footwear items. That gave me yet another reason to add to my own puzzlement as to how price tags seem to rise in proportion to the removal of fabric. When, I can’t help but wonder, did deliberate destruction become a winning design inspiration coveted by fashion directors from K-Mart to Bergdorf. I recall when “casual Fridays” emerged as a viable fashion option. At first it might have been that losing a tie was somehow a bold choice. But that predated virtual commuting that made it a matter of no concern as to Friday garb.
Now that exercise regimens have taken on the status of semi-sacred obligations no one should be surprised that what were once referred to as “gym clothes” go with confidence to any and every destination. I need to Google a story reported recently on one of the innumerable electronic modes of communication and be reminded of what it said about the impact of casual clothing on the level of one’s happiness.
Maybe “Sunday Best” refers to mood and not garb. So as Labor Day nears, just smile, and stay tuned.
All photos: Bigstock by Shutterstock