Henry Ford's promotion of "western" dance helped change that image since he was a member of "society", and the dress of his time showed that. He took the dance, but tried to fit it into HIS level of society. Pappy Shaw returned it to its roots, and he also changed the dress to what was accepted by society at large. In the 1950's dress was either reflective of an imagined west (picture Dale Evans) or what was everyday dress (not dress up either). I have an old 78 album that shows people dancing dressed exactly that way on the cover...some in western garb, others in blue jeans (both men and women).
Along the way, we've codified dress and not kept it the changing thing it was. We no longer believe people from the western U.S. are rough frontiersmen, but we keep hearing about the "rough" image that no longer exists. Current statements in our literature keep something alive that's long dead. It's well past time to drop those statements and start looking at today and the future rather than the past if we want square dancing to survive.
Some, maybe, many won't agree with this I know, but here goes anyway. We need to stop being restrictive and start being inclusive. We need to remember that it's the dance and having fun doing it that's important, nothing else. If we continue to turn kids away because they're too boisterous, too energetic, or don't dress the way older dancers do, we're never going to get them to start dancing. If we give the impression we're just a bunch of old folks in funny costumes, we won't get the middle-aged people either. If they won't try it because of the impression we give, they'll never know how much fun it is, and our numbers will continue to drop.
I'd like to see more exhibitions that concentrate on the dancing and fun, and less on what they're wearing, including kids (yes, they're out there) and younger dancers who aren't kids. We need to stress that square dance clothes are NOT a requirement for taking lessons and not to attend every dance either. This last may sound like heresy, but I see more and more square dancers at regular open dances in everyday dress, and it hasn't affected their dancing one bit.