Estelle from This Happy Place Blog and I have teamed up to bring you another series as Dapper Day draws near. It’s not all about fashion this time; it’s about the sights and sounds and details that a talented group of guest writers find dapper. Today’s post–the last post in the series–is brought to us by Amanda from Nerds in Wonderland!
In a May, 1954 New York Times article announcing the construction of Disneyland, Walt Disney was quoted as declaring that the nascent theme park would be a place where “the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by.” For many of us, visits to Disneyland or Walt Disney World have been about just that: the chance to recreate a feeling from childhood, to experience eras and places we’ve never lived, to escape the modern world and its problems.
Dapper Day, on the face of it, intends to recreate the best of a bygone sartorial ethos. I would argue, however, that Dapper Day is also a modern-day embodiment of a certain American-ness that Disneyland itself was built to project, not only to Americans but to the entire world. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, a family decked out to the nines on their day trip to Disneyland represented all that was good about America: clean, wholesome, and respectful citizens, having fun and togetherness at the most clean, wholesome, and respectful of American places. Beneath the fun ran an undercurrent of political messaging. Through celebrations of national heritage, consumerism, and capitalism, Cold War-era Disneyland – and its legions of stylish visitors – represented an antidote to the dark, drab, and threadbare evils of communism.
A powerful metaphor, yes, but there were tangible real-world implications. The American government denied Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev and his wife entry to Disneyland in 1959, citing security concerns. At the same time, countless leaders from countries in the Middle East and Latin and South America were invited to Disneyland, where they were encouraged to marvel at the spectacular displays of democracy contained therein. By 1965, the United States State Department had a full-time staffer coordinating VIP political visits to Disneyland. More so than a visit to the Smithsonian, or to the Lincoln Memorial, or the Empire State Building, a trip to Disneyland was the perfect way for international visitors to see firsthand all that was great about these United States.
From Scandinavian princesses to the prime minister of Afghanistan, Disneyland welcomed strategically those who would appreciate – and emulate – all that was great about America. These international visitors were themselves as stylish as Hollywood celebrities, and fit in seamlessly with the scores of average American families who were unwittingly participating in this political drama. As important as it was for these visiting dignitaries to see the charming forced perspective of Main Street, USA, they also needed to see the graceful, wholesome style of “average” American families. After all, these families were the living and breathing examples of the greatness of American democracy and capitalism. Every day at Disneyland was Dapper Day, and every visitor had a part to play in this carefully choreographed story of America.
For many, this year’s Dapper Day may simply be a fun excuse to dress up. But if we look a little deeper, Dapper Day may also be a modern-day response to the insecurities and anxieties of contemporary life. In the past ten years alone, America has been involved in two wars, suffered countless economic setbacks, and endured endless political sniping in Washington. We mourn each new mass shooting, each senseless crime that fills up the time on the evening news, and worry about joblessness and homelessness and terrorism. But on Dapper Day, we have a chance to hearken back to an era that seems safer, simpler, more friendly.
But was it? Just as Disneyland leveraged nostalgia as a talisman against the worries of the day, are we, too, donning our finery at the parks in hopes of forgetting, for a moment, all that concerns us? If so, then Dapper Day is a day of both style and substance, a chance to reflect on nostalgia and heritage and their roles in our modern life – and to do this all while looking fabulous.
Why do you dapper? Let us know in the comments below!