Remembering a Time When You Couldn’t Wear Jeans to the Mall

When I first saw the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “First Person: Jeans, Jeans, Jeans,” I thought the article would be a celebration of my favorite clothing. But, alas, it was a lamentation of denim culture. The subtitle, I soon found out, was: “I miss seeing people dress up for the occasion.”

The author remembers an occasion when her mother took her shopping at Kaufmann’s, and she decided not to change out of her play clothes. She regretted her decision.


Older women in suits with matching hats, handbags and shoes looked at me through eyes narrowed with disdain. Other little girls, wearing the clothes I also should have been wearing, pointed at me and giggled until their mothers hushed them. Sales clerks, taught to treat each customer with respect, had a hard time being polite to me — the rebel without a cause who, due to laziness, had not dressed appropriately for the occasion. My casual attire tainted the shopping excursion for me; even the chocolate cake lacked its usual sweetness.

This next part made me truly LOL, because I thought she was about to discuss disposable, cheap fashion and the havoc it wreaks on our environment and the human rights abuses it creates—I worry about this too: “I worry, too, that our indifference toward how we look manifests itself in the way we abuse the environment.”

But no, she thinks people who wear jeans are litter bugs.

I grew up with a profound admiration for the Cathedral of Learning and its Nationality Rooms. The Cathedral felt like my castle, and the Nationality Rooms were the kingdoms I traveled to on Aladdin’s magic carpet. However, when I recently revisited the Nationality Rooms, I was shocked to find a half-empty Starbucks cup on the floor — no doubt tossed away by someone in jeans.

I grew up in a very small Pennsylvania town, and the elderly woman who lived across the street became a surrogate grandmother to me. I would visit here nearly every day. As I got older, the visits became less, and when I was in college, she moved into a nursing home. I went to visit her with my mother, and I chose my nicest white blouse, complete with ruffles that were trendy at the time (and now!). I’ll never forget how distressed she was. “I just can’t imagine her in jeans!” she said over and over. This article brought back that moment and helped me understand it a little better.

But I do hope that as I get older myself, I’ll work to understand our changing culture as well. A carefully considered outfit might indeed include a pair of jeans. And I hate Starbucks.


1 Comment

  1. Darla Simmons
    January 22, 2017 / 10:03 pm

    How rude. We need to stop prejudging people by appearances. Not everyone can afford to dress like the 1%. Should that determine if the are aloud to visit museums other National Treasures? What we wear is not who we are. Stop judging.

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