What's the dress code in America?

How do I know what to wear around here? I still don't get it after living here for more then a year!It seems like I am always underdressed or overdressed...

Last year I went to the Mother and Son Game Night at my son's school. I wore jeans and a simple top. The other moms were wearing dresses and other neat clothing. I did hear a mom tell another mom that she thought it was the same as a dance night, and that she had to wear a dress.

This year I didn't want to feel underdressed again, so I wanted to put on a nice pair of pants and a nice top. I have been doing laundry the whole day the last two days, but didn't iron anything yet, so my only pants that was left, was a very bright flower printed pants. So I put on a dress. It was a very simple, grey dress and I wore my black/ turquoise cowboy/girl boots and black (fake) leather jacket.


Now I felt overdressed and the dress wasn't really convenient. It felt just a bit to short and it didn't really work out with the fun games we did. So now I felt overdressed...

I hope I will find the right clothes for this event next year. A Dutch proverb says: 'Three times is shipright'. I translated this one to literally, I think you say 'Three times is a charm' or something like that. It means that when something went wrong two times already, you will do it right the third time. So I say: 'Driemaal is scheepsrecht!' for next year.

This event wasn't the only moment I felt under- or overdressed. Every morning when I walk my son to school (Yes I do that every morning, thru rain and snow, and not only when the weather is good), I feel overdressed. Or are the others (the few that are there) underdressed? It seems like most people always prepare for a big work out right after they brought their children to school. Or did they just do that before they brought their children? Anyway, some people still wear the same work out clothes when they pick up their kids in the afternoon. Why is that? Did they even work out that day? Don't they take a shower after their exercise? They don't look sweating to me.

Why do people wear athletic shoes all day? Are they always running or in a hurry? And what's with all the caps, different socks and too big jeans? I can buy perfectly fitting jeans here, so it isn't necessary to wear poorly fitting jeans! I have to admit it is harder around here to buy elegant shoes.

Some places I go to, are 'clear' to me. I go to Zumba wearing my Zumba pants, sportshirt and dancing shoes! Like (almost) everyone else. I go to Walmart wearing whatever I want to, because you can wear anything to Walmart! (Check out my earlier post about Walmart: http://www.chicagonow.com/dutch-alien-lands-in-us/2014/03/my-guilty-pleasure-walmart/) I know what to wear when we go out dining. That depends on the restaurant we go to. When we go to a restaurant that's in a chain of restaurants I usually just go in whatever I wear (I always take a shower after Zumba and take off my sports clothes). When we go to a fancier restaurant I dress up, like I always did when we went dining in the Netherlands.

Is it just me or are there a lot of people very underdressed on a daily basis? If so, why? Maybe the people I see are all stay-at-home-moms / dads that spend all of their time being busy with their kids? Or is the amount of money they earn a big cause? Is this because I live in the suburbs of Chicago? I do think people in Chicago are dressed less casual.

What are the do's and don'ts around here when it comes to clothing? How can I fit in and still be me? (If I have to choose between being under- or overdressed I would rather be overdressed). Or is this the best part of being in America; you are never the most under dressed person?! Do I even WANT to fit in here?

Europe vs USA

This image helpes me a little bit with all my questions:

Best Dressed and Most Casual Cities In the United States via DressCodeFinder.com


I've been in Washington DC and New York City lately (see the pictures I made being there: http://www.chicagonow.com/dutch-alien-lands-in-us/2014/04/washington-dc-and-new-york-city/#image/1) and observed the dress code there. I expected NYC to be very trendy and overdressed. I did see a lot of people in remarkable creations, but also a lot of people in casual outfits.

Crazy Cowboy NYC

I do think the shoes worn in NYC are more dressed. To me it felt like I could wear anything I wanted there, nobody would give a sh#t. (Just like in Walmart ). In DC I saw more people dressed business casual. The looked more sophisticated. But of course I wanted to see all the touristic places, so I must have seen a lot of tourists too.

At 'The 40 Worst Dressed Cities in America' Chicago and 'Manhattan' take spot 4 and 5. Washington DC isn't even on this list.

