Adulthood and Freedom

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91 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    I’m going to propose something rather radical. The entire idea that there should be sharp distinction between the cultural tastes of young people and adults is an artifact of early to mid-20th century mass entertainment. Without mass entertainment, a person’s socio-economic class, gender, and some ethnic and religious factors determined whether a person had leisure time and how it was spent. Age was irrelevant for the most part. Young and old people of the same socio-economic class spent their free time in the same way.

    Than mass entertainment came along during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and class distinctions in entertainment receded quite bit but weren’t entirely displaced. Everybody listened to popular music, went to the movies or theatre, watched the same spectator sports, and enjoyed themselves at amusement parks, and read the same books. The new distinciton was age. Teenage boys might like B-movies and pulpy science fiction while there fathers might prefer a film noir and something racier or more literary in their readings. Girls might swoon to Frank Sinatra while their mothers would listen to Irving Berlin written standards. At first this dichtonomy between youth culture and adult culture grew stronger after WWII because of rock and the emergence of entertainment strictly aimed at prepubescent children.

    Than when the first group of Baby Boomers reached their adulthood, they did not transition into what Rufus referred to as Babbitry because traditional pop culture aimed at adults largely disappeared. Traditional pop was weak even though there was an attempt to recreate it with adult contemporary music like Seline Dion or Michael Bolton. The movies prefered by adults gave way to block busters and teen comedies beasue they were bigger revenue earners. So now we are back where factors besides age determine one’s cultural choices.

    I’m not sure if this make sense or not.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      It makes some sense but I would add some stuff:

      1. Celine Dion. IIRC, there were always a large segment of adults who really mocked Adult Contemporary for being weak and boring music.

      2. Teenage Boys were always the largest movie-going audience. This was true in the 1930s and it is true today. I wish I had a source for this but it was something that came up in my Film History 101 course in undergrad.

      Otherwise I think you are spot on. There also seems to be something of a suburban and urban divide in terms of adults trying to stay largely cool and indie.

      I have a general thesis that there have not been many cultural changes from Generation X to Hipster. It seems to me that a lot of the 40-something people who now reside in San Francisco or Brooklyn and other cities were prime Generation Xers. The fashion choices between Generation X/Grunge and Hipster are also largely indistinguishable.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        If you luck at classic entertainment, the idea of a mother being hot was kind of an oxy moron. A mother might be beautiful or pretty but she was never depicted as strikingly sexy. Middle-aged mothers were almost universally depicted as matronly. This doesn’t happen anymore. In entertainment, middle-aged moms with teenaged children are depicted as being as sexy as their kids. You need to have people who are actually senior citizens in order to get something that approaches matronly. A 45 year old woman in a movie from the 1930s to early 1960s would look a lot older than a 45 year old woman in a movie from today.

        Men were treated somewhat differently but even than older male actors had an air of gravitas and seriousness that younger men did not. In those awful May-December romances that were popular in the post-WWII period, it was this that attracted the younger female to the older male or at least one of the things that did it.

        As to Celine Dion, it prove my point. During the early and mid-20th century, nearly every adult was expected to switch towards adult entertainment unless the enterainment was specifically designated as being universal like spectator sports. The Baby Boomers for some reason felt no desire to graduate from rock, motown, or whatever to adult contemporary even though their parents and the silent generation made a similar transition.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The movie comment is interesting. I heard a similar statistic and there were plenty of B-movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood that were clearly the equivalent of the blockbusters of today. All those Flash Gordon serials, Westerns, and shlocky adventure movies. At the same time, there were also movies that were more aimed at an adult audience. These could be anything from gritty film noir films to Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. There were also sentimental mantinee films aimed at the housewife set. Teenage boys might have been the prime audience but they did not have the market dominance that they do today.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        To be fair, it was easy for kids from the fifties to grow out of their music, because youth music in the fifties was generally pretty awful.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I guess I am unclear on why entire classes of music *should* be outgrown to begin with. Not specific examples per se (if you are older than 17 and still buying ICP records, consult a doctor), but entire broad genres.

        I read certain books at 13 and saw certain films at 15 that bear later revisiting (in fact, some of them have only deepened with the passage of time) – why exactly is that rock record that I loved at 16 somehow relegated solely to my past? Might’nt the art of my youth still be worth taking down off the shelf for a re-read/re-watch/re-play once in a while?

        But don’t forget the songs
        That made you cry
        And the songs that saved your life
        Yes, you’re older now
        And you’re a clever swine
        But they were the only ones who ever stood by you

        Conversely, I don’t understand why I’d stop looking for new music that I find interesting. Why would I ONLY want to hear those old records (good friends and important milestones that they are)?

        Does that make me a “cool dad”/non-adult worthy of derision, or just a person who continues to seek out things that move and excite him?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I’m not saying that there should be but there is a certain type of ridiculousness that comes from musicians my parents age or older acting like they are still in their twenties. The Rolling Stones are still a fine bad but there is something about them that doesn’t seem quite adult in the way that traditional pop music, that is what we all the standards did. Traditional pop musicians aged well in a way that a lot of rock musicians did not when it comes live performances. You could see Frank Sinatra pull off his shtick as a young man and an old man. Mick Jager not so much.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        “Does that make me a “cool dad”/non-adult worthy of derision, or just a person who continues to seek out things that move and excite him?”

