SHORTS: long as hell. Pockets everywhere. It’s 2000.
October 11, 2014 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Why You Looked Weird in High School by Jaya Saxena "The key to any good performance is intention. We choose our clothes based on what we want the world to see, sometimes before our inner selves match the outer picture. I couldn’t live up to the punk rock image when I was 14 because I was timid and awkward and called my mom before going out at night. (And borrowed her clothes.) The look is what I valued, but a second of talking to me showed you it wasn’t who I was—not yet. By college there I was, wearing all black, intimidating those around me, convincing people I was confident and hard, and starting to convince myself a bit of the same."
posted by sweetkid (101 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Who you calling weird looking?
posted by The Whelk at 3:19 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


i'm startin a movement to reclaim jorts
#jorts4all

posted by murphy slaw at 3:32 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article makes me straight up hate all clothing even though it's mandatory. Like, how many people are actually happy with their clothing as performance and self-expression, vs. people who feel they're too big or too small, or whose proportions are like more than a standard deviation out, or who don't have one of the "acceptable" gender identities, or just don't get fashion, or just don't have the money for fashion, or think they are fashionable despite being secretly judged by everyone they meet, or think they are secretly judged despite being fashionable...

I guess going naked, or everyone in revolutionary worker's attire or whatever, wouldn't actually solve most of these problems though.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:38 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


And think about how often we were sold the "makeover" narrative in teen movies & books, too - that that's all it takes - change your clothes ---> change your image ---> it'll change you & erase the dork you've been! plus it'll make you popular with the people you want to be popular with! and you'll get a boyfriend/girlfriend and be loved! Performance is everything.

So you suck it up & figure out how to put on the mask or you have the angst that you can't just be you & holy crap people are judging you on such shallow things?! and you never asked to be human anyway, wtf.

You couldn't pay me a million dollars to ever be a teenager again, ugh.
posted by flex at 3:40 PM on October 11, 2014 [14 favorites]


This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:42 PM on October 11, 2014 [42 favorites]


from my own high school photos (1969-1972), the weirdest thing is the hair descending below my earlobes (fights with parents about that), hey, my parents were right.

several years after that, i abandoned beards for life after the beard-on-fire incident.
posted by bruce at 3:42 PM on October 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

Yeah, it's expressing that I don't care about clothes.
It's the minimum uniform to attract no attention. I would go naked but sometimes it's cold out or I need to buy a gallon of milk without being arrested.
posted by murphy slaw at 3:47 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I am so glad I attended a high school with a uniform.
posted by emeiji at 4:01 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]




This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

Yes. And jeans say something beyond "I don't care," too. If all you care about is warmth and comfort, yoga pants or leggings are way better at both. But I never see the "I don't care" men going out in those.

Anyways, I moved halfway across the country a couple of weeks before I was to start high school.

I had a funny accent, was neuroatypical, 13 years old (oh, wow, I might've actually been 12), and was going to have to start high school in a whole new part of the country I knew nothing about. So my mom took me to a new student orientation where you could ask questions of both the staff and some older, sort of 'mentor' students they'd selected.

I had made a dramatic move once before that and had changed schools more times than that, so I knew that different places had different cultures, and one of the big shocks when I'd made that previous move was that girls in the public schools would get really dressed up for the first day of school, complete with dresses and did-up hair and everything.

So I asked my student mentor what type of things students wore the first day of school here. She gave me the whole blah blah just be yourself story. I explained that I'd been to different places with different traditions and I just wanted to know if there were any I should know about because at that point, all I really wanted to do was blend in as best I could and get my bearings. She wouldn't budge from the "Just be yourself, everything is fine" story.

And that is how I ended up dressing as what would have been 'mousy, unremarkable girl' in my old school, but was 'juvenile delinquent' in my new one.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:09 PM on October 11, 2014 [24 favorites]


Vogon_poet, the part of my brain I (rightly or wrongly) think of as my "guy" side totally agrees with you. But the part I (however unfairly and gender reductionist-ly) think of as my "girl" side sees clothing as art. I love the gazillion ways that people can choose to express themselves through clothes. The problems come in the expectations attached to certain kinds of clothes, and the uniforms (literal or figurative) forced on us in all kinds of situations. Stuff like neckties or high heels can look great, and anybody who wants to wear that stuff should go for it. But the expectation that anybody is ever supposed to wear those things needs to die.

My complicated gender/fashion situation manifests in me dressing like a slob when I wear guy clothes, and lavishing attention on every detail when I'm in drag. I've tried to care more about guy clothes, but it's like trying to get excited about washing the dishes or something. Guy clothes are a chore. I think a lot of guys would agree.

But for all my complicated feelings about fashion, I suspect that people evaluate a person's looks based on hair more than fashion. Years ago I was watching some sketch comedy and one of the frumpy cast members showed up in a wig that made them look 50% better than usual. Since then I've noticed on SNL how the wigs can transform the actors so much. If you show up wearing bland clothes but you have a really fantastic haircut, people will think you're attractive. Show up with great clothes and a ugly haircut, and people will think you're a frump.

(Just you wait, Millennials. Any day now you'll hop online and there will be a gazillion articles addressing a generic "you" who is a lot younger than you are, and nobody will even question the assumption that we all grew up loving Hannah Montana.)

This is one of those comments that seems awfully silly when I read it back, but I spent too long on it to consign it to the ether so now I'm clicking post and I can waste a bit of your time along with mine. Yeah, sorry.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:12 PM on October 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


Those makeover things always made me disappointed that when I take a ponytail down and shake my hair out, I don't become magically 10x hotter and sparkle and move in slow motion. Several years later, though, I found out that it is possible to do that, it just requires more accessories than a hair tie: a motorcycle helmet pretty much does the trick.
posted by NoraReed at 4:16 PM on October 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.


Yup. When I talk to my students about gender-as-performance, I often get a lot of "I just put clothes on to be comfortable/because it's cold out, not to show my gender."

My favorite counter example is rain boots. Here's Target's selection, note the options for women, girls, boys, and toddlers, but not men.

If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.
posted by damayanti at 4:17 PM on October 11, 2014 [13 favorites]


Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

I know, right?

But *what* does it express? Some people know, and some people not only know, but they know what it expresses, like all objectively. Of course, some people know something else, and some people just don't know, you know?

One of the trickiest things I find about being human is that as far as I can tell, judgment by appearances (and other social signaling methods) is both (a) likely to lead to big errors in assessing people and (b) apparently almost impossible to drag out of us.

So, if you're trying to optimize your experience, you have to both learn to play the signaling games (including fashion) and try to get good at seeing past them. And the better you get at one of them, the harder it may become not to get trapped in doing the other poorly.
posted by weston at 4:21 PM on October 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Fashion can be frustrating in the same way that language can be frustrating. When we're learning how to use language, we don't always express ourselves well, and that's frustrating. Ditto when learning how to fashion our self-expression via clothing. And, like ideology in general, there's no getting outside or around things like fashion and language. You can either learn how to exert some limited agency or you can let the current carry you passively along.

