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The Pensacola Dress Code

Photo: The Global Grill

If the men in my family could button their shirts to the bottom of their eyeballs, they would. We button collars, tuck shirts, wear belts and match socks to pants colors. I don’t want to be this way and if there’s a 12-step for “Folks Beleaguered by Antiquated Life Rules That No One Cares About,” put me on the list.

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My cousin, as a laugh and a truth, has a public ceremony for tucking away his cream Nubuck shoes at the end of summer. Were it not for social media, we could not comfort him in his time of light-shoed grief.

We are not okay. None of us.

We are a rules-bound lot, governed by the people who came before us. My great-grandmother, who I adored, did not wear pants. Not out of religious conviction, but because she just didn’t. And that is the end of that.

When ladies started wearing pants to church, we nearly took to the bed. We wanted to wear them so bad, but were certain pant legs would be the slippery slope into eternal darkness. Ten percent of every third therapy session is devoted to this very subject. 

Hear me out loud, this has nothing to do with clothes being expensive, or high-end or on-trend. Because I am rarely any of those. When at my desk writing, running errands, or sitting in a carline, I look like a Tik-Tok character out of The People of ‘The Big Blue Box Store’. 

But give me an event, holiday, or occasion and the anxiety starts. “What are the rules?” “What is everyone else wearing?” “What is the dress code?” “Does this violate a religious, cultural, or imaginary pretend rule that someone else in need of Xanax created in an effort to ruin lives?”

Apparently, I am not the only one, because I often see people asking online “What is the dress?” Especially for local restaurants. The answers are as helpful and clear as Alabama mud. 

“Dress smart,” one woman said. What does smart dress look like? Some of the smartest people I know haven’t showered in three days. This is not a good suggestion. 

Another one was, “wear whatever you want.” I can assure you we do not want most people to wear whatever they want. Barefoot and braless in a college t-shirt from 1995 is probably not acceptable at a place with linen tablecloths. 

My favorite one was “dress how you feel.” Dress. How. You. Feel. I suppose I could get a makeup artist to paint some tire treads on my face, but they don’t make shoulder straps wide enough to hoist around an enflamed dumpster.

The one that takes the unhelpful cake is “dress appropriately.” Well. We have done a circle dance right back to where we started. We’ve answered the question with a statement that is our original question. 

I have come a long way since permanently arriving at “The Beach.” I think the Mardi Gras-flip-flop culture has something to do with it. I’ll never forget, nearly 25 years ago, standing in line at Matassa’s Market on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter. It was not Mardi Gras. It was just a Tuesday at ten o’clock in the morning, but the checkout line went like this: regular person, regular person, sequins/colored wig/six-inch-heels person, regular person, then me. I was the only one curious about someone wearing a sequined dress and a colored wig in the middle of the day. To everyone else, it was just Tuesday in New Orleans. In fact, they didn’t blink an eye or miss a Trombone Shorty beat.

I joke about being uptight on the dress codes, but I learned two valuable lessons since that day: most of the time the only one worried about you…is you. And number two, live your life and dress for YOUR occasion. Sometimes your occasion is a Tuesday morning. 

I’m not here to start debating dress codes. That’s between you, your dinner date, and the person taking your money. The best way to get a straight answer is to simply ask the restaurant. 

Fortunately in Pensacola, it will never be too formal; the thing we want you to wear the most is a smile. 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.