        I’m kinda getting the feeling that I need to unpack this a little. What is meant by “cool dad” is a feeling of giving up on parenting, and solely pushing the friend/one of the group angle. It’s not that you share music with your kids, or help them. Its a combination of living vicariously through them with a big chunk of trying to edge into their social space. In other words, not that you helped get them a gig, but that you got them into a bar. Which you really wanted when you were 16, and had your own band.
        I love spending time with my son. I like talking books and music with him. I shouldn’t try to go to high school parties with him.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @aaron-david – thanks, sorry, I wasn’t trying to draw you in, but I used your term when I was sort of talking more about myself than my kids. Maybe I am just over-sensitive, as I am often one of the oldest guys at the rock show. 🙂

        My kids aren’t old enough, yet, for this to be an issue. I take the boy occasionally to see events in the park where there might be bands playing. But we’ve actually tried to tread lightly around exposing him to “our” music/culture too much, though obviously it happens anyway (in the car, for example – plus, at age 4, he has become OBSESSED with Ghostbusters), because I am a little leery of people who seem to, as you say, live too vicariously through their kids, or try to turn their kids into little avatars of what “cool” was for their parents.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        No worries Glyph, my original comment was a bit snarky anyhow. I am in a slightly different position than most, as I am 42, but my son starts collage in a month. I am a good 10-12 years younger than the parents of most of the kids he grew up with, and it is a very good space to observe from. It is impossible for things to not rub off on your kids (for good or bad,)and you always want the best for them, but it sure is a minefield.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Geez, I am almost your age – but you are almost home free, whereas I am just starting out.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        It doesn’t feel home free when you are getting tapped for 3k in tuition…Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Heh, my wife and I were just discussing that. They are on their own! I paid most of my own freight, they can too (and for all I know, by then, “college” will have gone the way of other brick and mortar purveyors of information).Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Well, the boy had an adjusted 4.0, did all the right things, etc. My folks helped me (total waste), so you know… someone has to cover my retirement.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      I think you’re on to something there LeeEsq. It’s worth remembering that oft-times the things that are disappearing are themselves recent phenomena, not eternal trends.Report

  2. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I don’t personally see there as being anything wrong with getting married and having kids later. I do worry, at least somewhat, about it being done not because of choice but out of default. There is a gap between, for instance, how many kids people say they want and how many they end up having. That is attributable in part to delayed marriage and delayed childbearing. I also wonder if there isn’t a similar gap between when people say they want to be married, and when they end up getting married. And I think the result is a fair number of people who wanted to get married and having kids not really being able to do so.

    For those that don’t want to get married, or don’t want to get married until later, I don’t have a problem with that. Nor do I have a problem with those who don’t want kids, or want kids later in life.

    I think society and economics are nudging people on this who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily choose that route.

    Also, it seems to me that The Atlantic and the like are celebrating rather than worrying about young people not buying cars. And what I have read about housing rates is not so much concern that people aren’t making it a priority, but rather that it’s indicative of financial strain. (The fact that cars and houses are being viewed differently is, to me, indicative of something.)Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      “I don’t personally see there as being anything wrong with getting married and having kids later. I do worry, at least somewhat, about it being done not because of choice but out of default. There is a gap between, for instance, how many kids people say they want and how many they end up having. That is attributable in part to delayed marriage and delayed childbearing. I also wonder if there isn’t a similar gap between when people say they want to be married, and when they end up getting married. And I think the result is a fair number of people who wanted to get married and having kids not really being able to do so.”

      I think there are all sorts of factors that determine when a person gets married or not. Most of these factors are beyond an individuals control. I believe you are thinking about stuff like education and financial footing but some people just don’t find their mates until later in life. I possibly wouldn’t mind if I were married right now but I have yet to find someone that I want to marry and where the feeling is mutual. Though for other reasons I am not ready.

      “Also, it seems to me that The Atlantic and the like are celebrating rather than worrying about young people not buying cars. And what I have read about housing rates is not so much concern that people aren’t making it a priority, but rather that it’s indicative of financial strain. (The fact that cars and houses are being viewed differently is, to me, indicative of something.)”

      Cars are probably seen more through an environmental lens. You can find homeownership to be important but still want more public transportation and urban living. See most neo-liberal writers as examples like Matt Y and Josh Barro.

      There is no way to determine who wants to be married but is not because of circumstances beyond their control. I also think that a lot of 40-something hipsters in San Francisco might be pretty successful financially. However, they have chosen for a variety of reasons that they do not want to look or dress like the stereotypical suburban dad or middle aged guy and choose to wear edgier and more fashionable clothing. Perhaps a bit young sometimes but probably more to their style than the suburban outfit of cargo shirts, t-shirts, and gym sneakers. They choose to keep up with the newest bands instead of slipping into classic rock or Adult Contemporary listening like Lee described above.

      And I think this makes people feel a bit weird. Notice how people talked about mocking the “cool parents” in Kazzy’s thread.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There is no way to determine who wants to be married but is not because of circumstances beyond their control.

        You can ask them. The same way you determine “desired fertility.” How many kids did you want? How many do you have? When did you want to get married? When did you get married?