I really enjoyed this article. It made me think of how I tried to signal, via black clothes and blue hair dye, how very serious and nonconformist I was when I was 16. Except several of those items of black clothing were comfy black coduroy, for Siouxsie's sake, and blue hair just made me resemble Milhouse van Houten. Lesson learned: in this game, you have to play with the cards you're dealt.
posted by erlking at 4:26 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


bruce: "the beard-on-fire incident"

You can't just drop that into the conversation and then not explain.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:27 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


This gets at something I think about a lot wrt clothing. Maybe especially as a woman relating to clothing?

There are all these rules about how to dress, often based on sort of axiomatic principles about body shape, coloring, and the like. You're a pear-shaped Summer, so you should wear X. You're a Winter with more of an apple shape, therefore you should wear Y.

But a lot of the clothes I love the most, and which I get the most compliments on, aren't the clothes I bought to suit what nature/that third donut gave me. I have this yellow midi skirt that hits me at mid calf. By all the rules, it should look dreadful on me. I get more compliments on that skirt than on any other item of clothing I own. By all rights, that skirt should have been the impulse buy that sat in the closet because it just didn't go. Instead, I've literally worn it down to rags and recently bought its replacement. That replacement? A black pleated skirt, yet another item that theoretically shouldn't look good on me. Because who the fuck cares? I like it, other people like it, Stacey and Clinton can fuck off.

(Re high school, I started at a parochial school that required uniforms, so there's nothing much to report. However, I did undergo a thrilling transformation from geeky dweeb to vaguely punk/goth in the summer between freshman and sophomore years which absolutely resonates with this piece.)
posted by Sara C. at 4:28 PM on October 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


I am eternally grateful that I went to a school with a uniform code, so the extent of fashion was the skinny tie.
posted by arcticseal at 4:31 PM on October 11, 2014


I looked weird in high school because nothing you could buy at the store (circa the cultural wasteland of 1999-2006) suited me at all. "Skinny prostitue", "faux goth", "overweight middle aged aromatherapist" or "guy clothes" was what I had to choose from. I feel like things are better now, "normal person" is a thing I can buy if I look carefully enough.
posted by bleep at 4:32 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I also have piles of thoughts about money, the realities of teenagerdom, and those weird misses that happen when you're playing with the hand you're dealt. My "goth" transition involved a lot of borrowing from my mom's closet, so it was mostly like black t-shirts from the gap and tights worn with the Doc Martens I'd saved for. I looked a lot more like Willow Rosenberg than any cast member of The Craft.
posted by Sara C. at 4:32 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also wore a lot of my mom's clothes because shopping was too frustrating.
posted by bleep at 4:34 PM on October 11, 2014


OMG high school and wearing just a pink sweater vest and gray dress pants. Pretty ballsy of dorky old me living in the förorten and being shy as shit. Some dude at school complimenting me made my day. Did I wear the vest again...?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:38 PM on October 11, 2014


LOL the whole idea of high school kids trying to fit in with the punk clique is hilarious. There was no such thing in my high school because there was no such thing as punk yet. But when punk broke out just a couple of years later, nobody had to fit in. We came as we were, and mostly we were broke and couldn't afford decent clothes. Now kids are trying to look like me from 1977, and they're stuck with that look forever. Unfortunately for them, we were way cooler than they will ever be. Now get off my lawn!
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:48 PM on October 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


"The key to any good performance is intention."
I don't think intention has anything to do with it. No one is intimidated by black leggings, heavy eyeliner and Doc Martens anymore.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:52 PM on October 11, 2014


This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

Which is why I've carefully constructed my wardrobe to express the sentiment "I hate clothes, I hate fashion, I hate society, I hate civilization, I hate every single living being in the entire world, I hate you personally, and I hate myself more than anything."
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:09 PM on October 11, 2014 [18 favorites]


I feel like "I just wear what is comfortable" is a reasonable explanation of how I choose my clothing. Most of my clothing-choosing decisions concern things like "tags that do not bother me" and "tags that do not have excessively scratchy nylon thread sewing them to the shirt" and "clothing with a low enough poly/nylon content that it does not feel *sticky* to me" and "not itchy" and "doesn't gap horribly at the waist" (I have 12" difference between waist and hip, so gap is a problem.) If I get those working, then I move on to stuff like "pants that do not high-water" (horribly short-waisted and fairly long-legged. I need "petite long" to not look stupid) and "comes in one of the approximately twelve solid colors I will wear" and "non-choke-y neckline" and "will not pill or snag" and "machine washable" and "socks that don't have annoying seams" and on and on.

I'm given to understand that other people, mostly, shop without quite the same list of dealbreakers that I have. At any rate, what I wear is carefully selected to navigate the minefield of my personal preferences for having-something-to-wear and I look pretty much like you might expect a person to look who has chosen her clothing according to a rubric that nobody else can see or understand. *sigh* At least I'm comfortable.
posted by which_chick at 5:11 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


But when punk broke out just a couple of years later, nobody had to fit in. We came as we were, and mostly we were broke and couldn't afford decent clothes.

Yep, truth. Those first wave punk gigs did not have any uniform dress code back then. Audiences wore just random thrift shop gear or whatever. Good times, that distant past was. Well, a few ugly moments, but hey.
posted by ovvl at 5:12 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.
Or else, rain boots, and I'd say, even umbrellas, are not actually necessary.
posted by smcameron at 5:13 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was unhappy until I hit on what I called Star Trek style: black clunky shoes, black socks and pants, a shirt that was mostly one color—not too loud or too dark, maybe over a dark tee, nothing tucked in ever. It was easy and worked for classrooms or concerts, or at least it gave me enough confidence that I felt okay everywhere and I wasn't drawing bad attention to myself. It was a big step up from 7th grade getting terrorized as blobby effeminate "sweatpants kid", though there were years in between I only remember for being fond of coats.
posted by fleacircus at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]



This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

You should check out Self-Edge for a little bit if you think "jeans & t-shirt" are as non-signalling as you think them to be.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 5:14 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

"If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice." (I learned that in high school.)
posted by octobersurprise at 5:17 PM on October 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.

I have a nice pair of rain boots. Love 'em. But an interesting thing I've noticed, as a man who likes clothes and fashion: the more you want good clothes that maybe resembles something the opposite gender might wear, the more you're gonna pay for it.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:37 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am so glad I attended a high school with a uniform.

I agree -- and I was wearing an Army-issue green JROTC uniform, at that! But it made life simple (no decisions! no competition!) and predictable, which was a boon in those years of a low budget of mental & emotional energy.

I even got used to wearing a tie and a nametag, both of which my current work environment permits but doesn't require, so going over & above is pretty unconscious, appearance-wise.

Mind you, a quarter-century later I still wear khakis five days a week, and I keep my hair cut above my ears, collar, and eyebrows. But now I do it because I have tried the alternative, and my own "uniform" saves a lot of brainpower. (I wear comfier shoes, though…) Thanks, Cretin High!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:51 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing is rotation. What used to be "in" becomes "in" again. Thankfully I never decided my spectacles where geek.
posted by Mblue at 5:54 PM on October 11, 2014


Nthing the relief at having gone to a school with a uniform. (And particularly grateful that the first year I spent in a school in a foreign country involved one. Sophomore year/fifth form is enough of a nightmare without figuring out the minefield of clothes in a country separated from yours by a common language.)
posted by immlass at 6:16 PM on October 11, 2014


Re punk and trying to fit in and whether there was/is a punk look and how that relates to Being Punk or whatever, I think it's important to note that, for the most part, a fifteen year old kid who pursues a punk aesthetic is making a much broader statement than just "this is the kind of music I like".

