My wife and I went to the doctor the other day. Both of us put on nicer shirts and remarked that this was the old Youngstown coming out in us. When we were young, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s (and before that as well) people dressed up on a number of occasions.
To go to the doctor. That’s a little ironic because you often take off your clothes in the exam room. I guess we didn’t want people to think of us that way!
To go downtown. Women and girls in dresses, hats, and gloves, men in nicer slacks, shirt, tie, and jacket.
To go to the theater or a concert. Notice how everyone is dressed at the Palace. Most of the men even had hats! If it was a symphony concert at Stambaugh Auditorium, you really dressed up–evening wear for men, formal gowns for the women.
To go to weddings and funerals. We still do that to some extent. Dressing up honors the bridal couple. It honors the deceased.
To go to church. We believed we should dress in our best for God–and not just on Christmas and Easter! I remember that both my brother and I would polish our shoes on Saturday and we’d be in nice slacks, jacket and tie on Sunday. Of course there was the ritual of the Saturday night bath (whether you needed it or not!).
I remember staying dressed up to visit grandparents, which we did many Sundays. It was a sign of respect.
To go out to a restaurant. For one thing, going out to a restaurant was a big deal, usually for some special occasion. And many restaurants were owned by families and were fancier than today’s very casual, chain-owned dining establishments.
Things changed in the late 1960’s with hippies and protests. Jeans and a t-shirt became the uniform. Anything more was pretentious and “phony.” We criticized it as a show, one of keeping up with the Joneses. Maybe underneath it all, we just wanted to get comfortable.
We dressed up for the things we (or our parents) thought special. Our dress reminded us to act the part as well. We acted our best in our Sunday best.
Maybe coming out of the pandemic reminds us of this. We’ve lived our past year in sweatpants or yoga pants, untucked shirts and casual shoes. I had a work-related meeting recently at a restaurant and pulled out dress slacks, shirt and shoes that had been in the closet for the past year. It was another reminder of what we did on so many occasions.
At a time when Youngstown was a special place.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!