        (I met my wife right about on-schedule. We are poised to have two kids. We initially talked about three. So minus one on fertility, due external circumstance.)Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        @Will, I’m not sure how much weight I would put on the “desired age of marriage” or “desired fertility” stats. After all, there are strong elements of social desirability in both of those things–for instance, you might say you want to be married but really don’t, and the same goes for wanting kids. I suspect that these surveys fall into the same categories as the people who report watching a ton of news and Masterpiece Theater on self-reported TV viewing surveys, or people who claim to have voted in every election.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Dan, possibly, but it’s the best measurement we have and it’s what social scientists use. And, honestly, I think that actually cuts in both directions. People who want children saying they don’t because they don’t think they will find a person to raise them with and such.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        I don’t know that it’s the best measure we have–after all, we also have revealed preferences, i.e. how many kids are people actually having, and when are they getting married? This is especially true for kids–if you really want kids, you can have them (for women especially, but even men can adopt). The complaint that people “want” kids but are prevented from having them by economics or circumstance could be read as “I want kids, but I’m not willing to make the lifestyle shifts or other compromises necessary to have them”. I would put more weight on people’s actual life decisions than on responses to a survey.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I don’t know that it’s the best measure we have–after all, we also have revealed preferences, i.e. how many kids are people actually having, and when are they getting married? This is especially true for kids–if you really want kids, you can have them (for women especially, but even men can adopt).

        Revealed preference only tells us how many kids people want under whatever constraints they are in.

        I am approaching the age where my female counterparts are running out of time, if they want kids. I don’t think it’s the case that all of them made the decision not to want kids. I think it is the case that things they would consider pre-requisites for having kids – such as having a husband – are missing. And so, under the constraint of not having a husband, they don’t have kids they would otherwise want. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want kids, or wouldn’t want kids.

        My wife always wanted kids. She didn’t think she’d be able to have them. Without me, or someone else stepping into her life, she wouldn’t have had them. You can’t look at the fact that she didn’t have kids as demonstrative of the fact that she didn’t really want them. Desired fertility picks that up, actual fertility doesn’t. My wife and I together would have liked to have had three kids. Due to circumstances, though, we have decided for two. Biology may make that only one. But our desired fertility number of three is more accurate than one or two, even if we could theoretically adopt a second or third child.

        In any event, our lack of three children is a result of either (a) a miscalculation on our part, failing to plan properly, and (b) external circumstances like her career requirements, far more than (c) that we didn’t really want three children.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Will, if you want to a society where people can marry younger than they want to and have more children than they want to than you have to make marriage and child-bearing and rearing more affordable. The NYT had an article that pointed out that child care for young children costs more than a year than public college in 35 states and DC. These include many of the most affordable states with low costs of living. The lack of affordable housing is another problem. If people are really serious about making marriage and childcare more widespread than they need to support things like universal pre-K and affordable housing.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Affordable housing is one of my big things! Except that I tend to view affordable housing through the lens of housing simply being affordable, rather than paying peoples’ rent. To me, that means supporting development and supporting those places where land and housing is naturally cheap.

        At present, one of the biggest indicators of fertility is simply affordable living.

        I am open to universal pre-K and the like, if it can be demonstrated to work. The evidence of this is surprisingly thin. A lot of countries that have a lot more generous policies have lower fertility rates than we do.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “currently cheap” are just stupid watchwords for unsustainable development.
        People deliberately avoiding necessary taxes.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      As a single middle aged guy, I’m very surprised at the percentage of women (never married, divorced, etc. without kids) who are in the 35-50 age range, that want kids. And by that I mean they put “definitely, someday, want kids” in their profile vs “maybe”, especially in the 40+ age categories.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      I think society and economics are nudging people on this who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily choose that route.

      What factors do you have in mind here, Will?

      (The fact that cars and houses are being viewed differently is, to me, indicative of something.)

      Something important? What (whether important or not)?Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I think we focus too much and too often on the superficial markings of adulthood, specifically those emblematic of a certain race/class/time. The car mechanic in the 50’s, who owned his own home and car and helped raise his kids… how often did he wear a suit? Was he less an adult than the lawyer of the same period who also owned a home and car and raised kids but did so wearing a suit from 9-to-5?

    When I think of adulthood, of growing up… I think of maturing. I think of assuming more responsibility, of demonstrating reliability and trust, of growing independence. When I think seriously about it, I am an adult. I have regular, reliable employment, the wages of which I put towards paying our mortgage and car payment and keeping the lights on and putting food on the table and funding our retirement and making sure my wife and son are well cared for. That I do these things while preferring to wear jeans and a t-shirt or (*gasp*) basketball shorts and flip-fops makes me no less an adult.Report

    • Avatar A Teacher says:

      Yes but that same mechanic probably owned a suit and knew that there were occasions to take it out and dress up. I can’t see him appearing at the wedding of one of his employees in anything less then his best suit.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        I went to a friend’s wedding a few weeks ago. The paper invitation said formal and then a few weeks later the couple sent out an e-mail stating that it was semi-formal. They made a point of saying “Put away those tuxes and gowns” and take out the suits and spring dresses.

        I later heard from the bridge that they originally wrote formal because some parts of her family/side would come in jeans if this was not mentioned.

        Sure enough, a few people from her side were dressed nicely but very casually. More for a date night than a wedding. One guy was wearing a Blues Brothers bowling shirt.

        Everyone was very nicely behaved and there were no manners that could be described as boorish. Yet I thought about this along class lines and was a bit shocked. Do you think it is lost knowledge about the differences between formal v. semi-formal v. casual? Do you think mechanics no longer own suits? I don’t know if bowling shirt guy was a mechanic.

