Why Americans dress so casually
September 14, 2015 4:31 AM   Subscribe

The modern market allows us to personalize that style. Casual is the sweet spot between looking like every middle class American and being an individual in the massive wash of options. This idea of the freedom to dress in a way that is meaningful to us as people, and to express various types of identity.
posted by ellieBOA (313 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
While watching Disney's Cinderella, I realized I dressed more like the mice than all the men, who like the Grand Duke, had are dressed to impress, with their suits and shoulder ... thingies. At least I wear pants most days, unlike those slovenly mice.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:52 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


In the vast majority of non-Silicon Valley workplaces, business dress has not really changed that much. You can get away with not wearing a tie, I guess.

I was actually surprised, on business trips to Holland, Aruba, and Curacao at how much more casually the Dutch dress than us impudent North Americans.
posted by 256 at 4:57 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you. It's like bursting out has become a positive social signal.
posted by srboisvert at 5:02 AM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was in DC/NYC/Boston last Easter. There were actually some folk *not* wearing North Face. I had to look, but they were there.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:09 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


the men, who like the Grand Duke, had are dressed to impress, with their suits and shoulder ... thingies.

They're called epaulettes, which is from the old French for bathtub scrub brush.
posted by phunniemee at 5:12 AM on September 14, 2015 [38 favorites]


I actually walked out of a job interview years ago when the hiring manager said that IT were expected to set a "fashion standard" for that office.

I haven't worn a tie to work in over 20 years, and wouldn't want to work at a place where I was expected to. But I am part of the vast cohort of Dockers-and-polo-shirt-wearing middle-age guys I see everywhere.
posted by briank at 5:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Don't moan too much. Remember, the Future will be all jumpsuits all the time, and we will look back on the days when we weren't basically wearing onesies with a nostalgia bordering on existential longing. Then we will be ground into nutrient paste for the cybernetic worker-zombies.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [45 favorites]


They're called epaulettes, which is from the old French for bathtub scrub brush.

This is a common false etimology. The word is a corruption of "appallette," which means something that is pretty appalling but that you have gotten so used to it only hurts a little when you see it. Strange but true!

(For a situation where "true" means "fabricated on too little sleep."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:16 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you. It's like bursting out has become a positive social signal.

Mea culpa, but in my defense I only wear a suit once or twice a year, so it's the same one I got married in 18 years ago
posted by ElGuapo at 5:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you. It's like bursting out has become a positive social signal.


That trend clearly has not caught on in DC, where the dominant aesthetic still seems to be "I pulled this out of my dad's closet," regardless of age.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 5:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


C'est la D.C.: " has not caught on in DC, where the dominant aesthetic still seems to be "I pulled this out of my dad's closet," regardless of age."

Oooooh, now I understand Paul Ryan's total failure to tailor his suits!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oooooh, now I understand Paul Ryan's total failure to tailor his suits!

This is such a common political thing that it must be deliberate right? If I had the money of most of the presidential candidates a well fitting suit would be way near the top of the list of things to buy , but they all look like they just wondered down to Macy's and grabbed something off the rack. I assume they're worried about looking too polished and not everyman enough? Paul Ryan is a real offender, but Ron Paul is also wondering around in suits that look like he bought them second hand after an offensive lineman wore them for draft night.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


I had been out of the office workplace for so long that it was jarring to come back to an expected dress code. The ladies of the office--all three of us--are asked to wear a dress or a skirt at least once a week, no boots (*sob*), nothing too revealing, no jeans ever (not even on Fridays), and it would be nice if we wore heels (I said no and stand by that).

Before you think these rules were set up by my boss--an older white guy--they were actually set up by my female office manager, who is nearly fifteen years younger than me.
posted by Kitteh at 5:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is a common false etimology. The word is a corruption of "appallette,"

But this is itself a just-so story! The word epaulet was truly born when the Duc d'Orléans turned to his mistress and said, "Eh, Paulette, what think you of my scrubbing brush shoulders? Très chic, non?"
posted by Iridic at 5:31 AM on September 14, 2015 [35 favorites]


"Well you know, it’s just so true. People say, "Oh well, you know, I don’t care about fashion." They go to the Gap, they go to Old Navy, and they all dress alike, they wear these uniforms. The thing that I really harp on is that, that in and of itself is a choice, it’s a personal choice, because there are many people who don’t do that. In buying those uniforms, you’re saying something about yourself, and about how you feel about clothing and culture. There is no such thing as an unaffected fashion choice. Anti-fashion is fashion, because it’s a reaction to the current visual culture, a negation of it"

SO. TRUE.

What you wear is as much a signal of who you are as anything (more so than many things). There is nothing inherently wrong with sending any particular message, but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality. Instead of being in control of the message, you send a haphazard signal. It's a waste.
posted by oddman at 5:37 AM on September 14, 2015 [57 favorites]


I work in a gym and we are required to 'look like you're about to work out'. I am wearing elastic waists almost 85% of my life now and when I am required to wear real clothes-- and by real clothes I mean jeans-- the restriction makes me want to cry. (I love my life).
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:37 AM on September 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you. It's like bursting out has become a positive social signal.