4. Chicago
Chicagoans like to hedge descriptions of their style with, "It's not New York, and it's not LA..." It's self-conscious Midwestern. Lucky for them, harsh 11 ½-month winters serve to excuse a look that screams third-coast-insecurity: The Parka Pierogi. Ingredients: Blown-out Nikes; torn cargoes; favorite novelty T-shirt; Bears/Bulls/Blackhawks hoodie—all wrapped up in a totally nondescript parka. Are those things municipal-issue?—Robert Fischer (http://www.gq.com/style/fashion/201107/worst-dressed-cities-america#slide=37)

5. Manhattan
Yes, it is home to some of the greatest and most vital minds in the fashion universe. And yes, on any given day, the people walking Madison Ave. or Soho or Harlem can appear as if they've leapt off the pages of GQ. But for every strike of greatness, there is an equal force of evil at work. Consider the Nine-Bro. You know, the pack of nine guys who walk down the street in unison, should-to-shoulder, outfitted in tacky black "Go Out" button-downs, embroidered denim, and product-inspired conflagrations on their head. These are the men that are sapping one of fashion's capitals, stride by douchey stride. This island is only so big.—Sean Fennessey

Of course you have badly dressed people all over the world, even in the Netherlands:

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  • This is funny and so true! I grew up in Illinois, left the state for awhile then moved back to the Chicago suburbs. I thought the moms here were always exercising, then I realized the yoga pants outfits were part of the daily attire. I say stick with your personal style! Always better to be overdressed than underdressed. :)

  • Thanks for your response Christine. Right now I've just been jogging and I am in my sportswear too, but I wasn't this morning ;-) And I will overdress myself after that, hahaha.

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    I too walk my son to school in all weather!

    This is a common question with many people everywhere and attire seems to depend on what you were raised with as acceptable for daily wear.
    I live in a small town where daily attire runs the gamut of well dressed in slacks and jacket or office casual to pajama bottoms, oversized sweatshirts and slippers or scrubs and military uniforms. Most seem to make an effort to dress nice when going out for the evening. I've also lived in small cities where again, the attire is appropriate to type of work, for exercise, comfort, or socioeconomic group. I dress casual, sometimes artsy, and for comfort or activity but make sure to dress in nice pants or skirt and casual top for 'public' things, such as a school or town event, going out to eat. It never seems that anyone is really concerned with what others wear but we mostly agree that some people seem to need a belt and to learn how to tie their shoes.

  • I think that alot of the attitude towards how to present yourself revolves around the mixed messages in television and magazines. If you see yourself as physically active and fit, you are trying to dress for that role. If you see yourself as sophisticated, you would never be caught dead in your exercise clothing outside of the gym. I know women who agonize about what they wear to do gardening chores and the gloves match the smock, which matches the shorts/capris etc. Women, more than men, have expanded their roles, and to a great extent, freedom of expression (not always a good thing based upon the "butt floss photos following your piece on attire). For alot of women, this freedom is a novelty, and consequently, there is alot of outrageous out there. Clothing choice is almost like costuming for a role in a theater production. The ultimate dress up or dress down, as the case might be.

  • In reply to Sue Fitzpatrick:

    Thank you Sue!

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    My "rule of thumb" is never wear sweatpants outside the house unless I'm in the backyard with the dogs or in the front yard calling the kids in. When I work, I wear slacks and a nice top, because that's what the other women in the office wear. We have to climb the stairs several times per day, and often end up in the warehouse talking to the shipping guys. I may switch to casual skirts and blouses when the temperatures go up - we'll see.

    When I'm not working, I'm a jeans and polo shirt or t-shirt girl. In the winter I'll wear sweatshirts and hoodies just because it's cold. As for dining out, how I dress depends on where we are going.

    I say, wear what you like and what you want to. Make it practical for the situation, too, and you should be good to go.

  • In reply to Marie Larsen:

    Thanks Marie!

  • CRACKING up at this! You are so honest and cute. The mom uniform is basically yoga pants and an athletic top *or* cute top if you don't really have the body for tight things (as I do not at the moment - I still wear my maternity shirts sometimes).

    Going to the gym or doing yoga is not required. I have no idea why!

    Winter attire is all of that, plus a North Face jacket and Uggs or Hunter rain boots. You know why Uggs are called Uggs? Because that's the sound you make when you see people wearing them. Why do they have to be so comfortable? Ugh. See!

    Be the awesome Dutch lady who teaches us how it's supposed to be. Make us jealous with your pretty floral prints and unprocessed hair. Seriously, ten bucks says your hair is virgin as the driven snow and super shiny. We Americans highlight ourselves into oblivion. Save yourself!


  • In reply to Jenna Karvunidis:

    Thanks Jenna!

  • I do so wish I could be bespoke with tailor but til then my style will carry the day!

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