Dressing down is the new dressing up

People will just about wear any old thing nowadays

I grew up in a time when attending church or a funeral called for formal dress. Men wore suits. And though a woman might have been scraping by, still she managed to own a stylish hat, gloves (if need be, discretely mended), and a skirt decorously covering knees or mid-calf.

My mother owned one formal black dress she reserved for funerals. It was sewn from a rough crepe material that produced a scratching sound when she moved. Epaulets thickened by Oreo-sized rosettes fashioned from hard twist #10 crotchet thread could have thwarted a pirate’s sword.

Such formality has been tossed into the rag bag. Today in dress and decorum anything goes.

Recently North Shore Search and Rescue leader Tim Jones was honoured with a blocks long memorial parade of SARS members, paramedics, firefighters and other first responders flanking ambulances and fire trucks. Throughout, onlookers – mostly respectful – clogged both sides of the street, there to honour a man who devoted much of his private time to saving the lives of people, more than one of whom had knowingly ignored the rules for safely enjoying the outdoors to soon find themselves lost and in need of imminent rescue.

Yet among the sombre crowd stood one young woman devouring a bear claw. Not even for the moments it took for the parade to pass her by could she suspend sustenance. It’s a wonder she wasn’t snapping photos and texting with her free thumb at the same time.

But she’s not the first person I’ve noted defying the decorum of a sad solemn occasion.

Back in mid-August, 2011, when a visitation was held at a funeral home for gunned down gangster Jonathan Bacon, news media captured leaving visitors in their funeral finery: men in tee shirts with wild designs and nasty slogans, wearing backwards baseball caps.

One matron had stuffed herself into a dress short enough to satisfy a Vegas headliner with a neckline so low she threatened to spill over like Janet Jackson’s memorable wardrobe malfunction at a Superbowl halftime.

Bacon’s fashion-liberated family started me noticing other examples of dress-as-you-please during formal occasions. Less than a week later, Jack Layton’s body lay in state in the Parliament Building so Canadians could file past expressing their respect and admiration for the man.

Dismayed by the wardrobe choices as I watched the queue inch forward, I reminded myself Ottawa is a tourist town, just then at the peak of tourist season, and many visitors/mourners might plan to spend the remainder of the day soaking in the sights and partaking of the city’s unique activities.

Walking shorts or golf course attire predominated. Younger folk carried backpacks. Women dressed in romper suits, short shorts, and barely-there spaghetti strap or strapless tops, the range of colours and patterns inspired by a tropical bird aviary.

That’s when I concluded times have surely changed. Whereas I always begged off attending funerals for lack of conventional attire, that is no longer a valid excuse. From here on if someone offers me a ride to such an event, even if they spring the invitation on me – perhaps I’m mowing the lawn – all I have to do is brush the pine needles out of my hair, shake grass clippings from my sneakers, and I’ll be ready to go.

“What if you haven’t had lunch yet?” you ask. No reason to go hungry or disrupt the quiet occasion with tummy rumblings. I can take along a sandwich and eat it while I queue past the coffin. So long as I use cheese rather than tuna or kielbasa, no one will raise an eyebrow unless I drop crunchy crumbs underfoot or on the deceased.