It's interesting, because the original post is about understanding clothing in the context of history, and I understand the 'too small suit' trend started roughly 15 years ago, spearheaded by Thom Browne, a reaction against the suits of the 90's. I think this trend is actually on its way out.

My fashion pet peeve, of course, is the thing marketers successfully pushed in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. "I'm looking to invest in a really good quality pair of boots", somebody will write on the internet, as though fifty years from now they will be on Antiques Roadshow and people will be all, "Ah, yes, a fine example of workboots from the famous Red Wings factory, now worth at least $50,000 ..."
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:48 AM on September 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


I dress casual, because:

1) It's comfortable
2) It's hard to find affordable nice clothes as a fat person
posted by symbioid at 5:50 AM on September 14, 2015 [39 favorites]


For my last couple jobs, when not working for a client on-site (and thus, observing their dress code), my standard outfit had been jeans and one of a dozen different polo shirts.

At my current job I've realized the polo shirt was a little too formal and so I've taken to wearing a black teeshirt (with or without some company's promotion on it) and one of the twill oxfords I'd accumulated for a job last held some time in the mid-oughts, left open, untucked, and sleeve cuffs unbuttoned.

And I'm still dressing above my recent bosses, who prefer soccer jerseys, cargo shorts and sandals.
posted by ardgedee at 5:50 AM on September 14, 2015


spearheaded by Thom Browne, a reaction against the suits of the 90's. I think this trend is actually on its way out.

I thought it was spearheaded by guys who spent an hour in the gym daily and wanted their beautiful physiques to be really obvious. The trend has been around for long enough that I don't know how it can really be described as a trend.
posted by bukvich at 5:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was hoping that the interview might touch on the typical amount of money spent on clothing as a function of income. It's my understanding that most of us have so many more clothes than generations before us, and I think in most cases we spend more money in aggregate, albeit on lower quality goods.

Personally, I work in an office where business attire is expected, and people where suits from time to time, particularly for client meetings. I love wearing my suits, and actually use them as a psychological trick on my self. I feel great wearing them (thanks to my excellent tailor), and will wear a suit on days where I don't feel like going into the office, simply because it makes me feel better.
On the other hand, I would wear my well-fitting jeans every non-work moment if I could. I'm a big fan of contextual clothing, as long as it fits well.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 6:00 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Cinematically appropriate, I think.

Coming from the EU I may have another view of "casual", but I would love to see more attention given to "this fits me well" in the US even if it is a casual polo and jeans. Dress comfortably by all means, but wear stuff that fits, please. All too often I see casual dress, that is 1-2 sizes too large and unflattering in a color does does the wearer a major disservice. I know that "slim fit" can be taken to extremes, but just notice where the arms should end on your shirt, or where your shoulders actually are in relation to the top of your sleeves, or how much fabric is bunching around your shoes....

Dressing casually should not be equated with dressing badly, just dress well.
posted by alchemist at 6:02 AM on September 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


That trend clearly has not caught on in DC, where the dominant aesthetic still seems to be "I pulled this out of my dad's closet," regardless of age.

I'm a congenital slob and longtime Washingtonian, and have been alarmed to note male DC becoming more fancy and stylish, actually.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


fifty years from now they will be on Antiques Roadshow and people will be all, "Ah, yes, a fine example of workboots from the famous Red Wings factory, now worth at least $50,000 ..."

$50,000 in 2065 money is about 50 cents today, so that's about right.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:07 AM on September 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Dressing casually should not be equated with dressing badly, just dress well.

If I could afford a stylist, I would! Seriously, sometimes creating an outfit stresses me out no end because I am super busty on top and therefore very self-conscious about it, add having a muffin top, but some nice long legs, and I worry all the time about how I present myself. (I cannot stand looking at myself in a mirror most times, even when I feel pretty sure I look good that day.)

Internally I have reached my inner IDGAF, but externally, I have not.
posted by Kitteh at 6:09 AM on September 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


Mea culpa, but in my defense I only wear a suit once or twice a year, so it's the same one I got married in 18 y

Ha, I have a jacket from a suit (actually off the original Nordstrom "rack" which was an actual rolling rack in a 2nd level sub-basement) from long before marriage. It's a dark navy and I've managed to match slacks several times close enough to make up an actual suit.
posted by sammyo at 6:11 AM on September 14, 2015


I know a few people who have a hyper-casual attitude towards clothes. I have never seen any of them in anything other than T-shirts, jeans, and shorts. They are also of the vehemently anti-intellectual set; they are the "fuck yeah Amurrica", Rand Paul-supporting people, and they seem to resent my choice to dress the way I do.

The funny thing is, I really could not care less what they wear, and find it unusual that the same people who are all about individual freedoms feel the need to post comments on my FB photos constantly remarking on how I'm "overdressed".
posted by ladybird at 6:13 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


"I'm looking to invest in a really good quality pair of boots", somebody will write on the internet, as though fifty years from now they will be on Antiques Roadshow and people will be all, "Ah, yes, a fine example of workboots from the famous Red Wings factory, now worth at least $50,000 ..."

To be fair, that's not at all what's meant by "investing" in an article of clothing. When someone says they want to invest in a pair of boots, they mean they want to pay more for a high quality pair that'll last years, instead of buying cheaply made boots that will wear out quickly. See also the buyforlife subreddit.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [45 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you. It's like bursting out has become a positive social signal.

