The Land of LA is notorious for being the Capitol of Casual, at least as far as major US urban areas go. It's not hard to feel overdressed in this town, unless you're walking a red carpet (and even then only provided the paparazzi actually know who you are). The almost compulsory dressing down goes hand-in-hand with the zeitgeist of Cool, and here the worst faux pas is being perceived as Trying Too Hard. This, understandably, makes une femme absolutely nuts. Am I the only person in LA who actually enjoys dressing up on occasion?
One would presume--in West LA anyway--that the dress code for women seems to dictate that one should always look as if one is just going to or returning from yoga class. Men seem to be required to wear baseball caps and flip-flops. Up until recently, Uggs were overwhelmingly the footwear of choice. Job applicants show up for interviews with bare midriffs and muffin tops, and I've seen people dining at Crustacean in t-shirts that should have hit the rag bin five years hence.
Somewhat serendipitously, as I was beginning to ponder this cacaphony of casual wear, I stumbled across an article in September Vogue entitled "The Sloppy Syndrome." The author, Jean Hanff Korelitz writes, "I have always had a very uneasy relationship with the idea of elegance. Nice clothes were fine, but you didn't want to look as if you were trying too hard or cared that much. I could never seem to get dressed up without feeling compelled to mess up my hair or skip the stockings, just to take the edge off. When it came to heels, I always chickened out just before I left the house and swapped them for something that wouldn't look so...forced."
She goes on to explore some of the cultural and generational differences in attitudes toward dressing up, "Women of my mother's vintage have always been well turned out, from their smocked girlhood dresses to their teen cashmere sweater sets to the professional clothes they wore as they entered the brave new post-Betty Friedan workplace....Being elegant, looking mature--these were not problematic for them." She wonders if in our youth-worshipping, individualistic culture, looking too put-together signals identification with having achieved a certain age or whether it goes back to a fear of looking like we care what others think, and wanting to avoid the risk of not passing muster.
Either way, Angelenos have taken this sartorial attitude to extremes. But recently I've seen signs that this tide may be turning a bit. Saturday night we finally got in for dinner at Fraiche and I was delighted and surprised to see that the majority of other diners there actually Dressed Up, at least by LA standards. Granted, most of the clientele were themselves d'un certain age, but even some of the younger patrons had put on a dress and heels, and actually seemed to have washed their hair. I'm hopeful this isn't either a passing fad or a sign of the Apocalypse, because for a city with so many "beautiful people," I've never seen so many shlubs.