At least for me as a teenager, it was much more about my excitement that I'd finally discovered a sort of "third way" to align myself. Growing up in the rural south, it seemed like there were two alternatives: pursue the trendy/conventional/feminine thing and try to be popular, or fail at that and be lesser than. When I went to summer camp and met a bunch of punk/goth/indie/subcultural kids, it dawned on me that not only was there a sort of community in not belonging, but also that all this sort of complicated social and aethetic semiotics could be about self-expression and stuff I actually liked, not a binary "are you good enough" to either achieve or fail regardless of your own actual tastes.

Trying to be punk was much more about self-identifying as someone who didn't give a shit about popularity/the mainstream than it was about what type of music I listened to (though I did like punk), or trying to project some kind of image of "toughness".
posted by Sara C. at 6:23 PM on October 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


I went to an elementary school where I wore a uniform, then a high school with uniforms, followed by a college in uniform, and now I wear a uniform to work. It's amazing that I can navigate fashion at all.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 6:26 PM on October 11, 2014


Which is why I've carefully constructed my wardrobe to express the sentiment "I hate clothes, I hate fashion, I hate society, I hate civilization, I hate every single living being in the entire world, I hate you personally, and I hate myself more than anything."

Ah, a fedora.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:29 PM on October 11, 2014 [34 favorites]


Ugh, I hated wearing a uniform to school because it didn't remove the fashion markers, it just made them even more hard to navigate, and made it near impossible to say I was being bullied because I wore the wrong thing, even though *I was bullied for wearing the wrong thing*, because "the wrong thing" was the wrong style of uniform-approved socks and the wrong hair accessory, not the wrong shirt/pants/skirt/whatever.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:34 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I wore neckties and tweed jackets and paisley vests in high school. I was a sharper dresser than I am now!
posted by desjardins at 6:39 PM on October 11, 2014


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.

My theory on this is that guys who want rain boots bought a pair of L.L. Bean duck boots (or inherited them from their dad) and have no desire to ever think about the issue again.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:44 PM on October 11, 2014


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.

I don't wear rainboots for the same reason I don't wear leggings.
They take far too long to put on.

So, I guess my personal fashion would be: must be able to go from undressed to out-the-door in less than 60 seconds.
It seems like the "default male outfit" (jeans, sneakers, pull-over shirt) has evolved to meet this need exactly.
Or maybe men have evolved to fit the outfit? I dunno.
posted by madajb at 6:54 PM on October 11, 2014


But when punk broke out just a couple of years later, nobody had to fit in.

I see that you're ignoring that British advertisement for Malcolm McLaren's shop punk variant and approve heartily.
posted by mr. digits at 6:57 PM on October 11, 2014


I'm not really a fan of uniforms. Uniforms are for total institutions like prisons and the military and reform schools. They're all about stripping you of your identity kit and re-creating you in some generic ideal form. And current school uniforms all seem to consist of khakis and polo shirts, which to me says that the ideal human form is a middle-class, middle-aged, middle manager at a Fortune 500 company on casual Friday.

Figuring out your identity is a big and yeah, often fraught, part of making the transition to adulthood. Adolescents can be a little heavy handed with it, to be sure, but grownups aren't that different. Our cultural semiotics are just a little subtler and harder to navigate.

And I still sometimes wish I had a trusted advisor who would give me a clear and sincere answer to, "Is this appropriate for a 50 year old lady?" without getting that "Oh, just be yourself" speech. I am happy to fly my freak flag and all, but I don't want to be flying a bunch of random and unintentional ones. I don't ask people's opinions on the stuff I'm sure about.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:07 PM on October 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wow, yeah, in my experience, uniforms did not make things easier. First there were the almost imperceptible fashion signals that kids used even with uniforms. How you wear your hair, what your glasses frames are like, whether you polish your shoes ever, how many buttons on your shirt are undone, whether your socks are pulled up or scrunched down, how you wear your scarf, what sort of knot your tie has. I pretty much got all of those wrong. The socks one was especially annoying because whenever I would catch on, the fashion would change.

Then there's the fact that non uniform clothes became a really big deal, because you wore them so rarely. It's kind of like how the tabloids make such a thing of catching stars wearing no make up and track pants. If someone from school saw you on the weekend and you were wearing anything that wasn't within the realms of teenage acceptability, everyone would be talking about it on Monday at school. (Oh my god, lollusc was with her mum and she was wearing this pink top with purple flowers that looked like her mum bought it for her. Hey pinky! Pinky! You like flowers, eh? Snigger.)

And because people at school saw you in real clothes so rarely, you didn't really get the chance to recover from a fashion mistake by wearing appropriate clothes the next day and forever after.

Source: uniformed primary school, followed by non uniformed primary school, followed by colour-coded by not strictly uniformed intermediate school, followed by high school that had a uniform up until the final year.
posted by lollusc at 7:13 PM on October 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


So, I guess my personal fashion would be: must be able to go from undressed to out-the-door in less than 60 seconds.
It seems like the "default male outfit" (jeans, sneakers, pull-over shirt) has evolved to meet this need exactly.
Or maybe men have evolved to fit the outfit? I dunno.


A dress would be even faster - pull it over your head, step into shoes, done.
posted by rtha at 7:15 PM on October 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


Oh, plus you didn't see your peers dressed in normal clothes very often, which meant you did end up getting most of your fashion ideas from your mum, or older or younger siblings, unless you had a bunch of friends you saw outside school. But if you didn't get the whole fashion thing, chances are you didn't have a whole bunch of friends you saw outside school.
posted by lollusc at 7:16 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


A dress would be even faster - pull it over your head, step into shoes, done.

A good point!
posted by madajb at 7:22 PM on October 11, 2014


That is the secret of dresses - they are really just a way to not wear pants.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:42 PM on October 11, 2014 [20 favorites]


I LOVE dressing up.
I think part of this is because I have a somewhat frustrating body to fit, so I have to pay attention to what I buy and whether or not it works with my body. If something fits poorly, not only will it look bad, it will be uncomfortable, I will be uncomfortable.

I also have to wear a uniform at work, which both forces me to pay attention to what clothing says - my uniform is an inherent part of my job, it makes me identifiable, it is a visible symbol that communicates a meaning to others in a very concise way. It also makes me long to wear something that fits properly, and lets me tell a different story.

Mostly one in which I am sort of weird and terrifying. Like I could for real cause your cows to stop giving milk and your crops to wither on the vine kind of thing.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:53 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I see that you're ignoring that British advertisement for Malcolm McLaren's shop punk variant and approve heartily.

