by Lynn Ashby
THE RESTAURANT – This is a relatively fancy place — not much lipstick on the glasses — but there is something I notice about the clientele: Their clothes. Put it this way, I am the only grown man here wearing long pants. All the other males are in shorts. So are most of the women and all of the children. Used not to be this way, which leads us to today’s discussion: dress codes are changing. Is this good or bad? Will spats make a comeback, and who needs ties? I am all for comfortable clothes, but “No shoes, no shirt, no service,” has become: “No shoes, no shirt, no problem.”
We begin here in this restaurant. These are the dog days of summer in Texas, when you can fry an egg on your egg. Along the Gulf Coast we can add the humidity. But restaurants are freezing year-round, so I always keep a sweater in my car to bring into eateries. This place is Ice Station Zebra on the Bayou because the restaurant’s staff of bus boys, waiters and cooks is in charge of the thermostat. They are running around, sweating like an immigrant at a Trump rally. They are hot, so they keep making this place colder. As for the customers, we freeze, or at least I do. My own dress code is defined by the temperature, not the ambiance. I am wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and my handy sweater. These other folks eating here are in their shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. They must be newly arrived from Boston. Even the up-town eateries seem to have dropped their dress codes. In years past, men were required to wear a coat and tie. Not now. The more down-scale you go, the dress is casual down to sloppy.
At this point I should note that, if there is no longer a dress code, there should still be a taste code. Over at another table are two of the fattest, grossest men with their bare stomachs protruding out from under their skin-tight T-shirts and their legs look like bear fur. Their female counterparts are fat, sloppy and should be confined to the take-out lane. Yuk.
Dressed for lunch at restaurants can be different. Casual Fridays are now casual 2017. A table may be filled with men wearing sport shirts, slacks and dress shoes or maybe nice boots, but no one seems to wear a tie to work anymore. The women are all neatly dressed for business, but high-heels must have gone the way of men’s ties. At least no one is in shorts. The same cannot be said for your local grocery store. Between Easter and Halloween, shorts are de rigueur on Aisle 5. During the day, young mothers come in wearing their tennis garb. I wonder how many of them really play tennis. Oh, and they all are holding a plastic bottle of imported water and an iPhone. Occasionally, at the grocers, after work you will see guys wearing their green scrubs. This tells everyone: “I am a doctor. Show some respect.”
Over the years what we wore outside of the house, ranch or job at the hog rendering plant was predictable. Clothes were for looks, not comfort. However, if you watched “Downton Abbey,” you noticed how the upper class got all gussied up for dinner. Their dressing started about 4 p.m., but then they had nothing else to do. The ladies wore long dresses with lots of jewelry, and the gentlemen were in a tux. Those times being before dry cleaning, we can only guess what the table smelled like on a summer night. On this side of the pond (the new term for the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s shorter), the Vanderbilts and the Astors did the same. Speaking of the pond, in the movie, “Titanic,” set in 1912, the dress code for the upper crust was about the same. And look at those old photos of people standing on the Galveston beach during the summer. It’s 102 degrees with 100 percent humidity. The women’s dresses were several layers of cloth and went from turtle neck to the ground, while the men were wearing white linen suits, high collars, ties and straw hats. They look miserable.
My father brought home one of the first pair of Bermuda shorts I had seen. My mother wouldn’t let him wear them out of the house. Once as a senior in high school, I and a few other boys decided to attend school wearing Bermuda shorts. We didn’t even get to our first class before we were sent to the principal’s office where we were lectured about proper clothing etiquette, and sent home to change. Today during warm days, students are sent home for not wearing shorts. As a UT student I worked the cafeteria line at a dorm holding 452 female students. (I would have paid for the job). The dress code (or co-ed) for lunch and dinner was a skirt with blouse or a dress, strictly enforced. One time a girl showed up wearing, culottes, and was sent back to her room to change clothes. Now I think that dorm’s dress code is “whatever fits.” Same for their live-in boyfriends.
Today Bermuda shorts are worn everywhere, even to church, and you have been wondering why Bermuda shorts are called that. Guess what? They didn’t originate in Bermuda, although at the Summer Olympics the Bermuda team marches in wearing red Bermuda shorts (red being the main color in their flag). During World War II, British military wore shorts in tropical and desert warfare, but, being proper King’s troops, they wore long socks. Meanwhile, there was a shortage of clothing in Bermuda, so two banks got a local tailor to make shorts, modeled on those worn by the British military, for their male employees, with long socks, of course. This was the beginning of Bermuda shorts as business attire in Bermuda, a fad which quickly spread to Texas restaurants – minus socks.
Ashby wears firstname.lastname@example.org