It's not that most men want to wear too-small suits. It's simply that that's all you can find in stores. It's like the manufacturers are making suits exclusively for Daniel Craig or something.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:15 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


> "Anti-fashion is fashion, because it’s a reaction to the current visual culture, a negation of it".

This is why I have programmed a bot to buy me random clothes at periodic intervals and dress by closing my eyes, spinning until I'm dizzy, and then grabbing something.

I am currently ROCKING a textured cowl neck tunic sweater, floral-print bikini bottoms, mountaineering boots, and a surgeon's mask.
posted by kyrademon at 6:16 AM on September 14, 2015 [60 favorites]


The ladies of the office--all three of us--are asked to wear a dress or a skirt at least once a week

This is a thing? Christ that's alarming.
posted by Dysk at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2015 [58 favorites]


Mea culpa, but in my defense I only wear a suit once or twice a year, so it's the same one I got married in 18 years ago

I have actually just bought my first tailored suit to get married in a few weeks from now; up until this point, I have always bought off the rack. Like you, I wear a suit maybe twice a year (weddings, funerals, the occasional jazz gig). During the depths of my mid-twenties underemployment, my faithful fallback suit was one I had bought in a thrift store for all of eight dollars: a black suit cut by what I later learned was one of the finest tailors of Venice. It fit me as though it had been tailored to me specifically.

I wore it to a cousin's wedding with a white shirt and a pale blue silk tie. My cousin, the groom, told me it was a nice tie. I said that it ought to be, as it cost more than the suit did.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:19 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Dsyk, what makes it alarming is that it is not the male management making this request, it's a young woman in her early 20s.
posted by Kitteh at 6:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


There is nothing inherently wrong with sending any particular message, but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality. Instead of being in control of the message, you send a haphazard signal. It's a waste.

The trouble is this: Why am I obligated to spend time and money I don't actually have on this? It's one or the other. All of the "just shop at thrift stores and learn how to sew" crap assumes I'm made of free time. Everything else assumes I'm made out of money. I'm not. I dress precisely well enough not to get fired, at work. At home, I wear what's comfortable. I care about the message my clothing sends only because I'm forced to. I don't appreciate being forced to. It's shallow and stupid. What I'd like to wear every day is jeans or sweatpants and one of my fandom t-shirts, not because I care what anybody else thinks of my fandom but because it makes me feel nice to look down and see it. I would much prefer the rest of the world didn't look at me at all. Having grown up poor, I can see the advantages of buying nice things to make yourself feel better, but the obligation to wear something in particular to make anybody else feel good is gross. Unless we're in a setting where I've invited you to judge my appearance somehow, I am not "wasting" anything if I attempt to live my life in a way that pleases myself instead of you. You don't have that right with regard to my clothes any more than you have it with regard to my body.

I might care on specific occasions about dressing better. I might take up fashion as a hobby later, when I have time/money, in which case I will certainly be inviting opinions. But for right now, please consider judging me based on my speech and actions, not my clothes. Simply existing in public is not an invitation for total strangers to have opinions about whether I'm sufficiently visually pleasing.
posted by Sequence at 6:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [87 favorites]


SO. TRUE.

What you wear is as much a signal of who you are as anything (more so than many things). There is nothing inherently wrong with sending any particular message, but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality. Instead of being in control of the message, you send a haphazard signal. It's a waste.


"You're born naked, and the rest is drag."

--RuPaul
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


The ladies of the office--all three of us--are asked to wear a dress or a skirt at least once a week

The once a week thing seems weird to me, but I'm living a life almost totally disconnected from office dress codes so what do I know.

I've realized that my wardrobe is in need of some help, and replacing most of it is on the agenda for this year. It still won't come close to east-coast city or European standards of stylishness, but at a minimum I want to be wearing clothes that fit well and aren't falling apart.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:23 AM on September 14, 2015


"If I could afford a stylist, I would! Seriously, sometimes creating an outfit stresses me out no end"

Most people probably have a friend or acquaintance with a good eye for fashion and fit. I bet they would be very happy to spend a day shopping with you in exchange for a beer or martini (in your new outfit!). For many of us shopping and dressing well are fun (or at least the good kind of challenging). I've had my wife's friends ask for help picking out dresses for weddings, etc. and I really enjoyed spending an afternoon looking through stuff for them. And, of course, you shop for clothes that fit the wearer's sense of self, not your own tastes.

In short the fashion conscious often love to help their friends look and feel (which is more important) better.
posted by oddman at 6:26 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a SW developer working in Norway and I'm able to wear (almost) whatever I want, so most days I dress my 41-year old body in a hoodie and jeans.

I've realized a couple of thing along the way, though, namely that 1) rebelling against fashion is in itself a fashion statement, so I'm not so individualistic as I used to think of myself and 2) well-fitting suit trousers are actually more comfortable than jeans.

Looking around me in the office I see fleece jackets (male and female), hoodies and a couple of patterned shirts.
posted by Harald74 at 6:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


They're called epaulettes, which is from the old French for bathtub scrub brush.
posted by phunniemee


Eponysterical.
posted by aught at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


You can get away with not wearing a tie, I guess.