What? We couldn't afford any of that stuff. We could barely afford record albums with pictures on the cover of people wearing that stuff. And besides, what do you think, there were instruction manuals on how to dress? Well yeah actually there were. That's what's so funny, people are still trying to do that same look.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:58 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thrill of my teenage sartorial adventures was buying shoes (Fluevog clogs I believe) in some vaguely alterna-punky shop along Boston's Newbury Street and having Gene Simmons as a fellow customer (not in make-up alas). I didn't recognize him until he extended his tongue.

I'm also really really glad that my high school years coincided with the grunge aesthetic. Even though I ended up with a rather preppy closet, having men's (v-neck) undershirts and flannel shirts as a campus uniform for both girls and guys really made it easier to fit in.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:14 PM on October 11, 2014


A dress would be even faster - pull it over your head, step into shoes, done.

I'm convinced there would be a market for business mumus.
posted by happyroach at 8:38 PM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Dresses are drafty, though. I like to keep my bits more or less in one place and I don't like breezes. If I could wear a dress without having to constantly explain myself and defend my choices, I totally would, though. Comfort. Ditto for sweatpants; the only reason I don't wear them all the time is because my wife gets embarrassed if I look homeless.

In middle school, I was actively opposed to anything that was "cool" and therefore deliberately wore sweatpants and ridiculous 90s-style loud pants in order to avoid wearing jeans, because jeans were what "normal" kids wore. I also wore one pair of shoes until the sole actually fell completely off because buying new shoes would mean admitting that I cared how my shoes looked.

I still dislike any nod to fashion and am semi-intentionally conveying that message outward. Jeans and T-shirts, but specifically *funny* T-shirts. Like, if I'm going to make a statement with my clothing, I want that statement to be written on the shirts where my audience can see it. (Well, a lot of them are visual puns from Threadless, so no actual words, but nonetheless.) I also usually look to find hiking or work boots when I buy shoes, because those tend to be soft and comfy, and I specifically like steel toes because when I accidentally trip over or kick things, it is the things that are hurt and not me.

So a Minecraft creeper T-shirt, sweatpants with bleach spots from cleaning the bathroom floor, and work boots would be my "look," such as it is. Then long hair because I don't have to style it and just brush it back into a ponytail and a beard because remembering to shave every day is a pain in the ass. In high school, I did as much of this as my testosterone levels and the strictures of my school dress code would allow, and it looked faintly silly, but I still look silly, so whatevs.

I guess my message to the world used to be "Fuck you, you can't control me!" and now it's more "Oh, whatever, look, here, I'm trying to meet your stupid minimum standards, okay?"
posted by Scattercat at 8:54 PM on October 11, 2014


You should check out Self-Edge for a little bit if you think "jeans & t-shirt" are as non-signalling as you think them to be.


*click*


FAVORITE JAWNS


NO.


YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:09 PM on October 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think my highschool era of enormously baggy clothing left me scarred fashion wise for years. Even if you're slim, baggy clothes make you look terrible. They were part of the psychological mindset of be a vague barely noticed shape. Now that I'm a bit more confident in my appearance/idea that I'm a worthwhile person, I'm okay wearing slim cut things.

Nowadays I like dressing up nicely because it's fun for me. I enjoy the act of combining and mixing colors and cuts and getting things that work well together. Shopping at thrift stores way too often lets me get stuff well out of my real price range for a song so that helps. It's certainly something that takes effort though, I don't think it should be a requirement for anyone.
posted by Ferreous at 9:13 PM on October 11, 2014


Let me make this clear though: Jnco jeans are an abomination and should be burned on sight.
posted by Ferreous at 9:15 PM on October 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


I started freshman year of high school in 1987. Perhaps that explains why I showed up for the first day of school with a streak of blue hair mascara in my hair. I suppose I wanted to Make A Statement, but I never made that statement again.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:31 PM on October 11, 2014


i have no idea what i wore in high school. presumably clothes were involved and embarrassing 90s ones at that.

i can still remember the pager number of the guy i got my weed from though
posted by poffin boffin at 12:28 AM on October 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


Ugh. I was in high school during the time period when skinny jeans became a thing.(Or well, a thing again, as my punk-in-the-late-70s pegged jeans dad liked to remind me)

The problem was that we were all broke, and there weren't a lot of options at the time. You couldn't just go to goodwill and buy decent ones like you can now, nor were they $30 on sale at jc pennys or some online shop. And none of us had charge cards anyways.

So yea, I clearly remember the day I had finally saved up enough money from my shitty burger flipping job to buy some nice pants. I felt like the shit. I wore those fuckers every day until I managed to snag some similar ones on sale a few months later.

Doesn't mean I'm not embarrassed about wearing a fucking fedora with a suit and a Halliburton briefcase sophomore year though. Ugh. I went the full spectrum from dork to relatively normal looking dude in high school.
posted by emptythought at 1:59 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Those makeover things always made me disappointed that when I take a ponytail down and shake my hair out, I don't become magically 10x hotter and sparkle and move in slow motion.

Huh. Works for me.

Just a bugger to get through when all you want to do is go to bed and sleep.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:29 AM on October 12, 2014


Ferreous: "Let me make this clear though: Jnco jeans are an abomination and should be burned on sight."

Jnco jeans are wonderful and one of the sucky things about becoming a dad and having to push a baby carriage, and then having to wrangle toddlers, and then having your hairline recede and wrinkles pop up, and then having your kids grow old enough to complain about how you dress, is that you realize one day that you haven't worn baggies in over a decade, and you can never wear them again because your wife, your kids, or your mirror will make fun of you.
posted by Bugbread at 4:37 AM on October 12, 2014


Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression

Wait, who says it isn't "self-expression?" That's a weird standard for smug self-congratulation. And a heck of a straw man.

It's my self-expression, and indeed a sign of privilege, not to give a fuck what you think about my uniform, which is the exact same jeans/t-shirt/boots ensemble right down to the sizes that I've been wearing every day for 30 odd years with minor variations. I never think about what to wear. My closet presents no options. I order new versions of the same things when the old ones wear out. I look at male clothing ads on billboards and magazines and think how sad it would be to waste time feeling insecure because I didn't have those guys' pants. They might as well be Ebola suits to me.

But I don't deny my habitus (I'm privileged enough to dress comfortably because I don't have to impress anyone to keep my job, it's a big reason I pursued the career I did, because I hate friggin suits with a white hot passion). Saying I prefer timeless comfort to current style is a self-expressive stance, obviously.

But in my view the privilege to be unconcerned with fashion is a form of freedom I think everyone deserves. To me, the energy and resources devoted to fashion in American culture are obscene beyond explanation. Because everyone looks good in jeans anyway.
posted by spitbull at 4:43 AM on October 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's expressing that I don't care about clothes.

I don't think it necessarily expresses anything. They can be read as saying that, but the wearer isn't necessarily saying, "I'm going to show people I don't care about clothes." Jeans and a boring shirt can be akin to a school uniform: just something you chuck on without thinking or expressing anything. They're a clothing default (contra, say, yoga pants).

I'm sure there are complicated and interesting reasons for why we have this default and not some other, but the intent of the wearer is a different thing than the social system in which one finds oneself.
posted by jpe at 5:02 AM on October 12, 2014


I had strange anti-jean opinions going on in highschool, and would only wear corduroys.

