Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whatever Happened To Style?

In the midst of all of the low-brow humor that passes for clever Super Bowl commercials, there was an ad for Chrysler called “Arrive in Style.” It was very subtle…filmed partially in black and white…nostalgic of the forties and fifties.

The narrator asks, “where has the glamour gone? It wasn’t long ago, America had it…looking, feeling like a million bucks. It was practically our birthright. We didn’t race from A to B…we cruised. Going for a drive was a big deal. And when we arrived, we arrived in style.”

Ok, yes…it was a little pretentious and snobby. But something about it made me long for the days when going for a drive was actually a pastime. My family didn’t belong to the country club set. We were strictly middle-class suburbia. But we had a big, beige Pontiac that was always clean and waxed, with lots of shiny, polished chrome. My dad kept the interior immaculate.

Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, we’d go for a long drive through the countryside surrounding Memphis, where we lived. Usually, we’d stop at a roadside stand for an ice cream cone. Dad would stand there, leaning against the car, smoking a cigarette, looking like Frank Sinatra, with his pressed shirt, sport’s jacket, and pleated trousers, complete with fedora, while Mom and I, in our pretty dresses and white gloves, savored our ice cream. We “dressed” for a drive in the country! Can you imagine?

Now you might be asking, “Who wants to get dressed up to ride in a car? Why not just wear some cut-offs and a tee shirt and be comfortable?” Comfortable is pleasant….practical. It makes sense when you’re riding around in an un-air-conditioned automobile and eating ice cream on a warm Spring day…right?

Maybe so. But, whatever happened to style?

I feel like I’m a thousand years old when I say this…but I miss the decorum of the fifties and sixties. Good manners were required. Our elders were treated with respect. Invitations arrived in the mail. And writing thank you notes was a must. There was no dashing off a quick text.

We “dressed” for dining out…even if it was just the neighborhood Shoney‘s. On special occasions, we went to Justine’s and ate lump crabmeat curry, served by elegant waiters in starched white shirts…very gracious, “old school” South. We dressed for church…for school…for dates. We turned off the television and sat together at the table for meals. The one exception was dinner on Saturday night when Mom let me eat on a TV tray and watch “Fantastic Features.”

We wanted to grow up to be "Jack and Jackie." Boys brought flowers and opened doors and walked on the curbside. We went downtown on the bus to stroll up and down Main Street, and to go to the movies. Teenagers didn’t have cars! We rode our bikes to school. We sat together in the evening in someone’s back yard…and talked! We had televisions, of course, but we preferred laughing and talking with our family and friends. There was nothing better than laying on the cool grass on a summer evening and wishing on the stars. We went to the library, the skating rink, bowling, the park, the zoo. And we always “dressed” for the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong. Progress and technology are wonderful. TV is way better now. Computers expand our knowledge and boundaries, and cell phones make communication so much easier. Facebook makes it possible to stay in touch with family and friends far away, and that’s a good thing.

Times have changed, that’s for sure. But sometimes I feel like I’m always racing from A to B…and I really miss the cruising. And when I throw on a pair of sweatpants to go to the grocery store, or sit staring at a TV while I eat my dinner, I wonder, “whatever happened to style?”


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