        Anyway I think this transcends class. I imagine most of the 40-something hipster guys are pretty well-off if only because they live in San Francisco. This was not supposed to be about socio-economics.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        ND, its because Hollywood movies no longer teach people how to dress for the occassion. ;).Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        My middle-class, professional, absolutely non-hipster 40-something cousin showed up at my grandmother’s funeral in a polo shirt, dockers, and sport coat, with his 18-year-old son in the same ensemble minus the jacket. I wondered exactly what kind of an occasion called for a tie, if not a family member’s funeral. And stay the hell off my lawn.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Aren’t suits formal?Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        I think traditionally “formal dress” meant black-tie/ball-gown attire, and “semi-formal” meant suit-and-tie.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        @murali

        Currently the suit is about as formal as it gets for most people but they originally started out as leisure wear. They were originally called “lounge suits”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_suits

        Generally, Formal on a wedding invitation means Tuxedos and Gowns. Semi-Formal means suit and tie and dresses.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Over here, no one wears a Tux. On my brother’s wedding dinner, you know, the one in which our parents invite all their colleagues and everyone, we wore suits and ties. A lot of the guests came without the jacket. i.e. just trousers, shirt and tie and that was perfectly acceptable.

        P.S. At first I thought that a tux is one of those things with an inner vest and a cummerbund. But after having a look at the Wikipedia page, I’m confused. What’s the difference between a business suit and a tux?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @murali

        Are there any traditional or local standards for “formal” attire? What was considered formalwear before the introduction of western-style suits? Do people still wear them? Do they wear them to the same events that people wear suits to? If so, how are they received?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Weddings here are weird, dress-wise. There’s a half-written rule that the closer you are to the bride and groom, the better you should dress. People in the wedding party generally wear pre0-determined outfits, usually pretty formal (men in tuxes of some sort, women in god-awful formal dresses), the close family of the couple not in the wedding party wears suits and ties or near-but-not-quite-formal dresses, and then spiraling outward less and less formally until you get to the guy in the back row who was the best friend of one of the groom’s frat brothers, who’s wearing slacks and a button-down shirt with no tie.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        And casual means nice slacks and a button down shirt for men, and similarly nice clothing for women, perhaps a less restrained/subdued dress or nice slacks and blouse.

        But today many people think formal means suits and dresses because they’ve never seen a tux except on a groom, have no idea what semi-formal means, and think casual means jeans, bowling shirts, and sneakers.

        That’s an observation, not a critique. Railing against cultural evolution is a sure way to turn into a bitter old bow-tie wearing consevative writing unintentionally hilarious letters to the editor.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Murali,

        According to Wikipedia:

        “A Dinner Suit (English) or Tuxedo (American English) is a formal evening suit distinguished primarily by satin or grosgrain facings on the jacket’s lapels and buttons and a similar stripe along the outseam of the trousers. The suit is typically black (though may be midnight blue) and commonly worn with a formal shirt, shoes and other accessories, most traditionally in the form prescribed by the black tie dress code.[1]”

        You can wear a suit to a wedding but you would never wear a tuxedo to work*.

        *Unless you were James Bond or performed in a symphony orchestra.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I’m always thrown by the phrase “Black Tie Optional”. Isn’t everything technically black tie optional? Is the dive bar going to say, “Sorry, sir. We have a strict ‘No Tux’ rule”?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

        @jm3z-aitch A very old joke goes:

        How can you tell when a Polack is going to a wedding?

        He is wearing his clean bowling shirt.

        I am shocked SHOCKED at myself for using the P word….Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        by satin or grosgrain facings on the jacket’s lapels and buttons and a similar stripe along the outseam of the trousers

        I had to look up what a facing is.

        I think I can honestly say that not only have I never touched a tuxedo in my life or directly seen one.

        Are there any traditional or local standards for “formal” attire? What was considered formalwear before the introduction of western-style suits? Do people still wear them? Do they wear them to the same events that people wear suits to? If so, how are they received?

        Formal means with a suit. The concept of a formal event is itself kind of western. For traditional events where western clothes are out of place, e.g. Hindu wedding ceremonies, what you wear depends on what you are doing. for example, if you are actually participating in the rituals (i.e. chanting prayers etc), you end up wearing a silk Veshti and your upper body is left bare. A lot of the elders (i.e. my father and grand father’s generations) may wear a cotton veshti even if not required to participate, but with either a button down shirt top (short or long sleeves) or a kurta top. Among the younger generation, the tendency is to wear a grander sharwani or kurta. There are usually more heavily worked. Then “casual” for religious occasions involves chinos or jeans with a kurta top. While coming in western attire is slumming it unless you have just arrived from work (and are thus wearing trousers and long sleeved shirts) or are not Indian (and are thus dressed in what is professional wear in Singapore). A kind of new fusion fashion is to have a coat which is maybe half a foot to a foot longer than a business coat but with a Nehru collar instead and with some work done on the lapels to give it an Indian look. My father owns one of those and I think he wore it once or twice to an important dinner or something.

