It’s common knowledge among everyone who pays attention to such things that Americans frequently dress super casually – and have for quite a while now.Whether it’s Silicon Valley CEOs or college students on their way to class, American loves their jeans and T-shirts.
“We dress more casually because we can,” according to cultural historian Deirdre Clemente from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, who was interviewed by The Washington Post.
Americans gravitate toward casual without even realizing it. Casual clothing doesn’t obviously signal wealth or social status, but it instead proves that Americans can freely express their individuality.
It wasn’t always this way. For much of the 20th century, Americans didn’t dress casually all the time. There were dress codes and customs. Men wore suits and hats; women wore dresses. Jeans and T-shirts were for laborers, not professionals.
“Casual is the sweet spot between looking like every middle-class American and being an individual in the massive wash of options,” Clemente told The Post.
She says we now find meaning in the way we dress in a way we didn’t in the early 20th century, when people dressed more aspirationally. They wanted to look as though they had higher social status than they actually did.
As it turns out, historians can point to two major periods in the 20th century that changed the way we dress today: The 1920s, when women started breaking away from dresses and fewer men attending college wore full suits, and World War II, when women cared more about their work in the factories and the victory gardens than what they were wearing on the particular day.
Since those times, the long slide to where we are today was inevitable. (The 1960s and ’70s hastened things along.) So where does Clemente say we are now, in terms of fashion and dress?
In a word: individualization.
“There are so many different kinds of social and cultural personas that we can put on, and our clothes have become extremely emblematic of that,” Clemente told The Post.
It used to be that everyone wore some kind of uniform: military, professional, or domestic. Now no one does.