Actually, something I noticed in London a couple of years back was the number of men in full suits without ties, which was strange to my American eyes. You'd ditch the jacket before you'd ditch the tie.

Of course, this again proves the superiority of the English at fashion, because you want to ditch the tie as fast as possible.

Me? Jeans, of course. Because. And, as a operations/sysadmin type, interview wear is a polo from a company no long in existence, right?
posted by eriko at 6:29 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is interesting, but Clemente's attitude toward us non-fashion-conscious plebes is a little grating:

People say, "Oh well, you know, I don’t care about fashion." They go to the Gap, they go to Old Navy, and they all dress alike, they wear these uniforms. The thing that I really harp on is that, that in and of itself is a choice, it’s a personal choice, because there are many people who don’t do that. In buying those uniforms, you’re saying something about yourself, and about how you feel about clothing and culture. There is no such thing as an unaffected fashion choice.

... People like to say that casual dress isn't about freedom, that it's about laziness. But that's hilarious, especially to me as a historian, because it simply isn't true.

... There's something called collective selection. ... Nowadays it's a group decision. ... the collective selection is what is acceptable in different scenarios — the office, the church, the classroom, etc. It's decided by the group.


For someone whose career is studying clothing and people's relationships with it, she sure misses the point.

Of course my clothing choices—even my casual clothing choices—are influenced by prevailing fashion trends. That's why I'm wearing jeans and a T-shirt, instead of a toga or a kilt. This is obvious.

When people mean when they say "I don't care about fashion"—what I mean when I say it, anyway—is this:

I spend as little time as possible thinking about fashion, reading about fashion, shopping for clothing, or deciding what to wear in any given situation.

I don't think a lot about what social signals are being sent by my own clothing or other people's clothing, and honestly I find the notion a bit distasteful. (When people like Clemente say things like "there are so many different kinds of social and cultural personas that we can put on", I have to wonder why anyone feels the need to put on a persona.)

I'm not impressed by labels (whether haute couture or street fashion), and I don't understand why I'm supposed to be. (I actually remove brand labels from my clothing, and I won't buy clothing with a logo that can't be removed.)

I don't willingly wear anything whose aesthetics compromise its practicality. I don't want to attract attention or make any kind of "statement" with my clothing, and I avoid garments which might do that.

Are my clothing choices "decided by the group"? If you want to put it that way, then sure. Put another way, I choose to wear jeans and T-shirts because the group has decided that they're "acceptable in different scenarios"—because it allows me to spend as little time as possible worrying about fashion. I'm content to be a sheep and wear whatever will attract the least attention from The Group, because I don't feel like the type of clothing I use to cover my nakedness is a subject worth paying much attention to, and I'd prefer for my interactions with folks to be focused on other things. It also saves me a lot of money and time.

Saying "I don't care about fashion" doesn't mean "I don't believe that my choice of clothing is influenced by fashion trends". That's just silly. It means that fashion doesn't interest me.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2015 [66 favorites]


What you wear is as much a signal of who you are as anything (more so than many things). There is nothing inherently wrong with sending any particular message, but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality.

As a nonbinary gendered person, what I wear does a terrible job of signaling who I am because clothing is always read as either men's or women's; "unisex" clothes are mens'. Wearing "women's" clothes when you have a physically male body is read as crossdressing. This is a large part of why I generally present as male and don't bother trying to explain things. If there was clothing that actually signaled nonbinary gender (aside from t-shirts that literally say it on them) things would be different.

Aside from that, what I wear 5 days out of 7 is as much a reflection of (a) my employer's dress code and (b) the availability of cheap short-sleeve button down shirts in my size. They are all fucking plaid. I have, multiple times, gone into a store saying "I need a couple of shirts but will not buy any more plaid" and walked out with plaid or nothing.

I own zero suits and give zero fucks. I have the jacket from when I got married, which I have not worn since then. It was cheap and off the rack and there weren't any snobs at my wedding to explain why that made me a bad person. Wearing a supposedly better fitting suit isn't going to hide the fact that I'm fat, anyway. And I cannot tell the difference between tailored and off-the-rack suits on other people, because that is not a skill that matters in the slightest.
posted by Foosnark at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


and in the workplace, where Silicon Valley busy bodies are outfitted with hoodies and T-shirts.
Either the author does not understand the meaning of the word busybody, or he's talking about the food (or fashion) police.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, back on the supply side -

Casual clothes are cheaper to manufacture and thus easier to mark up. And if the consumer doesn't care, well, of course that's what you're going to bring to market.
posted by BWA at 6:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Actually, something I noticed in London a couple of years back was the number of men in full suits without ties, which was strange to my American eyes. You'd ditch the jacket before you'd ditch the tie.

Actual matching fabric suits without ties is a fashion forward look that you won't see much in America outside people being fairly trendy (I don't care for it myself), but jackets (sport coats, blazers, tweeds, etc.) without ties is pretty common. I think the accepted levels of conservative formality (in the US) starting from suit are: suit and tie, jacket and tie, and jacket and slacks only, then just a shirt and slacks. Wearing a tie without a jacket is Not Done if you're trying to dress according to traditional rules (dress how you want, obviously).
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I work in a gym and we are required to 'look like you're about to work out'. I am wearing elastic waists almost 85% of my life now and when I am required to wear real clothes-- and by real clothes I mean jeans-- the restriction makes me want to cry. (I love my life).