I usually only wore solid-coloured button down dress shirts (sleeves rolled up) and a grey pork-pie hat.

Combine that with my ever expanding sideburns, the message I was trying to convey was probably something along the lines of "I'm just keeping quiet until I can go home and listen to Belle and Sebastian". I got generally left alone by the people who I didn't care about, as was my goal.

Now my default fashion style is blacks, greys and browns, a beat up brown leather jacket, a huge scraggly beard and a general air of being slightly unhinged. It works well for me, my goals having not changed.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 5:40 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Of course, pace Roland Barthes, the semiotics of fashion are such that a denial of fashion can be read as a fashion statement, and irony is in the eye of the critic as much as the model. One can signify "I don't care about clothes," at the same time one is offering the meta-message "I am the sort of person who doesn't have to care about clothes." And "I am this particular sort of person who doesn't have to care about clothes." Or "my 'not caring about clothes' is a gesture of defiance in this context." Or "I care about clothes a great deal, but more about their quality, durability, functionality, or comfort than their appearance." Thus "I am secure about my status."

And of course the availability of "jeans" and their associations with comfort, casualness, or manual labor are historical, not primordial.
posted by spitbull at 6:35 AM on October 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Because everyone looks good in jeans anyway.

That is a damned lie.
posted by LindsayIrene at 6:45 AM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


> "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice." (I learned that in high school.)

Oh, I decided. But I made all the clothing decisions years and more years ago and haven't had to do any deciding since I can't remember when. If what I'm wearing is out of fashion, fashion is wrong and should be embarrassed.
posted by jfuller at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


But what if some of us enjoy the variety of expressions that different clothes and styling options provide? I mean, "having to care about fashion is a symptom of being denied privilege; destroy privilege so that everyone can wear jeans and a t-shirt" is basically a variant on the sci-fi utopia where everyone wears identical beige jumpsuits.

Yes, a lot of people have to care about how they dress because otherwise they will lose their jobs. But, the flip side of that is learning how to dress can be freeing, can provide social and economic mobility; dressing up can become a liberatory practice. Additionally, some people like to dress up because it's pleasurable to craft and wear an outfit. Clothes are deeply tied up with expression of personality, gender, and sexuality. Not everyone has the default version of those things, so not everyone will enjoy being limited to the default (probably white, probably straight, probably anglophone, "normal guy") jeans-and-a-t-shirt uniform.
posted by erlking at 7:41 AM on October 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't care about clothes = I don't even own a TV
posted by desjardins at 7:46 AM on October 12, 2014 [12 favorites]


But what if some of us enjoy the variety of expressions that different clothes and styling options provide? I mean, "having to care about fashion is a symptom of being denied privilege; destroy privilege so that everyone can wear jeans and a t-shirt" is basically a variant on the sci-fi utopia where everyone wears identical beige jumpsuits.
I think the key there is the "having to care." I care a lot about knitting, which is fabulous and great for my creativity and self-expression, but it's not like other people are compelled to care about knitting if they would rather express themselves by writing sonnets or writing code or working on their flower gardens. I have nothing but respect for people who express themselves through clothing, and sometimes I consider myself one of them. But sometimes I just want to roll out of bed and put on something neutral and not think about it, and that doesn't seem like an unreasonable thing to want to be able to do. It would suck, too, if everyone were judged on their talent at oil painting, because while that's a fabulous outlet for creativity, it isn't the outlet for creativity that all of us would choose to pursue at any given time.

I had a big honking eating disorder all through high school, and a lot of my fashion choices had to do with hiding my body. I looked terrible a lot of the time, but that was kind of the least of my problems.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:17 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is something I often try to explain in threads like this. Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

Isn't there a lot more effort involved in a suit, though? I get dressed in total darkness in about 3 minutes because all I own is jeans and blue or black t-shirts. If I wanted to (or had to) wear a suit I'd have to have a light on, I assume, and the whole tie thing... god, I'd have to get up like 20 minutes earlier.

I'd never say I don't care about clothes because I'm very picky about which jeans and which t-shirts (beefy-t extra long) I wear, and I get new ones fairly frequently because I want them to look nice, but I don't want to have to worry about matching or anything.
posted by Huck500 at 8:20 AM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article was a bittersweet read for me. In my case, I dressed how I felt on the inside as a teen and experienced so much backlash that I wasted my 20s wearing the trendy feminine stuff (which really has little to do with my personality) to avoid critique.

When I was a pre teen (tween?) I wanted to be just like Han Solo so I wore plain black pants and cream shirt with a stupid black vest everywhere and people thought I was a complete weirdo (this was long before the original movies were re-released). I really wanted to find some kind of connection with people my age, and especially boys (I was just hitting puberty) and it was no fun to be such a lonely kid. I was drawn to alternative music that spoke to my feelings and was just starting to be noticed... I wanted to dress in a way that would show how much I loved the music. Being poor, I took my dad's plaid shirt and cut off the sleeves... Made a "touque" out of one sleeve... repurposed the chains on all the sink and bathtub stoppers to make necklaces... This was my main outfit with various t-shirts underneath and jeans. And still people thought I was weird. I cut off all my hair in a culture where women never did such a thing to express a desire to not fit into feminine norms and all it did was invite years of negative comments from random people of both sexes on the street and cute boys I had crushes on. Basically that I looked like a man and should dress more appropriately. Being so poor I was not eating properly meant I was stick thin - this did not improve their perception.

By the late 90s and early 2000s I had gotten into darker angrier music like Cradle of Filth and dressed the part in very masculine clothing with chains, leather boots and lots of concert tees. The music better expressed my feelings. Music was my passion, along with books, these were my friends when I had nothing else. I came to North America and it was metal heaven. I had money from part time work and a little more nourishment went a long way to giving me a culturally acceptable female figure. Now I mainly got comments from strangers that I would look so pretty if only I dressed better. The more I heard such things the more I wanted to retreat to my men's hoodies with metal band logos and baggy cargo pants and the more persistent the comments from various male strangers got. Why don't I take care of my hair instead of letting it hang in my face? Why flashy / loud / ghoulish looking eye-makeup and lipstick - when obviously I was good at applying cosmetics? Why not show off my figure, I must be so petite and cute underneath it all? I wanted to know why I could not be accepted as I was. Why should I pretend to be something I didn't even want to be? Why all the policing? Who cares???

After a few years of this I gave up and tried the sexy metalhead girl look, an attempt to be true to my personality and satisfy society so people would stop trying to make me feel bad about my tastes. I began University and things went somewhat better... Here and there guys found me attractive but mainly my style seemed to invite a lot of sexual harassment from people who thought I was the type that could be picked on and no one would care. I think people were assuming the circumstances described in the article were true - I was trying to project an image that I had yet to grow in to, so I was immature enough to allow myself to be taken advantage of. Or maybe they thought since I dressed like I was broke (sexy but very cheap clothes) I didn't have the kind of class-based social capital to harm their reputation if they harassed me. But in truth I was simply trying to be myself while projecting an image society would find acceptable - so they would leave me alone!