        For women, religious occasions can require married women to wear nine yard saris. And saris are good for formal occasions and professional, but whereas cotton or silk cotton is acceptable in the workplace, finer materials are preferred for more formal occasions even the western ones. Indian women from my mother’s generation and the more conservative ones from mine rarely if ever wear western style evening gowns. The Chinese in Singapore are more likely to wear western style clothes for all occasions even those participating in the traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony.*

        *Admittedly I am unfamiliar with what is common practice for Buddhists and Taoist wedding ceremonies, but Chinese Christians get married in the traditional white wedding gown and suit. Honestly, I doubt you will find even a hundred people who own tuxedos in Singapore.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think people are reading class more into this than I intended. I did not meant to imply that the people doing this are lower-rung socio-economically. If anything we see that being able to dress casually is now more about power.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I didn”t mean to imply that lower class people are somehow less adult. But that if our standard of adulthood is based on superficial markers derived from upper-class people, it is going to skew our perception. Why do we associate suits with adulthood? A lot of kids wore suits to Bar Mitzvahs and First Communions. What makes them “adult”?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Dude, that’s what a Bar Mitzvah *IS*. “Today I am a man!”

        To some degree, that’s what First Communion is as well. “I have taken the classes, I have taken communion. I am a moral agent who has reached the Age of Accountability.”

        So you dress them up in suits.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @jaybird
        But are those 13-year-olds or 8-year-olds adults?

        Question: If I go upstairs and put on one of the three suits I own (two 3-piece, one 2-piece… take your pick), will I be any more grown up than I am right now, sitting around in basketball shorts?

        An argument can be made that understanding social norms and expectations might be a marker of adulthood. It would be fair to expect an adult to know what “formal” means with regards to an American wedding (though even there there might be some cultural variation). But if I think the appropriate dress code for walking the streets of Manhattan is casual and you think it is formal… well, that is another ball game altogether. That is not ignorance; that is disagreement. Who makes the final call?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Question: If I go upstairs and put on one of the three suits I own (two 3-piece, one 2-piece… take your pick), will I be any more grown up than I am right now, sitting around in basketball shorts?

        I dunno about up there in Yankeeland, but down here the only thing you’d be more of in a suit instead of shorts while sittin’ around your house, and that’s sweaty.

        There’s an element to the view that adults should wear “adult” clothing, in fact it’s probably the foundational element, that’s related to the conversation we recently had ’round these parts the other day about delaying gratification. Part of what it means to be an “adult,” in many cases, is that we don’t simply do what feels good in the moment, and while “adult” clothing doesn’t have to be comfortable, it is almost if not always noticeably less comfortable than a pair of basketball shorts and a soft, well-worn t-shirt*. The responsible thing to do — and we’re always telling kids as they get closer and closer to adulthood that they should be more responsible, because that’s what being an adult is about — is to not wear the clothes that feel good just because they feel good, but instead wear the clothes that comport with the written and unwritten rules governing various types of social interactions between grown folk.

        I know when I see people in shorts and a t-shirt downtown during normal working hours I assume they’re either tourists, which is to say adults who are taking a break from full adulthood, or homeless people, who either can’t afford to dress like adults or who are where they are because they weren’t adults in the first place, right**?

        *I’m sure it’s possible to get a suit that feels like you’re wearing the soft, caressing fur of a baby seal or whatever, but all this says is that when adults have enough money, they no longer have to delay gratification to be adult.
        **No, i don’t think this is true, but it’s a pretty common view that homeless people are homeless because they did not behave in specific adult ways, relating to responsibility and self-sufficiency.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Chris,

        I don’t think adults need to wear suits and stuff all the time but there is something to be said about making yourself presentable when going out in public. This means that PJs, Track Suits, Yoga Pants etc are not really for public wearing unless it is an emergency or you are going to or coming from a sporting activity.

        I grant that hot weather demands shorts.

        Then again, I am a bit baffled at when people claim they are only comfortable in “Cargo Shorts and a t-shirt” or something like that. Clothing is not that uncomfortable to me including suits. Now I don’t want to wear a suit all the time but putting one on does not create the sensation that I am out of my native element. My standard outfit tends to be jeans or cords, a button down shirt, and shoes or boots of some kind). Sneakers will be worn with long or short sleeve t-shirts.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I don’t mean to say that there aren’t situations which require more than basketball shorts or sweatpants, and most such situations are adult situations (though not all: weddings and funerals spring to mind), but the association of adulthood with these clothes is, I think, a result of the sort of approach to what being a socialized adult means as Freud once identified, which is to say, not pooping the moment you feel the urge. This isn’t an evil view of what adulthood is, and really, if we all just go around pooping when we feel like it, things are going to fall apart pretty quickly, but such a view of adulthood also has a tendency to cling to norms and mores merely because they are norms or mores, even after they’re antiquated and unproductive, or even counterproductive.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @chris
        I struggle with some of that because it seems so arbitrary. It is one thing to say, “I’m not going to eat this whole box of cookies, even though I want to, because I recognize doing so has real, objective, negative consequences that I must consider first.”
        It is another to say, “I’m going to put on clothes I don’t like and which aren’t comfortable because someone somewhere decided that is what I’m supposed to do to be taken seriously.”
        I get that that is how the world works, but I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to lend credence to the argument that underlies reality. The reason I’m most often in basketball shorts now is not JUST comfort, but they are also the most functional clothing for my current day-to-day life. When I’m home with the lil’one, I often take him on walks, which are infinitely better in athletic attire. He is also going through the “spit up everything everywhere” stage, and the athletic clothes are easier to clean and, in the event they are irreparably stained… no biggie.