I am the exact opposite of this: I feel like I'm not dressed if I leave the house in pants without a belt.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:38 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"I can see the advantages of buying nice things to make yourself feel better, but the obligation to wear something in particular to make anybody else feel good is gross. Unless we're in a setting where I've invited you to judge my appearance somehow, I am not "wasting" anything if I attempt to live my life in a way that pleases myself instead of you. "

I wasn't attacking you, or anyone else. I did not say that you have to conform to some standard that you don't agree to of your own free-will. I did not ask you to make me (or anyone else) feel good at your expense.

My point was, and is, that the choices you make say something about what you value and who you are. Since you are sending a signal regardless of what you wear, you should make sure you are sending the signal you want to send. That's all. Don't pretend you aren't engaged in a dialogue. (You may not want to engage in a dialogue, but, what can I say, the options seem to be that or being hermit.)

Whether you feel judged if you don't send a particular kind of signal, and whether you are judged, is a different issue. I'll just note that it is entirely possible to be stylish and not deride others for a lack of style, just as it's possible to be a develop a lovely voice and not deride others for being unable to carry tune.
posted by oddman at 6:38 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: "I spend as little time as possible thinking about fashion, reading about fashion, shopping for clothing, or deciding what to wear in any given situation.

I don't think a lot about what social signals are being sent by my own clothing or other people's clothing, and honestly I find the notion a bit distasteful. (When people like Clemente say things like "there are so many different kinds of social and cultural personas that we can put on", I have to wonder why anyone feels the need to put on a persona.)

I'm not impressed by labels (whether haute couture or street fashion), and I don't understand why I'm supposed to be. (I actually remove brand labels from my clothing, and I won't buy clothing with a logo that can't be removed.)

I don't willingly wear anything whose aesthetics compromise its practicality. I don't want to attract attention or make any kind of "statement" with my clothing, and I avoid garments which might do that.
"

This sounds like a fair-to-middling amount of "thinking about fashion".
posted by Rock Steady at 6:38 AM on September 14, 2015 [52 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos Actual matching fabric suits without ties is a fashion forward look that you won't see much in America outside people being fairly trendy

Are you kidding? That is the middle-aged startup CEO and venture capitalist uniform. I see that a lot, but I also live in New York City.
posted by SansPoint at 6:39 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


I'm not impressed by labels (whether haute couture or street fashion), and I don't understand why I'm supposed to be. (I actually remove brand labels from my clothing, and I won't buy clothing with a logo that can't be removed.)

Consider the article's statements in light of this fact, which constitutes a fair bit of concern about you dress.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:39 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


the number of men in full suits without ties

Yes, I really think that the tie might be on the way out even with suits. It looked scruffy to me at first - if you're not wearing a tie I felt you need a different shirt collar or something - but I've got used to it.
posted by Segundus at 6:39 AM on September 14, 2015


Are you kidding? That is the middle-aged startup CEO and venture capitalist uniform. I see that a lot, but I also live in New York City.

Maybe I'm wrong; I mostly deal with people in DC (which is pretty unstylish) and some in-laws in New England (which is stodgy/conservative) so maybe that look has spread wider than I knew.

Ugh, I still hate it. Ties are fantastic, wear more ties people.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:44 AM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


NYC here. (non-profit) We wear jeans to work year-round, shorts in the summer. It works for me. I don't like dressing up too often.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 AM on September 14, 2015


I don't give a crap what "signal" I am sending. I don't care what people think of how I dress. People who blither on about "dressing well" and wearing things that are "properly fitted" can go stuff it. I wear what is comfortable and acceptable to me. Usually until they are no longer wearable. I also don't care what other people wear. Go ahead, waste your time and money on getting fancy clothes. Wear jogging pants or rags. But stop the proselytizing about style and signals and the shaming of people for not dressing to your exacting standards. What does it matter to you?
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:47 AM on September 14, 2015 [14 favorites]


This sounds like a fair-to-middling amount of "thinking about fashion".

If I could get away with less, I would.

This was also a little weird:

The only thing I will say is that there's still a bit of a gender hangover, where women are singled out for wearing clothing normally associated with men.

I don't doubt that this is true—but the "hangover" runs overwhelmingly in the other direction. It's a case where the gender binary polices men's behavior way more than women's.

A woman wearing jeans and an NFL sweatshirt, or even a flannel lumberjack shirt and steel-toed boots, attracts almost no attention. On the other hand, a man walking down the street wearing a skirt and blouse will attract plenty of attention, much of it bewildered, mocking, or even hostile.

(This policing, of course, is itself rooted in misogyny and homophobia. But it's still odd to single out the taboo against women wearing "men's" clothing, when there's this much larger elephant standing right here.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:48 AM on September 14, 2015 [35 favorites]


One thing that is critical to me when I shop for clothes is "how much work will this be to maintain?" I am so opposed to ironing that I do not even own an iron and ironing board, so all my office attire was selected first on "does this need to be ironed?" Because if it does, no matter how nice it is, I just don't have time for that.

