Our world has gotten very casual. Our personal comfort seems to override what used to be known as decorum or how we present ourselves. This is confusing to kids. If we respect ourselves, shouldn’t we want to dress and act thoughtfully putting effort into dressing, our languaging, and being attentive to others?

How we present ourselves in public is also how we move in the world. It’s a mixed message to kids to tell them to be on their best behavior if we don’t delineate when it’s ok to be very comfortable and casual or to dress and act with some effort appropriate to the situation. Let me explain.

There are times when drawing attention to yourself is just fine. Creative self-expression is a good thing in the right circumstances. I’m not advocating conformity, I’m addressing being able to read when the emphasis should be on showing respect in situations where the focus should be on the event or other persons.

I’ve been to numerous weddings and memorial services where people show up in casual everyday clothes which signals they are showing little effort that this is a special event. I see baseball caps and flip flops worn in houses of worship. Many folks no longer dress up for concerts. Where’s the fun of a special evening?

We also have gotten used to sloppy public dress and often very suggestive clothing. Young adults do not yet understand the unwanted attention and potentially dangerous focus when one publicly shows a lot of skin and outline of body parts. It’s not being liberated to objectify yourself and shows little self-respect. I’ve watched parents bringing kids straight from practice into stores wearing revealing sports attire (girl’s volleyball) which leaves little to the imagination. It’s not safe and its not appropriate.

I watch people boarding planes in pajama bottoms and slippers and while they might be more comfortable on the plane, its slovenly. Americans have an international reputation for being slobs and wearing clueless clothing that might show little modesty or awareness of how they present. We are ambassadors for our country when we travel and cultural awareness is deeply important. Not everywhere is a campground or baseball park where casual attire is just fine.

Does this seem prudish or old fashioned to you? Look deeper at what this means for the wearer. Who do you think is going to have more credibility at the complaint counter; the person who is well put together or the one with crass slang on their tee-shirt? The reason people dress well for court is to be viewed as more responsible and credible. I’ve been bumped to first class before because I was respectful, patient, and well-dressed. Trust me, the message you are sending others is reflected in how you present.

Steve Hartman of CBS News, did a wonderful story earlier this year on an 8 year old boy, James Ramage of Chelsea Maine, who just decided that dressing up for school in a suit and tie once a week made him feel good. It caught on. Dapper Wednesday. Self-esteem. They loved how it felt. It wasn’t imposed. The kids decided to do it for fun. Experiencing the lesson is always the best teaching tool.

There are businesses now realizing that the ultra casual attire of some company cultures affects the attitudes and productivity of the employees. It’s naive to think that if you want to advance and be taken seriously that how you dress, speak and carry yourself doesn’t matter. The glass ceiling is tough enough. Why objectify yourself by wearing suggestive clothing at work?

This is a very challenging message to get across because of the subtleties and unspoken impressions that are happening whether you believe this or not. Many of our kids will be world travelers and/or do business internationally. They are entering a global economy and should be very aware of the norms of other cultures.

Please help the kids you love by how you dress and the effort you put into your appearance. A guy who shows up on a date with no thought as to his dress has just sent a message of how he is going to treat you; with little thought, awareness, or respect. Is that what you want for your daughters?

When helping your kids to present with respect for themselves, just share that it makes them feel good. It doesn’t matter what others are doing. Opportunities will open. People will trust their judgment more when they dress for the occasion and you’ll spare them the embarrassment of being underdressed.

Keep in mind that how you dress and speak very much influences behavior. Showing respect for yourself also means showing respect for others.