POSTED ON MAY 14, 2008:
Approaching What's Appropriate
Know your own fashion boundaries in a world that doesn't post them
A Dollar Short. From fourth grade until high school, the first day of school provided me a list of how many days I could be absent and how many tardies I could receive. The list also stated that shorts could be no shorter than my fingertips (the dollar bill rule) and tank top straps had to be at least three fingers wide.
In elementary school, some seemingly superior being begins setting the rules for what you cannot wear. Unless you attend a private school, there really is no list of what you can wear--just what you are not allowed to. The list never changes, even as you move up into high school, so that, if you never change schools, the list of what is unacceptable is burned into your brain.
From fourth grade until high school, the first day of school provided me a list of how many days I could be absent and how many tardies I could receive. The list also stated that shorts could be no shorter than my fingertips (the dollar bill rule) and tank top straps had to be at least three fingers wide. Anything beyond these measurements was not accepted and could lead to a person being sent home. Rules are rules.
The other issue with school and fashion is that there was the school of hard knocks that a person faced from their peers. Fellow classmates let you know what else you could not wear, what was inappropriate fashion. These are the clothing lessons learned because a person is mocked. Not wearing the right clothing brands. Not wearing the right fashion trends or being downright unique. Enough taunting and you knew what you could and could not wear. In eleventh grade I broke a rule when I wore a mid-length denim skirt with peep toed pumps and ankle socks. This was unacceptable. I never tried that "trend" again. Lesson learned.
Colour My World
When a person matures and leaves school behind, the amount of rules lessens. Besides a random "No shirt, no shoes, no service" sticker on an establishment's door (are these signs still around?), there are few and far between times where there are actual rules set up for what is acceptable. Outside of a person's job, there are no rules that assist a person in making fashion choices day to day, just suggestions from the media. Thank goodness we still have friends who will insist that we buy something that looks good on us or not buy it if it looks bad. If friends aren't around, when we test the outfit out by wearing it in their presence, they will, generally, be so kind to inform us to not wear that again. We wander aimlessly in the rules of what is appropriate until we receive the help of our friends.
The sudden realization that there are no set parameters on what is appropriate boiled down to a funeral I recently attended. Dressing that morning was a no-brainer -- black dressy top, black dress pants and modest black shoes. I assumed this to be the only option for funeral (or wake or memorial) dressing.
I was actually in the minority. Barely anyone was in head-to-toe black. I saw only a few who had on some black (shirt or pants), but most of the attendees were just dressed nicely. Every color of clothing was represented, from men in nice brown suits to women in pink. Somewhere, at some time, it became acceptable to dress outside of the traditional mourning black. Apparently, the appropriate look is to dress up and to look respectable, but nothing more. It's good to know this new rule. Grief does not have to literally be worn on the sleeve. It's also nice to know that, should something happen, a person doesn't need to find the perfect black ensemble. That is about the last thing a person in mourning wants to contemplate.
Quite contrary to dressing for a funeral, dressing as a wedding guest is another monumental event where the color war presents itself. As summer approaches, and the season of weddings begin, people wonder what they can and cannot wear to the nuptials.
Often the school of thought was/is that a person, namely a woman, should not wear black to a wedding. Why? Too dark, too morbid. So, if black is not designated for a funeral, it should not be kept out of a wedding. In fact, nothing is more appropriate for a formal event than a black dress. Black is perfectly acceptable for a wedding, day or night ceremony, indoor or outdoors.
What I now wonder is whether or not white and/or cream is inappropriate. The rule of thumb was always that it was not appropriate to wear any shade of white or off white to a wedding, as that is what the bride wears. You are not allowed to upstage the bride. But then I read that in Beyonce's alleged wedding to Jay-Z, she allegedly required all guests to wear the color ivory (read: cream and/or white). Is this a case of a crazy Bridezilla/celebrity going too far with a theme?
Or, is this color becoming acceptable to wear to a wedding? I am no wedding expert, but I would believe that this is a once-off and that unless the invitation specifically states you to wear a particular shade, err on the side of caution and opt for any color but. The universal rule is to dress in anything that does not upstage the bride.
Draw the Line
But special events like these are one-offs. You'll be hard pressed to screw them up. Once you know what is appropriate, you'll do fine. It's functioning on an average Tuesday morning or a Thursday night that flusters you. Without equipping yourself with the right knowledge, you can really screw yourself over because it's difficult to determine what is acceptable.
Stores will sell anything, but that doesn't mean the clothing is acceptable. I'm sure if you tried you could find a men's mesh tank top to purchase. You could score six-inch Lucite platform heels. Just because they've been created doesn't make them any more accepted.
The same goes for sizes. While some stores hit a stopping point in their size run, other stores or brands will just keep going, making items from XXS to XXL. Just because it is has been created in a certain size doesn't make it acceptable to wear. They make denim mini skirts in sizes where the waist is larger than the length. They make string bikini tops in