Writing prompt: What to wear? What to wear? (Registers of Dress/Address/Redress)

When I was job hunting in the Bay Area in California in the late 1980s, I found that I had to offer something compelling to persuade people to meet me for an information interview. For example, on the phone with an image and communication consultant I was put on the spot. Why should she meet me? How did she know I wouldn’t waste her time?

“Because,” I blurted out bravely, “I can tell you about registers of dress.” Who knew that I knew this or that there was even anything to know about it?

But, after I hung up and tried to figure out what this great revelation would entail, I realized that registers of dress is a direct extension of registers of speech…and how we address each other. And, what do we do if there is no redress when we make a mistake?

Registers of language. We know it without knowing it. How do we speak “for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting”?

By “registers of dress” I mean a scale of informal to formal. Your swimsuit to your wedding gown.

By “registers of address” I mean the scale of informal to formal way we speak to one another. From “Hey, yo!” to “Good morning, Mrs. Carruthers.”

When the birthday girl jumps out of the cake in her birthday suit and the guests forget to sing “Happy Birthday.” I guess that’s informal dress and address.

What do you think?

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  1. Susan,


    The meeting (in the late 1990s) led to a long-standing friendship and brought many good things into my life. “Only connect,” as E. M. Forrester said.


  2. When I was leaving the S.F. Bay Area to return to our “home” in the San Joaquin Valley back in the late ’70s, this idea of dress/address/redress never occurred to me. I went for an teaching interview dressed in what I thought was my “cutest” outfit. I learned much later that I was hired “in spite of” not “because of” my choice of clothing. Why should a red, white, and blue diagonally striped dress that was strapless on one side with a red strap across the other shoulder and matching plastic wedge-heeled red shoes turn anybody off? My first grade students in Daly City, CA had loved that dress! Do you suppose the culture in the little farming community of Hughson, CA between Modesto and Fresno was a little different from the metropolitan area from which I was coming? Amazingly, I got the job – and I learned quickly that my wardrobe needed a little revamping. Ah yes, I think there is a need – even 35 years later – for a Register of Dress! Did you ever pull it off??

  3. Jan,

    Love the story. Yes! First grade students aren’t always the best fashion consultants for job interviews.

    Yes, I think I finally did pull off feeling out the registers of dress. Trickiest thing is, they keep changing.


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