        So, if I’m at the grocery store, which I walked a mile to get to with my son because it gives us quality time together and allows me to exercise while I run errands… and some a-hole wants to look at me and think, “Man child,”… well, piss on him. If I was a real man child, I wouldn’t even be at the grocery store with my infant son. If clothes are the end-all, be-all of adulthood, I have little interest in participating.

        Maybe I’m crazy, but I’m a substance-over-style guy. Clothing should serve the context the wearer is in. Sometimes that means an emphasis on style, if a given aesthetic or mood is sought (e.g., a wedding), but not all the time.

        Adulthood is a state of being, not a collection of clothes or phrases or mannerisms or interests or hobbies.

        The adults of yesteryear, the ones we look upon with so much nostalgia and hold up as our models… alot of them were drunks, many more of them smoked*, absentee fathering was the only way for a great number of them, to say nothing of the sexism. But, hey, they were suits to get on airplanes, so I guess they’re better than me?

        * During the last discussion, we compared sodas and video games to cigars and cards, with many arguing the latter was more adult than the former. I struggle to see how smoking is somehow not a rejection of gratification-delay more so than opting for comfortable clothing in situations that don’t have an explicit dress code.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        @chris

        I suppose the issue is when and how to determine whether a social convention is arbitrary and no longer useful.

        This does not seem like a conversation that could ever have any winners.

        I noted the wedding story somewhere else on this thread and I think this is one place where social conventions should still hold. Adults should understand that a wedding invitation that states “semi-formal” should mean suits and ties and dresses. I don’t think believing this should mark me as a conservative or a tyrant keeping people down.

        But I know people who seemingly think all this sort of social convention is unnecessary and would gladly tear it apart.

        Kazzy,

        A person receives a wedding invitation that states “semi-formal” said person shows up wearing a bowling shirt and a pair of black pants. This goes against general convention that semi-formal means suit and tie. Should we care? Do you think that it should be universal knowledge that the semi-formal means suit and tie and dresses? Or should we let it be relative and that this is semi-formal to the guy? What if the person received instruction that semi-formal means suit and tie but decides to ignore it?Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        @kazzy
        “Clothing should serve the context the wearer is in.” I doubt anyone would disagree with this, and I think most Americans would agree that the supermarket is pretty much an anything-goes zone, sartorially.

        There’s something running through these comments that strikes me as saying why can’t people look beyond these superficial things, but is at the same time overly concerned about what strangers think. Someone thinks less of you for wearing shorts to the supermarket? Why would you care? You said earlier, “who makes the call?” That’s the thing, isn’t it? We all do, as a society. Real maturity is making your own decisions about how to navigate this, isn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @newdealer
        I think a wedding is different than the super market. The wedding is the domain of the couple to be married and, as such, they have a pretty good amount of control over the proceedings. If they want to set the dress as semi-formal, I have no issue with that. And I think it fair to expect guests to meet their standards. If that guy understood what was meant by semi-formal and opted not to adhere to it, I’d call foul. If he didn’t know what semi-formal meant or had an understanding that differed from that of his hosts… well, sometimes those things happen when you use vague terms. I increasingly realize that there really shouldn’t be such things that “go without saying.” For me, if I ever have doubt, I do my best to research. Is this a mark of maturity or adulthood? Perhaps.

        @krogerfoot
        You make some good points. Generally speaking, it doesn’t bother me all that much if someone looks askew at my outfit. Odds are, I don’t even notice. It is conversations like this that boil my blood. When we start making moral judgments against people (and I would say calling a 29-year-old a man child or non-adult qualifies) because of what ultimately boils down to aesthetic preferences, I don’t like it. If you saw me at the super market and simply thought, “I’d never dress like that to go out,”… to each his own, I’d say. But if your thought process was, “Man, that guy is a man child. Look at me, in my suit. I’m an adult. I’m so much better than that guy,”… yea, go F yourself. And I don’t consider that attitude particularly mature.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Adults should understand that a wedding invitation that states “semi-formal” should mean suits and ties and dresses. I don’t think believing this should mark me as a conservative or a tyrant keeping people down.

        If someone invites you to an event, particularly an event on which they’ve spent a good deal of time and money, it seems polite, not just mature, to honor their wishes when it comes to things like attire.

        Figuring out what society should keep and what it should shed is something society’s been workin’ on for a long time. Judgments of people’s character or maturity based on dress seems like a pretty damn good candidate for shedding, though, if only becomes the image it maintains is a fairly restricted one, culturally, ethnically, etc.Report

      • Avatar Cascadian says:

        Weddings, funerals, Halloween parties these all have some criteria for dress which, if one has the cultural education, should be able to navigate. Otherwise, fewy, parents get an immediate pass to wear whatever they can actually reach in the time they have to get the crew out the door.

