While viewing this 1962 Barbie commercial the other day it made me consider that childhood act of playing ‘grown up’. Let’s watch:
We can certainly find that the girls attitudes at the end when they squeal with delight that they want ALL of Barbie’s clothes shows this is a commercial. It’s intent is to get a child to want to buy ALL the products for Barbie. By 1962 Madison Avenue is going full tilt and knows its audience. Yet, the most important element that struck me with this commercial was the context of the situation. Let me explain.
The little girls are in their own dress up dresses yet adorned to play ‘grown up’ with Mother’s hat and jewels, gloves, handbags, and shoes. Their fantasy situation is their being grown up young ladies dressed in their best going to a beautifully appointed fashion house. This really got me thinking on that age old childhood game of playing grown up and it made me wonder, how do children play that today?
Many parents and children are very similiar today. Father and mother play video games much like son and daughter. Mother’s wardrobe is often more stolen from daughters closet than the other way round. T-shirts, fashion easy to wear jersey knit tops, jeans, jeans, and more jeans, Uggs or tennis shoes. The ‘mother’ or ‘adult’ is often trying to look younger and therefore dress younger.
I recalled this change even happening somewhat when I was younger. As I have mentioned before, I have older parents (their being in their 40’s when I was born). So, my mother was for all intents and purposes a 1950’s mother. That is to say, she began motherhood in the 1950’s with my older sisters. So, when I came along in the 70’s she still very much had that same ‘50’s lifestyle. I remember the joy of playing grown up in my Mother’s closet. There were always lovely high heeled shoes, and bags to match. She had all her gloves she had ever owned and coordinating scarves and fun jewelry. Hats, as well, were easily found and so it was a real adventure. While my contemporaries, whose parents were usually the age of my older sister, often did not have this at their disposal. Their mothers, having been teens in the 60’s and early 70’s, had a different idea of dressing. Their closets held very little ‘dress up clothes’. I remember that dress up clothes were usually things bought at the toy store and in awful bubble gum pink with feathers and sequins and made out of horrid materials. Plastic shoes with glittered acrylic slip on shoes. A product to buy and stash with all the other toys rather than something to aspire to.
This also got me thinking that despite where you lived or where you were on the social ladder, a young girl could play dress up in the 1950’s. You could be the daughter of a Farmer with very little money and yet Mother most likely had some nice dresses for church and functions and she certainly had hats and gloves.
This aspiration to ‘dress up’ when we become adults has all but gone. The idea that when we go or do certain things we wear certain clothes is almost a comfort, I think. It takes away the fear of anticipation of ‘what should I wear’?
Even men’s current continual ‘comfort status’ is almost laziness. Why shouldn’t a man, when taking out a girl, wear a dinner jacket and take his hat off indoors? How much would the girl love that, really? They would feel special. It seems many of these traditions have simply made being lazy for men easier. We ladies can say, “Oh, its easier to throw on yoga pants and Uggs than a dress”, but you know you miss ‘dressing up’ for various things.
The idea of dressing a certain way when we are “grownups” is part of that transition from child to adult. It is something to aspire to. We see that when we are adults we must put away childish things and be responsible for what we do. But, that also looks like fun because we get to wear pretty things and go to lunch with our friends. Our home is a place to decorate and entertain in. Now, it seems, that the activities of an 8 year old are not that different from her mother. They both love being online, computer games, and surely dress and shop at the same place.
I am not saying this is entirely bad, but it does make one stop and consider: if there is no aspiration to adulthood, no step from child to adult, when do we grown up? And, if we aren’t expected to grow up how or why should we ever be responsible for our actions; how we live, work, spend or save our money, treat each other, the planet, our futures. I think, in a way, this type of ‘change’ in the modern world is simply a tip of the iceberg of many of the changes that have come about that are not entirely innocent. Our need to be always comfortable (i.e. too lazy to dress any other way than easy clothes taken from piles on floors bought for pennies at big box stores) is also a symptom of a lazy mind and attitude. When children play grown up today, what do they mimic? Do they even make toy dishes any more, for most families eat separately in front of the TV, there is no mimicry involved, from cradle to grave we are lazily moving from TV to computer in and out of bed in easy to grab clothes piled in excessively spent piles.
In many ways, isn’t it odd that with the ease and low cost of clothing today we don’t dress nicer? It is easier today to have your ‘Sunday best’ than it was in 1957, yet we look worse. Surely some may say, “Worse is relative, it is simply style”. But, I am not sure that today’s ‘style’ IS style. I think it is far easier to mass produce similar products out of jersey t-shirt and to continually make jeans. Shorter styles don’t cost the consumer less than longer, but cost the retailer and the manufacturer less. A change of ‘styles’ today is simply the movement of a waistline, the change of a pleat and a new ironic saying on the t-shirt. Easy enough to make at the manufactures level. The fashion move of the late 1960’s may have been more a change in the reality of making more money than any real ‘social change’. Dresses cost more and were made with Less fabric and cut in an easier to sew style.
So, we have given up ‘style’ for the ease of MORE clothing at lower costs, yet we all really look the same. We could easily have 7 t shirts and 7 pair of jeans and that is all many of us would need. But, is that what we do have? No, the closets are SO full, we have SO much stuff that stores exist simply to sell us things to organize all our stuff. There are shows about how to organize all our stuff.
In 1957 clothing was fairly expensive. You had ‘play clothes’ to keep your school clothes and dress up clothes nicer longer. There was a definite transition from ‘going to school’ and ‘going out to play’. Even that attitude of dressing up for school puts in a child’s mind that they are to sit up, pay attention. Can you imagine Beaver or Wally worried about how cool they look, or what an ‘awesome’ slogan their t-shrit has? Not waiting to hang out at the mall to buy more ‘cool clothing’. We almost seem more obsessed with clothing today, yet it is all so bland and similar. And then those who wish to really just have a style usually have to buy into one of the accepted ‘on the edge’ styles such as Goth, Punk etc. Really, these people just want to dress up! But, how could they ever have played dress up when Mummies closet looks exactly like their own? There is not transition from childhood to adult, so in some ways the various cliques today are simply defined by ‘what you wear’ and what genre of popular music you listen to.
Now, I am not saying that we have to go to the grocery store in an evening gown. But, would it be so bad if we were expected to dress for certain things. Wouldn’t it be nice if that Saturday date with your guy or spouse was an event to dress up for. Even if it were dinner and the movies, one would dress. I find it interesting that today the cost of a movie is so exorbitant compared to the 1950’s that a 1950’s person would laugh at anyone trying to charge that for 2 hours of entertainment. Yet, it cost less but was still taken more seriously, one dressed up and then often went to dinner (of course you could afford it as the movie hadn’t just cost you a day’s pay.)
Our obsession with shopping could be accompanied by the joy of dressing up for the occasion, but shopping now is so much a normal part of everyday, that we slide out of bed and put on basically another version of our pajamas and head out the door to buy more. Again, I am not saying we all have to dress vintage or wear starched collars, but I think the less formal dress is in fact a symptom of a society that may be slightly ill.
I think we must also be aware that the laziness and ‘ease’ of modern dressing might also allow us to have such an attitude with how we think. When we are always striving for ease and less work, are we not making ourselves pay little attention to our own world. Do we not take less time to concern ourselves about civic matters? Do we not pay attention to this or that politician or this or that law being passed? As long as I have my jeans, my T and my video games, easy internet shopping, and big box stores, microwavable meals and chips and soda, I am happy. But, are we happy? Is this all there is? Shouldn’t we Want to strive to be a an adult?
Why aren’t we adults playing ‘Grown up’ any longer?
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