Pearls before sweats

(Tom Bateman/AQ)
(Tom Bateman/AQ)

Lately, I find myself delving into fashion blogs. If you knew me when I was ten (a serious Tomboy phase), that news would shock you; luckily for me, you didn’t know me when I was ten

Maybe it’s just that I’m a late bloomer and fashion didn’t interest me until about a year ago.  But I don’t think I’m the only one with a new found affection—or at least a growing one—for an eye-pleasing garb.

A recent article in the New York Times reported many college students had traded in the disheveled, study-holic look for some higher fashion.

“If at one time college women subscribed to a regionally prescribed uniform — twin sets and loafers in the East, frayed jeans and ponchos farther west — now, thanks to the democratizing influence of the Web, trends are disseminated at warp speed, traversing regional borders and, paradoxically, encouraging a more individualized approach to dress,” the article said.

The Internet, with its zillions of fashion blogs (check out: and has opened up a world of expression we never knew was possible, or at least, acceptable. And with this magical wardrobe leading to fashion Narnia, gone are the days of sweats and those bright velvety jogging pants—thank goodness. We’ve been saved by the blazer and crafty scarves (try wearing sweatpants with those, I dare you).

In the UK, thanks to Downton Abbey, a period drama set during the First World War and follows the lives of an aristocratic family, fur cap sales have shot up 220 per cent and elbow-length gloves went up by 584 per cent. Corsets, pearl earrings and cloche hats are also in high demand. Marks&Spencer, a British clothing store, is selling a pair of Victorian-style boots every ten minutes. Topshop’s website is flooded with capes, three-piece suits (for the gents) and turn-of-the-century accessories.

So perhaps we’re making the move from quantity to quality—spending a little more money on a few good articles of clothing rather than buying 10,000 T-shirts at $5 a pop. And maybe we’re all just a little tired of the informality that comes with pajama pants.
But I still wasn’t sure where this urge for quality and formality is coming from, so I asked Scott Stapleford. Stapleford, voted best-dressed prof on campus last year, told me quality comes with the territory, even on campus.

“We’re professionals,” he said. “Academics and professors are professionals. Most of us spend at least a decade in school; I think we should take ourselves seriously. I think that there is a certain call to professionalism or propriety involved in having this responsibility and, whether we like it or not, the way we present ourselves on the surface has an influence on people.”

Maybe he’s on to something with this professionalism idea. At a time when actually becoming a professional seems increasingly and frighteningly out of reach, perhaps dressing the part is the best we can hope for. Or maybe we think looking the part will give us the edge.

Stapleford doesn’t think a return to dressing well means a return to a proper kind living. Our parents’ generation put a stop to constant and crisp formality. Men stopped wearing suits everyday, and women started wearing pants. We took it a little further and wore pajamas in public.
Perhaps we’re heading back to a formal era without all the formality. Or you might say: Our parents wanted freedom from formality; we want the freedom to be formal.

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • Sabrina

    M&S is hands down one of my fav stores in the whole world! glad to see it quoted here! and I think Dr. Stapleford is right, in Ottawa people dress soooo much differently especially in University (excluding politicians and civil servants), not to mention Montrealers or Torontonians. Happy someone`s talking about fashion in the AQ 🙂

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