        The more fun examples are where there is tit for tat. When I was younger I waited tables in a lot of top end resort restaurants: Palm Springs, Aspen, Mendocino. Fine dining is still one of the larger items in our monthly budget. I like good food and eat out often. Sometimes you see folk that are obviously dressed in their best for this special dining occasion. They are stiff and uncomfortable in so many ways and yet occasionally I’ll get a look that seems to say, “don’t you know how to dress when eating at an establishment like this”. Priceless.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        ND, I have been thinking about the dress issue and can understand why a person did not understand what semi-formal meant. Dressing up until very recently was essential for many ordinary events. Even if you wore overalls to work, you dressed up to go downtown. That and movies gave people a working knowledge of dress. Nothing these days do.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        @newdealer;
        Then again, I am a bit baffled at when people claim they are only comfortable in “Cargo Shorts and a t-shirt” or something like that. Clothing is not that uncomfortable to me including suits

        Clothing is uncomfortable to me. My ideal outfit is undies to keep my junk from bouncing around, and nought else. If I need to wear a tie I wear it loose, with the top button of my shirt undone, or I feel like I’m being choked. I can’t make it through a day with the sleeves of my dress shirt all the way down and buttoned, so they’re always rolled up on my wrists (Bonus: Jamie Lee Curtis thinks that’s sexy, so if we ever happen to meet….!). Socks and shoes are nearly unbearable, and I’m really only comfortable bearfoot, so I wear Tevas and Keens as often as I can when footwear is required, as my compromise with society’s wholly unreasonable demands (I was nearly thrown out of the grocery store once for going barefoot).

        I also hate jewelry, and my wedding ring is a real sign of my love for my wife, because it’s only for her that I wear it (and I actually got away without wearing it for several years, which was great…just for reasons of comfort, not infidelity).

        I’m told I look good when dressed up, but I’m not vain enough to make the tradeoff unnecessarily! ;).Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Then again, I am a bit baffled at when people claim they are only comfortable in “Cargo Shorts and a t-shirt” or something like that.

        Yea, those cargo shorts are made of pretty stiff fabric. Gym shorts are better. Definitely.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        I usually wear my sleeves rolled up unless I am wearing a jacket or blazer.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        A person receives a wedding invitation that states “semi-formal” said person shows up wearing a bowling shirt and a pair of black pants.

        At least he knew that “semi” means “half”. Another guy might have shown up in a trucker’s cap.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        At least he knew to wear black. You can’t go too wrong in black, unless maybe at a sweet 16, but what self-respecting adult would show up at one of those?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        @jm3z-aitch

        Regarding footwear, I’m with you. If I could only wear flip-flops, I would. However, I’ve found that Johnston&Murphy have by far the most comfortable dress shoes I’ve ever worn. I bought 3 different pairs at the outlet store three years ago for under $200, rotate through them throughout the school year, and they’re still wearable. I’m on my feet all day and have sometimes worn them through evening events with nary an issue. I recommend them if you find yourself needing dressier shoes but want to remain comfortable.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I can’t make it through a day with the sleeves of my dress shirt all the way down and buttoned, so they’re always rolled up on my wrists (Bonus: Jamie Lee Curtis thinks that’s sexy, so if we ever happen to meet….!).

        This. Wearing a dress shirt without a blazer but having the cuffs buttoned is the absolutely weirdest thing I can imagine doing in business casual. If you have a meeting important enough to need your cuffs buttoned, you have one important enough to wear a blazer for IMO.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        This. Wearing a dress shirt without a blazer but having the cuffs buttoned is the absolutely weirdest thing I can imagine doing in business casual. If you have a meeting important enough to need your cuffs buttoned, you have one important enough to wear a blazer for IMO.

        In Singapore, there are only two types of people who wear a business coat. Business people (and people who like to think that they are business people) and lawyers. Everyone else who works in an office does not wear a coat but buttons their cuffs.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      @jm3z-aitch

      How dare you call Justice Stevens bitter! Well maybe you were talking about George Will

      And didn’t the Doctor teach us that “bowties are cool?”

      @cascadian

      I think the most expensive restaurants in SF are jeans-acceptable affairs. Almost everything in SF is jeans acceptable. Though there is still a junior league and that surprises me.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        You should see Stevens screeds in his condo association newsletter. Makes his dissent in Citizens United look like a love note to Kennedy!Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

      If you have Orange & Rockland Gas and Electric, I’m surprised you can keep the lights on at all. 🙂

      (This a very inside joke)

      I know some people in northern Bergen who have them and hate their guts. I am a very happy PSE&G customer.Report

  4. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I always thought of adulthood as when you were mature enough to do what needed to be done & you accepted the cost of doing so (a simplistic take, I know).

    I’ve never accepted that we had to necessarily give up the trappings of our youth in order to be defined as an adult. I still love fantasy/sci-fi movies & books, anime remains a guilty pleasure, and I never fail to quote Star Wars if I can get away with it. Some of the music that worms it’s way into my head makes my wife joke that I was a teen-age girl in a past life, although I still have to sing along to Poison or Def Leppard if it’s on the radio.

    But 6 months after I turned 18 & left home, I took stock of my life & I did what needed to be done. I joined the Navy. That was my first step toward adulthood. I still had the freedom of my youth (I played so much AD&D while deployed…), but I was learning how to accept responsibility with grace.

    Maybe that is the marker, and adult accepts responsibility with grace.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think of accepting responsibility with grace is a good marker. Not all the time but at least a good amount of it. It still does suck when work prevents you from doing fun things but sometimes it has to be done.

      I suppose it differs but I never thought I left home when I went to college at 18*. A lot of people do though even if they still went back home for winter vacation and summer break.
      It never really occurred to me to think of a dorm as a home.

      *And I am not a fan of mandatory military service but joining the military certainly counts as leaving home.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The Navy was good for me. I would not recommend the military for everyone, but for me it was a definite good.