Finally in my late 20s I gave up and I settled into mainstream fashion. It is what everyone else wore so I blended in. And men liked it more. Random strangers approached me but were much more polite in their pick up attempts and women complimented my coach purses and guess shoes and boring tasteful makeup. If I wasn't wearing "normal" clothes and carrying expensive accessories to signal a more middle class class status maybe they would not be so nice. It was pretty expensive and soul crushing. In need of a major change, I recently moved to a small city that people my age want to leave due to poverty and lack of jobs - I came for the "laid back" maritime culture I fell in love with. I can actually dress like a metalhead here, wear whatever kind of makeup I want, and choose a backpack over expensive purses. It is very refreshing to see I blend in more with some of the other women here but at the same time can be myself. There are some interesting observations about class and fashion I could probably make.

I'm not sure what the moral is in my long rambling tale... The article dredged up all these feelings in me and thought I would share in case it resonated with anyone. There is a lot in this comment about performing gender through fashion, poverty/class preventing one from fitting in fashion wise (or relegating one to only certain kinds of fashion options), the weird feelings some people have about women of colour who are into supposedly "white male" things like metal, and how when a woman gets older people don't target her as much for not confirming to gender stereotypes.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 8:33 AM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


Wow, yeah, in my experience, uniforms did not make things easier.

The US school I attended went to a lot of trouble to control the smaller signals (for instance, banning all logo shirts/sweaters--and this in the early 80s when logo competition was keen). You can't eliminate the instinct for kids and teens to be jerks, nor all of the telltales, but one of the positive things I can say about my alma mater was that the students didn't spend a lot of time being jerks about whether you wore the right shoes or whether your skirt was too long and brightly colored (a sign of new uniforms, as older ones shrunk and faded in the wash). And I say this as a former weird nerdy kid whose instinct for boyishly short hair apparently got her labeled (incorrectly) a lesbian. YMMV.
posted by immlass at 8:46 AM on October 12, 2014


80s teen boy me: jeans, long hair, too-large t-shirt. "Don't blame me, I voted for Bill & Opus" or a big picture of Wile E. Coyote hanging over my skinny body like a tent.

90s me added a brown fedora to this because he thought it gave him that dashing hint of Indiana Jones. Upon reflection, it probably did not. Basically it was a tiny bit of "please notice me" working against the "please don't pay any attention to me" of anonymous jeans and a too-large shirt.

I would probably still dress exactly the same way if not for the gender transition. Early 2000s me was terribly dressed in much the same way the people in this article describe themselves as terribly dressed; she was trying to assemble a coherent statement in a language she was only beginning to barely speak. I have expunged the particulars from my memory. I'm pretty sure there were some instances of an awkward flat chested 30ish lady trying to dress like a teen girl. And dressing ultra frumpy, and not accenting the best parts of my body because it was still changing and I hadn't figured out what they were or how to highlight them.

Now I dress in a style I describe as "inappropriately sexy maiden aunt" (or, now that it's close to Halloween, "WILF") and get regular compliments on my outfit, even when I'm trying to dress down and be casual.

Guys don't have to care about clothes if they don't want to. Girls do.
posted by egypturnash at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I worshipped Depeche Mode as a teen, and attempted to replicate Dave Gahan's haircut circa 1984: basically, a slightly spiky black pompadour with blonde streaks.

This would've been fine, except that:

a) I was living in a tiny Canuck military town, so this instantly made me a target for homophobic threats,
b) None of the hairdressers in the area could exactly pull off what I was going for,
and,
c) It was 1990 and I had to shoehorn myself into what all the boys my age were wearing - long-sleeve shirts, worn open over an assortment of athletic wear-branded tees (many of which were neon in colour), accompanied by blue jeans and ridiculously huge gym shoes.

In other words, I was a late 80s preppy with an early 80s new wave haircut.

I'm really glad there aren't many photos of me from this era.
posted by tantrumthecat at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.

My everyday boots are reasonably water tight and I can avoid puddles. I mean.. rain boots are only appropriate when it's raining. Am I supposed to keep a pair of shoes around just for when it's raining? I'm not a fisherman. Rain boots aren't worth it.
posted by yonega at 9:23 AM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was bullied for my looks in elementary school, wore deliberately weird clothes in high school (I also carried a faux light saber...little knowing that a Rodarte Star Wars print would hit the runway 25 yrs later...) and now I work for a woman's magazine. Irony! (At least this week. It's rough in MSM.)

I still am rarely sure what I should be wearing but I have learned that having a great hairdo and dressing down one level from what I think, but in classics at that level, usually wins.

My killer fashion tip for adults though (this doesn't work in high school) is to compliment, warmly and genuinely, others. "I love your boots" or "what a great scarf," gives the other person the impression that you have great taste, regardless of what you're wearing. Deploy with some restraint, but it solves a lot of code issues.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:33 AM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I still remember buying a couple of those "small logo on the front of the white tee, big goofy logo on the back" shirts that were ever-present in middle school. (Many of the shirts were crass bar puns - this was the era of Big Dicks - but I had one that was a very tame type of racy, and one that was a volleyball logo.) I still remember having the thought that these two shirts would make me blend in better. And I'm someone who mostly sailed under the radar of any bullies at school - I was an invisible bookworm, but apparently I still wanted to be on trend from time to time.

I am a dark-wash jeans and nice top sort of person, although I love dresses. But they're not easy at all for me. I have to find one of my few pairs of anti-chub-rub underthings, or make sure I'm wearing tights that work with the dress. And then I have to make sure I have shoes that go, because I'm always optimistically buying dresses and having no shoes to wear them with because I have WW feet and very few choices in shoes and honestly am always sure I'm violating a cardinal rule in my pairing of shoe and dress anyway. I like fashion in an abstract sense, but I don't feel like I really participate in it in any significant way. So nice jeans and a good top and reasonably untattered sneakers allow me to get by without worrying that I've done something wrong.
posted by PussKillian at 10:05 AM on October 12, 2014


For me, it was a combination of a) what my legal guardians were willing to buy for me, since I hadn't discovered thrift stores yet, and which resulted in pretty loose parameters for acceptability but also a pretty small budget, and b) my own understanding of late 70s teen fashion, which was virtually non-existent. I remember one thing that was kind of a long-sleeved jersey, royal blue, with a gold-yellow collar and gold-yellow stripes down the sleeves. People at school asked me if it was some sort of Star Trek thing, and of course it wasn't--as a Trekkie, I'd never wear anything but an absolutely accurate reproduction of the uniform--and I ultimately just shrugged it off as "eh, it was on sale" because I didn't want to admit to anyone that I was going for a vaguely superheroish look. Eventually, in high school, I settled on T-shirts, jeans, Chucks, and in the fall and winter either an unbuttoned plaid shirt or an uncle's Vietnam-era olive drab uniform shirt, or an ash-grey hoodie, layered over... and was eventually heavily amused when that became the slacker uniform a decade later. I'd still make the occasional gesture at bohemianism--wrapping a bandana around one wrist, a la Joan Jett, or wearing a long scarf indoors--but basically came to accept that my true cohort consisted of people with no real fashion sense whatsoever so fuck it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:22 AM on October 12, 2014


I started caring about finding clothes that were comfortable for me in high school. This meant, at first, Our Lady Peace shirts with dark jeans, or a kind of grunge/skater kid hybrid look. To this day I'm still more comfortable in masculine clothes and men's hiking boots. Before I cared at all, I was a slender kid who was constantly mistaken for a guy in photographs because I wore baggy jeans or tearaways and t-shirts. I took that as a compliment.

