"Throughout history there has been the question: How should man live? How should we behave? How should we treat one another? The minute you have a community, you have to have some form of etiquette, of hierarchy, of recognition, just to keep people from killing one another," said Judith Martin, who has written the popular syndicated column "Miss Manners" since 1978.
In the mid-20th century, there was one of many cyclical attempts to overthrow etiquette as "artificial and snobbish." That attitude re-emerged in the egalitarian 1960s and 1970s, but now the pendulum is swinging the other way.
But Martin says that while society may have slipped in some arenas — most notably its dress code — Americans have made great strides in extending "dignity" to all. The way we dress, she says, doesn't necessarily dictate the way we act.
"We have made enormous advances in the last decade when it was acceptable to make terrible bigoted remarks and jokes," she said.
While the slacker dress code of today may not be objectionable in some parts, some in the business world say appearance accounts for more than half of how a person is judged.
"I wear clothing that is clean and pressed, tidy and tucked in," said Post. "My hair is brushed and neat, my face is washed and I wear a little make-up and not too much perfume. I do feel I am treated better when I dress nicely, and that doesn't mean expensive."
But for some the casual culture has been good for business, according to Ron Fox, a North Carolina-based psychologist and organization consultant. Working with successful high-tech companies around the globe, he says, the "emphasis is on outcome," not looks.
"They are used to working informally, and I think it's a good thing," Fox told said. "And we can't go back. Some agencies I go into gave up the tie a long time ago, and some don't know what a tie is."
At 72, Fox himself now wears an open shirt and khakis at presentations. Though he rarely sees shorts in the workplace, "dressy sandals are creeping in."
Along with dress, the interaction between management and worker has also become more casual. "You don't see much tolerance for bosses who are 'my way or the highway,' and everything is on a first-name basis," said Fox.
The more relaxed atmosphere can create marketplace pressure that eventually even reins in rudeness, according to etiquette experts.
"If a boss is not user-friendly, [talented workers] move down the street for more money. They don't want to take a lot of guff," Fox said.
This new casualness permeates not only the business and entertainment world, but the classroom as well.
Jackie Judd, a 55-year-old mother who formerly worked as a reporter for ABC News, was shocked when she enrolled her young children in a school where students call teachers by their first names.
The Washington, D.C., mother admits she errs on the old-fashioned side and is a stickler for some formalities, forbidding her now teenage sons to use common vulgarities or dress "with their boxer shorts hanging out."
At first, the school's policy seemed wrong, she said.
"It bothered me because I thought it showed disrespect, and there was too much informality between adults and children," she said. "In my day, I would have been sent straight to the principal's office and my mother would be been called."