        I will say that the person I had become after my first duty station & deployment was very different from the person who had left. A lot of the relationships of my youth, including some members of my family, were strained, and some were broken. I didn’t have to let go of the things I enjoyed as a youth, but I did have to let go of some of the people.Report

  5. Avatar Cascadian says:

    Just read a piece at Real Clear that is tangential to this but a bit later on in the process. Make sure you have tissues available.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/08/20/a_parent_letting_go_119636.htmlReport

  6. Avatar j r says:

    I have to wonder how much the nature of adulthood has actually changed versus popular representations of adulthood. In other words, perhaps there were always alternative conceptions of adulthood, but they were just never showed up in popular representations.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      A valid possibility though I think a large part of alternatives do come from the need for less gruelling physical labor and more free time and money.

      It was not too long ago when most or a sizable majority of Americans lived and worked on farms and knew about heavy farm labor from an early age.Report

  7. Avatar NewDealer says:

    @glyph

    1. Considering that college has been around in its present form for a thousand or so years (more or less), I doubt it. Then again, I am not a tech utopian.

    2. College was probably a lot cheaper when you went. While I am sympathetic to the fact that families can help to specific amounts only, I don’t think it is right to place an obligation like that on a child.

    3. I don’t get the line of parenting that says “I did this and you should to” when it comes to school of hard knock experiences.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I know some people were told to go to the best school they could get into and are now drowned in student loans. This strikes me as wrong.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Sure, and books were ink on paper for a thousand years, and for most of that time you needed to be in the same room with someone to talk to them.

      Now, not so much.

      People who borrowed money for college that they now cannot pay back chose…poorly. I went to community college for two years (cheap as it gets, and the first two years are mostly general courses anyway), then transferred to a 4-year for the bachelor’s. Worked full time the whole time. If need be they can too. If working means they take a lower course load each semester and take a little longer to graduate, so be it. What’s the rush? Borrow money to get out in four years and hope you can get a job to pay it back? I think many people have lost their minds.

      “Hard knock”?! So I worked through college. Ate nothing but oatmeal for a while, when I blew all my cash on concert tickets. But Orphan Annie I wasn’t. You see the article about the guy who lived in his van while he went to college? That dude is awesome.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Maybe this makes me a liberal squish (and this is more than hypothetical considering I don’t have kids) but I don’t see why it is necessary to make kids go through that if it you have the ability not to.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think you can coddle kids too much and have them be ineffectual in the world but throwing up unnecessary hurdles in the name of character building seems odd as well. I know people whose parents did that and thought they were doing their kids a big favor but the kids turned out to be largely bitter against their parents. Often they ended up dropping out of college.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        My kids have to run a timed obstacle course to get to breakfast in the morning. Anyone who doesn’t beat the buzzer goes hungry. They’ve developed into real characters all rightReport

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I think you have a strange conception of “throwing up hurdles”. It’s not throwing up hurdles, to decline to smooth out every bump in someone’s else’s path.

        And sure, if I could pay for everyone to do what they wanted forever, I would. But people who go to college are adults. And adulthood means taking responsibility for yourself. My parents couldn’t pay for my college, and unless I hit the lottery, I will likely be unable to pay for my kids’ college.

        But if I get them to 18 fed, clothed, educated, and loved, I’ve done my part. The rest is up to them.

        And I hope to god one of them is a genius and strikes it rich, ‘cos otherwise I expect to die poor, and so be it.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Glyph,

        I think we are now getting into biographical and possibly even cultural background differences. I don’t think parenthood is a concept that ends once a child automatically turns 18 and neither do my parents. This does not mean they have or do smooth out every hurdle but some hurdles are best left smoothed out in my opinion.

        I knew some people who were more or less independent from their parents since 18 and they all came from some kind of UK background: English, Scott, Welsh, etc.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Oh, I agree. But it’s got less to do with culture, and more with class, IMO. Your dad was a NY lawyer. You are the 1%, from where I sit. 😉

        And of course parenthood doesn’t end at 18. My parents still help me how and when they can (and thank god, because child care is PRICEY). But they, and I, are under no obligation to pay for another able-bodied and -minded adult to do whatever they want.

        I wanted to go to college, and I made that happen (with the help that they provided my first 18 years, and they also gave me a very used ’69 Beetle on which they paid the insurance while I was in school).

        My kids will decide what they want, and if/how they can make that happen, and I will help them how and as much as I can. That’s all I can do.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        It strikes me that this convo is very appropriate to the post title, albeit in a different fashion from the OP’s thrust.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Glyph, there is a Jewish joke that a middle aged Jewish man with both parents alive is a boy and remains so till they die.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        James is joking, I think.
        If I said something like that, I wouldn’t be.
        (also, I think the idea would be fun!).

        I’m either a very bad liberal, or a very squishy libertarian. Take your pick.

        Glyph,
        I knew a guy whose budget for food was “flour and butter” because he needed a workstation for class.Report

  8. Avatar ScarletNumber says:

    1) I have generally found that any parent who says things like “18 and you are out the door” is generally being facetious. The ones who are serious are generally bottom-of-the-barrel white trash. No middle class or higher person, or someone striving to be that, ever says that.

    2) I don’t understand why sweat pants are considered to be the worst thing a guy can wear, but jeans are generally OK outside of work and formal occasions?Report