Our high school had a uniform. I was bullied intensely by a female sociopath and her squad of aggressive female geese, all because my skirt was too long, or my uniform pants didn't drag on the floor. She was later sent to juvie for trying to set a kid on fire in the bus, so I think her bullying said more about her than it did about me.

On civvies days, I was goth as fuck. This was around 2002/2003/2004. I had black and purple crimped and sometimes backcombed hair, Doc Martens or knee-high boots scavenged from a thrift store, crushed velvet broomstick skirts, a corset or sometimes a corset top, and accessories like a silver wristband, a huge silver bat pendant from Camden Town in London England, and a velvet choker from Valerian, a jewellery-maker in the goth scene at the time.

Yes, I went to school dressed like that. I'm sure the comments behind my back were awful, but to my face, at least, people were complimentary, and girls would come up and hug me and compliment my hair or my corset or another item. My best friend at the time says I was seen by most students "that goth chick". I was fully into the deathrock revival centred in NYC, so the clothes suited me.

These days everything is still black, or dark red, dark purple, or dark blue with black. My t-shirt today says Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492 (with an image of a Native tribe). I recently lost my t-shirts about Droney the Friendly Surveillance Drone and the coyote in a cowboy hat with a tattered American flag in its jaws. (Street commentary on that one: "We live in CAN-A-DA!") I love Threadless, in theory, although in reality I can't keep buying entertaining or very pretty t-shirts. I might love fashion the way I did in London with 200 pounds to spend on new clothes if I were at least middle-class, but I'm actually way below the poverty line, so I'm fine with expressing my identity in dark colours and t-shirts with political messages.
posted by quiet earth at 12:11 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I had no friends with fashion sense in high school. There is a picture of sixteen year old me on a class outing, wearing purple corduroys, a sky blue pullover, a yellow vest and a grey plushy jacket.
I...I want to blame my mom for letting me go out of the door like this, but truly, I was so far from any fashion sense it breaks my heart. And yet, we played football-without-rules, I wasn't ostracized and my laugh in the picture shows I was genuinely, completely joyful.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2014


Yeah, did anyone else have an experience with not being ostracized despite having a... different sense of fashion? I was confident enough that I made plenty of friends, and while I didn't run with popular cliques, I wouldn't have wanted to. My friends were great people.
posted by quiet earth at 12:28 PM on October 12, 2014


A dress would be even faster - pull it over your head, step into shoes, done.

For me it's more like this: I think I'll wear a dress! I've got a bunch that I never wear. Better go shave my legs. Where the hell is the styptic pencil? I sort through 15 pairs of pantyhose all of which have runs. Hey, didn't I read on the internet that no one wears pantyhose anymore? Great! I put on a dress. Oh crap, maybe I need a slip with this. I try to stand in front of mirror lit from behind. Can't tell. But my belly button shows through the fabric. I guess I do need that slip. Too bad I don't have one that works with this dress. If I could have worn those run-laddered control top hose it might have been ok. I wonder if I can do that frugal trick with the one un-laddered leg of two pairs? Nope. I wonder if I still have that pair of tummy-control panties that I never wear? Find them in back of third drawer that I look in. God, so uncomfortable. But it looks great! Shoes. I guess I should wear sandals. Not Birkenstocks. I haven't worn these others in a long time -- haven't I always worn them with hose? Is my coat supposed to be longer than my hem? Should I try to look that up online? 15 minutes after I leave the house I realize that I'm getting a blister because, yeah, I should have worn hose.
posted by SandiBeech at 1:14 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


I wear boots with maxi-skirts so I don't ever have to shave my legs.
posted by LindsayIrene at 2:06 PM on October 12, 2014


But all of that is signifier on top of signifier. Of course you could easily wear a dress without shaving your legs (I do it all the time), or wear tights instead of going barelegged if you want, or not wear a slip (I wear dresses tons and don't own a slip). Who cares if your hose have a run? Who cares what shoes you wear?

But wearing a dress is so laced with meaning in our culture that when you put on a dress, you're saying something about yourself. This person is feminine. This person follows rules about gender presentation. This person is well groomed. This person cares about fashion. This person is neat and cares about appearances. This person has a body that has been wiped free of any pesky reminders that she is a physical being. This person is willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of fitting in. Etc.

There's no reason we have to pair all of those signifiers with "non-bifurcated garment". But we do. So, yeah, if you choose not to wear a dress because of all the other shit, you're still choosing not to wear a dress for reasons of social shorthand and image, not really "convenience" per se.
posted by Sara C. at 2:12 PM on October 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sometime in the late 70's, my mum dressed me a pair of culottes and sent me off to school. I remember them quite clearly: stone coloured faux linen, worn with a white polo neck and a dark brown jacket with short sleeves. Nobody else looked like that but suddenly I was the coolest kid in the playground, a little bit edgy and a lot ahead of the curve. That was the moment I discovered fashion. I was ten years old.

A few years later, the eighties were kicking in and punk had been and gone. I was at secondary school with a bunch of rich kids and I was the geeky pleb. I wasn't sharp enough to be funny but I could dress myself. I learned to make my own clothes and so fashion became my secret weapon. I trawled fabric shops and thrift stores, blowing my pocket money on vintage tailoring in good materials that I took home and altered. I copied expensive dresses on my sewing machine. I looked at David Bowie and Grace Jones and the New Romantics and made elegant looks that I could own. It turned out that looking sharp was enough to keep my life from being completely miserable.

When I went to college, I threw it all away for jeans and t-shirts for a while. I hid my rapidly maturing body under woolly jumpers while I tried to figure out who I wanted to be. Young men teased me or ignored me. Nobody took me very seriously. Then I gave myself a huge makeover and my life changed overnight. About that time Issey Miyake started selling designs to Vogue Patterns so I got to wear Japanese avant-garde tailoring on a student budget and I was somebody worth knowing again.

I've been through multiple incarnations since my school years, from business woman to techno raver to creative professional to educator. The lesson I've learned from all of this is that clothing and style form a very powerful non-verbal language that we can use to our advantage. Crucially, there's a subtle but enormous difference between meeting expectations and conforming to them. In other words, clothing can be situationally appropriate without being what everybody thinks you should be wearing to fit in. Distinguish yourself with style and confidence and people will respect you for it, and if not, they are not worth worrying about. A good rule of thumb for me now is: if a circumstance requires me to dress in a way which goes against my identity, it's probably best avoided. And there's a lot to be gained from hunting down something unique that fits your unreliable, disappointing, imperfect body and prove that yes, in the eyes of the world you really are a rare and precious snowflake.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:38 PM on October 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


I Dressed as a Goth, a Party Girl, and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl — Here's How My Friends, Partner, and OKCupid Reacted
(she tries on goth, "chavette", manic pixie dream girl, "I woke up like this", & classic vintage looks)
posted by flex at 8:15 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]



But wearing a dress is so laced with meaning in our culture that when you put on a dress, you're saying something about yourself. This person is feminine. This person follows rules about gender presentation. This person is well groomed. This person cares about fashion. This person is neat and cares about appearances. This person has a body that has been wiped free of any pesky reminders that she is a physical being. This person is willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of fitting in. Etc.