The clothes that comprise being conventionally fashionable typically would require me to invest a lot more of my time in the maintenance and upkeep of clothes. Which, no. I have better things to do with my time and money.
posted by selenized at 6:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


The ladies of the office--all three of us--are asked to wear a dress or a skirt at least once a week, no boots (*sob*), nothing too revealing, no jeans ever (not even on Fridays), and it would be nice if we wore heels (I said no and stand by that).

On Wednesdays we wear pink!
posted by phunniemee at 7:00 AM on September 14, 2015 [28 favorites]


So in these conversations, someone (like me) always says "I don't care about fashion, and don't wish to involve myself in it", and someone else always proclaims "actually, in not caring about fashion, you reveal that you care about fashion just as much as the rest of us", and then settles back to watch the light bulbs turn on in my brain as I process their cleverness.

It reminds me of those folks who insist that atheism is a religion. If you're gonna insist on defining "religion" as "any belief system", then sure, you're right under that definition—for whatever that's worth.

And if you're gonna insist on defining "fashion" as "giving any thought whatsover to the type of fabric you put on your body"—then, again, you're right as far as that goes, but it's not exactly meaningful or insightful.

How about this: I do not subscribe to the belief that one's clothing should telegraph social signals, and seek to minimize my participation in that particular social exchange—while acknowledging that the very act of abstaining will be perceived by some (and not entirely without reason) as a social signal, and that it is therefore not possible to escape the system entirely. Is that clearer?

I feel like "I don't care about fashion" is a little more concise and should be intelligible to all but pedants, though.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [59 favorites]


Suit-without-tie was a NY - LA entertainment industry thing (for people whom being a mentonymic "suit" was important but also needed to mark out some degree of coolness) that gradually migrated to other industries as rank-and-file migrated to business casual, with a mutant manifestation for tech industry guys of a certain age who just can't bear to wear a t-shirt to the office.

But what is a bit sad is that in its original form it was always and only done with very good style. The record industry guys who rocked this look in the 90s would do it with $500 shoes, hand-tailored suites, and beautiful fitted dress shirts. Doing it with the first navy suit you could find on the "42R" rack at Bloomingdale's, after spending $20 to have the trousers cuffed, over a white button-down from the rack next door, missed the whole point. But here we are.
posted by MattD at 7:12 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]



So in these conversations, someone (like me) always says "I don't care about fashion, and don't wish to involve myself in it", and someone else always proclaims "actually, in not caring about fashion, you reveal that you care about fashion just as much as the rest of us", and then settles back to watch the light bulbs turn on in my brain as I process their cleverness.


Yes, precisely! (I mean, I'm a total clotheshorse and a bit trendy as far as glasses and hairstyles go.)

But by the same logic, I actually care profoundly about romantic comedies, political thriller novels, barbecue techniques, the quattrocentro, the internal politics of my neighborhood organization and Isaiah Berlin.

No, if you basically just want to wear something that is comfortable, doesn't strike you as repellently hideous and meets your material needs, you don't care about fashion. The choice you're making is precisely not to care about this thing called fashion, for good or for ill.
posted by Frowner at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: "And if you're gonna insist on defining "fashion" as "giving any thought whatsover to the type of fabric you put on your body"—then, again, you're right as far as that goes, but it's not exactly meaningful or insightful."

But I think it is meaningful to look at "fashion" as "any and all choices about clothing" because it gives people like you - who have very different thoughts and make very different choices than the vast majority of people - a place in the discussion. If we limit "fashion" to "haute couture" or whatever, than there is a whole realm of clothing and clothing decisions that we are ignoring, and that seems like a mistake to me.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Every year before school starts I go on Amazon and order 10 black and navy extra long t-shirts and then go to Kohls and buy two pairs of blue jeans, and donate the old stuff. The only reason I buy the navy ones is so people won't think I'm wearing the same clothes every day, so I guess that's a fashion thing that I care about.

Also, I do this so that I can get dressed in the dark and not worry about matching, so I guess I do care about fashion.
posted by Huck500 at 7:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


"I don't care about fashion" is this discussion's "I don't own a TV."
posted by kat518 at 7:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [64 favorites]


Most people probably have a friend or acquaintance with a good eye for fashion and fit.

The one person who would do this for me lives in DC now. I don't really have any current friends that would fall under this rubric.

The once a week thing seems weird to me, but I'm living a life almost totally disconnected from office dress codes so what do I know.

EXACTLY. I hadn't worked in an office in over a decade until now and I had to spend money just to get myself to the bare minimum of office wear.
posted by Kitteh at 7:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I actually think this article has a giant gaping blind spot, because it doesn't mention the rise of fast fashion and the MASSIVE changes in the garment industry over the last 30 years. Or, for that matter, the equally massive changes in the garment industry that took place in the first 30 years of the 20th century. The rise and fall of American garment workers' unions was a major, major influence on 20th-century fashion.

