Jewish World Review March 16, 2005 / 5 Adar II 5765
What's with this black-tie optional business?
I count it pure joy to ditch my "mom togs" and don something really terrific and feminine. The other night, heading out to my father's 80th-birthday party G-d bless him! I had on a delicious chocolate-brown gown. (It was the deal of a lifetime, by the way. I got it four years ago on sale for a grand total of $125. I've never gotten over it.) Anyway, my 3-year-old looked at me and told me I looked like "a princess." G-d bless her, too.
Here's where I'm going with this: Once again, for the umpteenth time, I have been invited to a "black-tie optional" event. Note the "optional." It makes me completely nuts. Worse, I think it's a sign of the degradation of our culture.
What is this "optional" nonsense, anyway? For the guys, it's one thing they either do or do not wear penguin suits, and they will almost always be told which it's going to be by their wives or girlfriends. There's no decision for them. But, for the women, does it mean:
a) If you feel like coming in black-tie, then pretend you are at an all-black-tie party and dress accordingly i.e., super-formal;
b) If you want to go black-tie, don't dress as formally as if it were a true black-tie-only event i.e., no gowns;
c) If you don't go black-tie that's OK, but dress dressier than you would if you were going to a simple cocktail party.
d) Just do what you feel like.
Who knows? And what will the majority of the crowd be doing, and how can you possibly know ahead of time so that you are not totally out of sync and left feeling like a jerk?
Yes, I realize this sounds like a small matter. In the grand scheme of things, when we're dealing with terrorism and natural disasters, the rise of "black-tie optional" events is a small thing indeed.
But it still makes me nuts.
For starters, it's a sign our entire society has gotten too casual. Are truly formal events just "out"? It's like kids addressing me by my first name now that REALLY makes me crazy. Have we given up all semblance of formality in our society? I sometimes think that if my dear departed mother could see what's going on these days she would turn over in her ashes. My mother would no more have set foot outside her home without complete makeup and hair being done than she would have flown to the moon. And she wouldn't wear slacks to church if it was 5 degrees outside. (I've caved on both counts, I'm afraid.)
But here's how "black-tie optional" reflects the demise of our culture we can't decide. We don't want to set standards. We want everyone to feel good and decide for themselves what makes them feel good. It's like the sign I recently saw outside a liberal church: "room for all beliefs, including yours."
Why bother getting up early Sunday morning for that?
No one wants to say, "We are going to hold you to this high standard, and if you don't meet it you are going to look like an idiot." Now it's just, "Do what feels good for you" forget how much misery it causes everyone involved because nobody has a clue what to do.
Perhaps worst of all, we still want some semblance of a standard instead of having the guts to chuck it altogether and admit we don't have any standards. So instead of saying "cocktail dress" or "business attire" or "do whatever you feel like," we've come up with "black-tie optional." Like, we have no standards but let's sort of pretend we do?
OK, OK, maybe I'm taking this thing too seriously. Maybe seeing "black-tie optional" as a euphemism for many of the woes facing our culture is, well, a little bit much. Maybe this is not actually something normal people spend their time worrying about. Maybe I'm just so insecure (what else is new?) I can't stand the thought of showing up and not looking like everyone else.
Hey, I just want some clarity in my life. I figure if I didn't have to spend time agonizing over "black-tie optional," I could start focusing on more important things like complaining about fake Christmas trees.
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