I woke up last Thursday tired as hell and put on a knee length dress, nice necklace, lumped my hair up and put on a headband and swiped on lip gloss, curled my lashes and put on eyeliner and mascara and went to work. It was like the least effort ever for me. At work a coworker was like, "You're always so fancy, I hate you." But that was like, the easiest possible way for me to get myself to work on time.

If I wore a boy cut Threadless type t-shirt with those tight necks that just do not work for my boobs, and jeans that are never comfortable for me because there's all this trim and stitching around my waist, I would have been so damn uncomfortable I can't even. I hate that kind of outfit. It would probably help if they made women's t shirts with a looser fit in the front, but they always seem to be tiny men's shirts.

But yeah I always have the cis-lady hair presentation thing in a place where I can throw on a sleeveless leg showing dress without thinking about it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:34 PM on October 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Or else, rain boots, and I'd say, even umbrellas, are not actually necessary.

Not if you like getting wet, I guess. IMO, a good umbrella, a good raincoat, and suitably water-resistant footwear are part of the secret to happiness.

It's been interesting for me to recognize that although I consider myself unfashionable and out of touch (seriously, my inner child wears a t-shirt reading NEVER BEEN HIP and I'm glad I don't have photos of some of my younger sartorial attempts), at 44 I seem to have evolved a coherent-enough presentation that my husband (who's not particularly into fashion himself) can give a 30-second capsule description of "the Lexi look". And I get compliments (non-skeezy, non-harassing compliments) from complete strangers. It feels really weird sometimes but I'm going with it.
posted by Lexica at 9:28 PM on October 12, 2014


Wow Flex, that was an interesting read.
I thought her make up was way too caked on in the last "classic" look and was surprised how everyone loved it.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:37 AM on October 13, 2014


Elizabeth the Thirteenth nails it. Being able to dress, being able to recognize fashions as they come up and rework them to your own life and body, is a joy -- it's a valuable skill and a hell of a lot of fun, to boot.

There's world of difference between slavishly buying just the right colour of socks to avoid being harassed by the local Mean Girls and the joy of finding a pair of vintage Miyake pants in a neighborhood thrift store. If someone forced me to wear jeans and a T shirt every day for a year i would lose the will to live.
posted by jrochest at 2:27 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


jrochest: "Being able to dress, being able to recognize fashions as they come up and rework them to your own life and body, is a joy -- it's a valuable skill and a hell of a lot of fun, to boot. "

Other than the "valuable skill" part, that can be said about pretty much anything, though. Whatever you enjoy "is a joy" and "is a hell of a lot of fun, to boot". The only thing that sets clothes apart from many other things I hate is that if I enjoyed them, it would help a little in life.
posted by Bugbread at 3:36 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's kind of like the repeated mantras we are having lately in threads about how easy home cooking is. For some people, even if they can do it well, it's not a joy. It's just a chore they wish they could avoid.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:11 AM on October 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's world of difference between slavishly buying just the right colour of socks to avoid being harassed by the local Mean Girls and the joy of finding a pair of vintage Miyake pants in a neighborhood thrift store.
I'm thinking that a lot of women will never know that joy, unless vintage Miyake pants come in plus sizes, which I'm pretty sure they don't. Also, what kind of neighborhoods have vintage Miyake pants in their neighborhood thrift stores? I'd be surprised if there were a single pair of vintage Miyake pants anywhere within fifty miles of me.

I really don't understand why it's so hard for some people to wrap their heads around the idea that we don't all have to enjoy the same things. I am not criticizing people who take pleasure in dressing well. That's great. I enjoy looking at your fabulous outfits. But that doesn't mean that everyone has to (or even can) share the same hobbies as you.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:18 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's kind of like the repeated mantras we are having lately in threads about how easy home cooking is. For some people, even if they can do it well, it's not a joy. It's just a chore they wish they could avoid.

That's a perfect analogy. I like browsing through thrift stores, and while I don't know if anyone else thinks I'm fashionable, I like to put some degree of effort into it.

But cooking? Fuck. That. If all my bills were paid and I had enough discretionary income, the first thing I would do is never cook again. (A close second would be paying someone to do my laundry.)

As far as signifiers - everyone has those whether it's intentional or not. I didn't get an iPhone because it makes me one of the cool kids. It's really useful and easy to use and it's pretty. I drive a BMW because... well, long story... but I really fucking like the car, and it's pretty. However, I'm aware that it signifies "pretentious asshole" to some, but anyone who knows me knows that I am definitely not that.
posted by desjardins at 6:51 AM on October 13, 2014


This is a great article and I'm glad I read the whole thing, not just the bits with the pictures.

I spent most of my youth diatribing against people who wasted money on clothes. But now that I have the money to spend, there's not much that makes me feel more self-confident than dressing in clothes that will impress.

It's a tough balance, though, because I am very much against looking like I have money. Most people in my town have enough to get by, and I want to fit in at that low level. But I also dress to be as attractive as possible. So - no name brands (i remove the logos when i can), shop at discount stores and hit up sales, know what looks good vs. what looks expensive. I think I'm more attractive now than ever before, which, to me, is success.
posted by rebent at 7:41 AM on October 13, 2014


Saying "Heh, I don't care about clothes so I just wear jeans and a t-shirt every day" is as much a gesture of self-expression as showing up in a suit.

In the same way that a punch in the face and a hello are both gestures.
posted by srboisvert at 10:09 AM on October 13, 2014


If it was really about "just wearing something comfortable/dressing for the weather", there'd be a lot more guys going around wearing rain boots.

Wait - - those rain boots are comfortable? I always figured: (a) they are rubber and wouldn't breathe, leading to hot sweaty feet; (b) they are thick and rubbery and so would be uncomfortable around the ankles; (c) they would be hard to get on and off; (d) they would be noisy; and (e) they wouldn't provide much in the way of arch support. I figured they were fashion at the cost of practicality.
posted by rtimmel at 10:17 AM on October 13, 2014


Yea I think they're horribly uncomfortable. I have ones with built in lining that are good - but the weather still needs to be between 40-60 F for them to be comfortable - more than that and it's sweat city in there, less and it's sweat city and frozen feet. Plus all the arch support issues. Also you can't wear them at work all day, they will feel horrible.
posted by sweetkid at 10:29 AM on October 13, 2014


Yeah, rain boots are for when it's actually raining, and ideally when it's not hot outside. And, really, they're for physically getting around outdoors, not for wearing as your main pair of shoes all day.
posted by Sara C. at 1:07 PM on October 13, 2014


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