One of the most arrogant things a human can do is put a dress code on an invitation. That’s basically saying, “I think my party deserves a certain level of sophistication.” And I’m not sure you deserve something just because you wrote it on a piece of paper. I would love to be able to put on my invitation, “Facial Expression: Surprised.” People would be walking around going, “Oh wow! Sausage rolls! I did not expect that. Where’s the bathroom? Down the hall?! No way, that’s so unexpected! Everyone here is surprised. What are the odds?!” But I can’t force people to do that. If I want to have a party like that, I need to go make friends with people who are very easily surprised. The same goes for dress codes. If you need to tell your friends not to come to your engagement party in trackpants and a hoodie, I don’t think you do deserve a classy party. I think you need to make classier friends. A dress code isn’t going to solve your problems, it’s just putting a bandaid over the cancer.
Dress codes are a terrible system. The problem is in the name. “Code.” I see something like “semi-casual” and I can’t de-code that. Why can’t they just be explicit? Something like, “Polished Shoes, suit pants, collared shirt, tie optional.” Bam! I know precisely what I can wear. But I think the problem with this approach might be that, while it may work for men, women’s fashion is way too complicated. You would need an A3 sized invitation to list all the variants. Did you know there’s a thing called a “blouse”? Apparently it’s radically different enough from a shirt to have its own name. I can’t tell the difference. It’s a shirt! Also, what do you call that jumper that keeps going at the waist and is also a dress? A drumper? This is probably why women just call everything a “top”. They’ve gone, “Bugger trying to remember the names to all this stuff. If it’s worn above the waist, it’s a top.”
The other problem with dress codes is that what is considered appropriate is relative. If you’re at a funeral and everyone else is in a Sailor Moon outfit, you have inappropriately dressed for that funeral. Dress Codes are not rules, they’re conventions. And for a convention to work, it needs to be understood and followed by the majority. Like spelling, that works because we’ve all agreed to spell words the same way. When someone tells you your spelling is wrong, all they are really saying is, “Your spelling does not conform to the current conventions.” When I see a kid fail a spelling bee, I don’t think, “What a loser.” I think, “What an individual! He spelled ‘duty’ with a ‘J’. He’s the Lady Gaga of spelling.”
More people understand spelling than dress codes, but I think we can all agree that in terms of profit, fashion is kicking spelling’s arse. It’s making a hell of a lot more money than spelling. The problem with the spelling industry is that people buy a dictionary… and that’s it. There’s no incentive to buy another dictionary, because spelling changes so slowly. That’s why they need to start releasing things like “The Macquarie Dictionary Summer Edition: With All the Hot New Spellings for This Summer!” That would generate more sales. Children will be nagging their parents, “Mum, you gotta buy me the new dictionary, our one is so old, it’s lame, it’s only got 26 letters in it. This one has a brand new letter, Mum! All my friends have it, they’re all using the new spellings for words. I spelled ‘egg’ with two g’s yesterday and they laughed at me and said that was so 2009!”
Or, in the same way Victoria’s Secret signed up Miranda Kerr, imagine if the Oxford Dictionary got Justin Beiber to write all his tweets using their spelling of English words. All of his tweets would look like gibberish until you decoded them. You’d have to go out and buy a copy of the Oxford Dictionary to learn they still aren’t worth reading.
© Tony Besselink, 2013