My paternal grandmother in the Danish side of my family was a model when she was younger. She died at the age of 96 in Copenhagen around five years ago. My father still loves to mention her during our phone calls. Maybe because he’s painfully aware of how fond I am of her even though we didn’t get to spend enough time together.
He also knows that one of the biggest compliments I ever received in my life was when, during a quick visit to see her in her home, she told everyone we looked like each other. I remember feeling so chuffed that day. “She is like you, yes,” my dad said once. “One time, she broke her hip and as the nurses carried her away to be examined, she screamed at them not to forget her face creams.”
I laughed, not really expecting my father to pick up on the details of my own vanity.
My maternal grandmother, a true-blooded Filipina, is an Avon lady. She still is, after all these years. I grew up with her and I’d often chance upon her putting something on her face. More often than not, it’s lipstick. “How do I look?” she’d often ask me, smiling as she showed me her red lips. “Let me try!” I’d reply, knowing my interest is more than enough.
At 4’11”, she’s a stark contrast to the other half of my family and I always say she’s the most adorable for it. To this day, she would always put a bit of rouge on her lips before posing for a selfie and posting it on Facebook. Sometimes, I don’t know whether teaching her how to use a smartphone was a bright idea. But hey, who am I to judge?
Both my grandmothers were known for looking way younger than their age, being quite the primpers, and their love for dressing up, always within their budgets, of course. I write this column on International Grandparents’ Day and I somehow found myself looking at photos of Copenhagen and Manila at the time my lolas were younger, when dressing up was anticipated, when there were expectations about how one should dress and how it’s considered to be a sign of manners.
Sure, it’s 2021 and dressing up has been, more or less, relaxed. Dress codes are not as rigid as the days of Downton Abbey when opting for a dinner jacket instead of tails could be considered a major faux pas. I still laugh by myself whenever I remember Lady Grantham’s quips at her own son who, due to unforeseeable circumstances, was forced into such a situation.
I’ve attended pre-pandemic events that said “cocktail” on the invite yet people arrived in business casual. A fellow diplomat’s wife once remarked that I was overdressed and I found myself giving a snide “Better than underdressed, don’t you think?”
I had a smirk on my face and I looked like I won that round. But at the same time, I found myself feeling self-conscious, opting for more casual options for the next events I had to attend.
We shame people when they are too proper or when they spend a bit more time on how they look. We must not forget, however, that proper grooming and following dress codes go beyond vanity. In fact, it’s rather narrow to think that way when they’re signs of respect to the event’s hosts.
Trends come and go
I remember a grade school Christmas party, where I found myself begging my mom and grandmother for elephant jeans. Those long and baggy trousers every pop star was wearing in the late ‘90s that Gen Z—quite unfortunately—has decided to revive from the depths of fashion hell. I think it’s worse this time around as they are often paired with oversized t-shirts. They’ll regret it someday. Mark my words.
Those long and baggy trousers every pop star was wearing in the late ‘90s that Gen Z—quite unfortunately—has decided to revive from the depths of fashion hell. I think they’re worse this time around as they are often paired with oversized t-shirts. They’ll regret it someday. Mark my words.
I wanted them badly as every cool girl in my grade was wearing them. Britney wore them. Beyoncé and the rest of Destiny’s Child did, too. Oh, and they were expensive. “But it says no elephant jeans on the letter from your teacher,” my mom said. Teachers thought they were a tripping hazard and rightfully so.
My crying did not help and I was given slacks that fit me quite well, strappy sandals with a practical heel, and a smocked white top. A classmate told me I dressed like a 30-year-old and it did hurt my feelings at that time. Now, at 32, I don’t see any cause for offense, only thanks. My grandmother tried to console 10-year-old me by saying that it was not all about being on-trend. She even threw in a challenge, ordering me to look good without going over my clothing allowance and being respectful of my school’s rules.
Years later, a photo from that party resurfaced and I wasn’t mad at how I looked. It disappeared a few days later after one of my ex-classmates asked for its removal. She was in the photo, wearing elephant jeans.
Of course, I’ve had my fair share of faux pas in the outfit department. It was mostly in my early 20s and it was often a case of showing too much skin. I thought of it as an act of rebellion and standing up against society’s rules. But looking back, I realized they didn’t really do much for my cause and only made me look like I didn’t understand what was on the invitation.
Some things do age well
There’s much to be learned from our elders and traditions even as we embrace change and what’s current. I find that we often disregard the comments of older people saying “Ok, Boomer” almost at every turn. Being disagreeable is rather trendy now.
While there are things that do need to change, we’ll do well keeping a good amount of respect for some societal rules and traditions, especially when the occasion calls for it. Refusing to be lazy under the guise of modernity and following a dress code, for example.
It sounds simple and something we can easily do away with. Goodness knows how many people have thought they were unnecessary. We’ve seen the all the rulebreakers, from a man attending a national day event in Birkenstocks and socks to the one who did put on a suit but still opted for sneakers in the most violent shade of orange.
Call me conservative but I don’t think it would hurt anyone to groom oneself well and dress properly. There was a time people dressed up to go on a flight and didn’t they look so good? But I’m not unreasonable. I know that’s asking for too much nowadays, especially with the state of economy class.
Something I often hear from the older generation is that it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed and to groom yourself well instead of risking looking unpolished when you were aiming for effortless. It shows you put in the work for an event someone spent their resources on. At this point in my life—maybe I’m just getting older—I couldn’t agree more.