Think about it this way. The average American woman in the 1940s had a wardrobe containing about 1/4 as many items as a woman today. She also spent a larger percentage of her income on that wardrobe. Why? Because her clothes were either homemade, seamstress-made, or factory-made by skilled unionized workers being paid a living wage. As a result, they were much, much higher quality than anything in a modern wardrobe. This was the case for pretty much the whole middle of the 20th century, until the garment industry began to move overseas in the 70s.

The current garment industry has been cut absolutely to the bone in pursuit of profit, at every step of the manufacturing process, and the kinds of garments it now offers us reflect that. Anything that takes time or skill-- complex tailoring, fine finishing, embellishment-- is much less common, because the people making the clothes are being paid sub-minimum wage for piecework. Stretch fabrics don't need to fit precisely-- hey, leggings sure are popular. The cutting machines that stamp out pattern pieces for assembly can turn out more pieces per hour if they're loaded with thinner fabric-- notice how your t-shirts feel like tissue paper lately?

Now, I'll admit to bias here: I buy and sell vintage clothing for a living, and wear it daily. I think that modern garment manufacturing conditions are deplorable, and the clothes that result from it don't impress me. But I do think that an important (and usually absent) part of the conversation about fashion is where the clothes actually come from.

Even if you don't care about fashion, even if you don't want your clothes to convey any information about you, you can't opt out of the way your clothes are made.
posted by nonasuch at 7:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [85 favorites]


oddman: "but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality. Instead of being in control of the message, you send a haphazard signal. It's a waste."

We had a thread a while back about Madeline Albright and the brooches she wore, which she often chose to match the occasion and send particular signals, and there were some people in the thread who were just TOTALLY ENRAGED that world leaders would be using CLOTHING to send subtextual messages, as if clothing ever isn't sending messages!

We didn't really get to talk about the content of the article because people were busy being furious that clothing contains signals.

escape from the potato planet: "I do not subscribe to the belief that one's clothing should telegraph social signals, and seek to minimize my participation in that particular social exchange—while acknowledging that the very act of abstaining will be perceived by some (and not entirely without reason) as a social signal, and that it is therefore not possible to escape the system entirely. Is that clearer?"

I mean, sure, but when the original article is about the social signals that clothing sends, it's a bit of a threadshit. "Let's discuss the sociology of clothing!" "NO I OBJECT TO THE FACT THAT CLOTHING HAS A SOCIOLOGY." If you object to clothing having a sociology and sending signals, maybe this is not the thread for you. To me, it's not so much fashionistas/religious people insisting that non-fashion/atheism is just another fashion/belief system, but more like when there's a post discussing an interesting facet of religion -- Tibetan Sky Burial, let us say -- and a bunch of atheists come in the thread to say "ACTUALLY WE CAN'T DISCUSS THIS SOCIOLOGICALLY AND THEOLOGICALLY INTERESTING PHENOMENON BECAUSE I OBJECT TO THE PREMISE OF GOD AND MUST TELL YOU WHY AT LENGTH."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2015 [81 favorites]


Oh, and I'm pretty sure the office dress code that involves forcing women to wear dresses once a week is illegal, via Price-Waterhouse.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


roomseventeen, it is less "forcing," and more "strongly encouraged." I mean, I won't lose my job if I decided to not wear dresses/skirts, but I would be seen as "not a team player." I have reminded them upon occasion of my rights under the Ontario Human Rights act in re: to clothing.
posted by Kitteh at 7:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


And let me add, I am not particularly fashionable -- today I am wearing mom jeans and a T-shirt and I am wrapped in a blanket rather than bothering to find a hoodie -- nor all that interested in (magazine/high) "fashion," but I still find the signalling function of clothing very interesting and would like to discuss sociological trends in mass clothing and changes in what particular clothing signals. I think that's really interesting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a stereotypical scientist, I could not generally care less about fashion. But everything's contextual. In the office, I wear shorts and polo shirts in the summer, and long pants in the winter. If I know I have a meeting with one of the administrators I'll usually wear khakis and a nice shirt. If I'm presenting or chairing a session at a scientific meeting I'll wear a sport coat and a tie. (When I started attending meetings 20-some years ago suits were common, now they're pretty rare.)

When I worked as a fellow in the Senate for a year I had to wear a suit every day. I can tell you that I went to Kohl's and bought several identical pairs of pants and a couple of matching jackets. They weren't tailored or anything, but the purpose of staffers is to disappear into the scenery anyway. I didn't particularly enjoy wearing suits, but I love the overcoat I got on mega-clearance, and it looks kind of ridiculous if I wear it with jeans. I still have the coat, but I don't wear it as much as I'd like to.

