Archive for Monday, July 25, 2005

Baring sole in White House

July 25, 2005


What would you wear if you were invited to the White House?

My daughter, all of 14, got this look on her face like I'd threatened to take her to a Motown concert. "Ew," she said, "do we have to go to the White House?"

No, I said. I just want to know what you'd wear if you did go.

"Well," she said, "I'd want to be comfortable, so I'd probably wear jeans and a T-shirt."

Figuring she didn't quite get the question, I pressed her. "Let's say they were honoring you. What would you wear?"

In that case, she said, she'd dress up a bit. A nice skirt and blouse, maybe. I sighed in relief that I had not raised a Philistine. At which point she mentioned that she would top off her ensemble with these cool new shoes they have that look like high heels, but they're really sneakers. Or maybe she said they look like sneakers, but they're really high heels - I was busy cringing at the time. Anyway, my point is, there are fates worse than flip-flops.

And if you're going, "Huh?" well, it's obvious you missed one of the biggest news stories of the last couple weeks. Sure, you read about the bombings in London, Karl Rove roasting on an open fire, and "Scotty" from Stark Trek getting beamed up to that big transporter room in the sky. But did you hear about the flip-flop flap?

Flip-flops as in those ratty rubber sandals you wear to the beach. Except that these days, they are no longer necessarily ratty or rubber and can retail for hundreds of bucks. But even at that, aren't they still a little ... informal to wear to the White House?

Apparently not, in the judgment of several members of the Northwestern University women's lacrosse team. They wore flip-flops recently when they were invited for a photo op with President Bush to celebrate their championship season. The fashion police set up a howl that could be heard from here to Bergdorf Goodman, the young women's choice of footwear making headlines everywhere from the Chicago Tribune to the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times to the Boston Globe to ye olde Miami Herald. Finally, several of the women had to go on NBC's "Today Show" and swear they meant no harm.

As near as I can tell, about the only person who didn't raise an eyebrow was President Bush. I'm thinking this is because he has daughters roughly the age of the Northwestern students. So he's just glad they didn't drop by wearing low-rise jeans that showed off thong underwear and tattoos across their tailbones.

At this point, I must confess that I'm the last person in the world who should be allowed to make fun of anybody's fashion choices. In the first place, I was born in Southern California. Then, as if that weren't bad enough, I moved to South Florida. So you see, any fashion sense I might have had was ruthlessly beaten out of me by years of exposure to black tie T-shirts, pre-stressed blue jeans, Casual Fridays (always preceded by Relaxed Mondays, Informal Tuesdays, Indifferent Wednesdays and Sloppy Thursdays) and beach shirts loud enough to drown out the landing of a jumbo jet.

Hence, I consider it a victory when I manage to wear socks that match ... anything. But even I know you don't wear flip-flops at the White House.

That a perfectly decent group of young women does not, kind of says it all about the informality of the age. We have elevated personal comfort to virtually the status of a constitutional right. But in the process, maybe we have lost the capacity for a sense of moment, a sense of occasion, a sense that there are things you respect. And that one of the ways you show respect is by dressing up.

Wait. I just read back that last paragraph and I'm trying to figure out when I turned into my mother.

I guess there are worse fates.

It's just that people keep telling me this is a more laid-back era. And that's all well and good. But I find myself wondering: how far back can you lay before you fall over completely?

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


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