Why Americans dress so casually

By Roberto A. Ferdman

Imperious fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) dumps her coat on the desk of new assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway). The Devil Wears Prada. Photo credit: Barry Wetcher

Imperious fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) dumps her coat on the desk of new assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) in “The Devil Wears Prada.” (Photo credit: Barry Wetcher)

As you look at that hoodie you got as a Christmas or Hanukkah present, you may wonder why you didn’t get something a little more fancy as a gift. Don’t take it personally. It turns out that Americans are a decidedly casual society when it comes to fashion. In this piece, originally published in September, we examined how that came to be. In this conversation, we explore what happened in America that made us dress so casually.

Look around you, and you’ll likely notice a sea of different outfits. You might see similar articles of clothing — even the same ones — worn by different people, but rarely do you find two pairings of tops, bottoms, shoes, and accessories that are exactly alike.

That wasn’t always the case, said Deirdre Clemente, a historian of 20th century American culture at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, whose research focuses on fashion and clothing. Americans were far more formal, and formulaic dressers, not all that long ago. Men wore suits, almost without fail — not just to work, but also at school. And women, for the most part, wore long dresses.

UNLV Department of History faculty member Deirdre Clemente poses November 20, 2013 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services) Client: DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY

Deirdre Clemente (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Clemente has written extensively about the evolution of American dress in the 1900s, a period that, she said, was marked, maybe more than anything else, by a single but powerful trend: As everyday fashion broke from tradition, it shed …read more

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