I do feel some shame over wearing flip flops to the grocery on my recent staycation. i worry that's crossing a line I can never come back from.
posted by wintermind at 7:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would also say that my comment is mostly directed at the idea that a person who is sitting around removing logos from their clothes is caring about fashion very little. You apparently care a lot about sending a particular signal (that you're not branded by corporate logos), and you use your clothes to send that signal. That's fine! It's a perfectly fine and even laudable signal to send, but it's still a signal.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:29 AM on September 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I have the opposite problem. I'm a scruffy-looking software developer type, who has been going on a lot of job interviews lately. (Anyone in Boston hiring Java devs?) I showed up to the first one a few weeks ago in a suit and tie, because that is A Thing That You Do, and the reaction from the hiring manager, HR person, and technical people alike was one of vaguely-disguised horror. I might as well have shown up wearing scuba flippers and a thong. I think I was out of the building in an hour, during which time I only saw men dressed in shorts and sandals. I now explicitly ask every HR person I talk to what the appropriate dress code for an interview is, which (a) seems insane, because you WEAR GODDAMN FANCY CLOTHES TO AN INTERVIEW, and (b) causes me minor fits of apoplexy, because the two of the big guys (think Google and Facebook) actually explicitly suggested wearing jeans. JEANS. To an INTERVIEW. What the everliving hell, people? Is nothing sacred?
posted by Mayor West at 7:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [35 favorites]


Oh, yeah, I also have about a zillion t-shirts and jackets and stuff from the firehouse. I think I once was given a discount on lunch because of a shirt I was wearing, so there's that.
posted by wintermind at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2015


I work in a software shop that's part of a giant hospital system and they explicitly moved our offices to the other side of the city from the headquarters offices so that our jeans and video game t-shirts didn't infect the general office population. At some point they realized that you just can't get software engineers to wear ties but they weren't about to relax the dress code for the rest of the organization.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mayor West A couple years ago, I had an interview with a startup company, and the email scheduling it told me that I didn't have to wear a suit.

I freaked out. I had no idea what to wear. I think I did an Ask MeFi about it. *checks* Nope.

Ended up going with slacks, a blue oxford shirt, and a brown sweater, since it was kinda damp and chilly that day. I got the job, but I still feel weird about it. Last interview I went to I still wore a suit.
posted by SansPoint at 7:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have taken to wearing bow-ties recently. This is meant to signify to the observer that I am better at tying bow-ties than they are.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:40 AM on September 14, 2015 [30 favorites]


(b) causes me minor fits of apoplexy, because the two of the big guys (think Google and Facebook) actually explicitly suggested wearing jeans. JEANS. To an INTERVIEW.

Obviously, they feel interviewees should dress up a little. Otherwise, those people would probably show up wearing their usual thong and flippers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm involved in progressive and environmental politics and advocacy. The uniform is pretty easy to put together. Navy blazer or tweed jacket, light blue Oxford button-down shirt, khakis, brown loafers. It sends the signal: we are going to end up talking about salt-water intrusion.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [33 favorites]


I'm bitter that my dad never taught me how to buy a suit.

I'm bitter at the realization that the perception of me at work is based more on aesthetics and shallow markers than on the tens of thousands of lives my performance has been able to aid.

I've lost 20 pounds this year, I told my doctor that it might be stress. She said, keep it up!

Girlfriends and lovers have often commented on my dress. One recently stayed up all night and made me a "look book" before moving on to a different schleppy guy. For what it's worth, she was on point and it was a bittersweet send off.

Well fuck it, I'm still bitter but I'm going to try and look damn good while I'm doing it.
posted by Skwirl at 7:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


Along these lines, has anybody done a sociological history of the rise of the polo shirt in the US? I've found articles like this that go a bit into the history of its adoption, but nothing on the signaling behind it, particularly in a business context.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:44 AM on September 14, 2015


Old t-shirts from my parents' closet have been the center of my wardrobe since I was a young teenager. This was extremely uncool in the late 90s/turn of the century, had a serious moment between 2004 and 2007 when irony was hot, and have been on a slow fade since then.

It was only by complete and total accident that I was trendy in my early 20s, but it went from people either ignoring or actively sneering at me to being all "you are sooooo fashionable" almost overnight, and then back to ignoring again just a few years later.
posted by phunniemee at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe this is just the circles I run in, but I see a lot harsher judgment toward people who visibly care about fashion than I do those who believe they don't.

But "not caring about fashion" is a fashion on its own. If people dressed solely for comfort, their clothes would look a lot more like pajamas than they do. They'd wear sweatpants and housecoats and bathrobes and underwear out in public, not chinos, jeans, and polo shirts.

And people are far more influenced by style than many of them will even admit. Our ideas about what is normal and neutral changes drastically on a macro- and micro-level, constantly. If you've been around for a while, you can probably remember when things like mullets were totally normal haircuts, for example. And haircuts are all bespoke. They're not mass produced. If you wanted one today, you could easily get one. Those are pretty practical haircuts, really. They are groomed in the front so your hair stays out of your face, but they still provide protection from the sun in the back. You could make a pretty decent argument, I'd think, in favor of mullets as a practical haircut. Why did "everyone" used to have them, and so few people have them now? It's a social marker is why.

Pretty much everyone decides what to wear for a combination of practical, social, and personal reasons. Fashion conscious people wear clothes that are physically comfortable and appropriate for their environment, just like you do. Just about everyone also wears clothes that will solicit the social responses they desire as well, that will signal something about their gender, their social class, etc., and that bleeds into personal tastes as well. Some is explicit, like wearing band or sports team t-shirts and things, and some is more internalized and unconscious, but I don't know anyone who doesn't do this, although I know a lot of people who deny it.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [20 favorites]


Ah, see, Wintermind - "as a scientist you don't care about fashion" already tells me you are a male (probably white, cis) scientist who can afford not to care about fashion beyond making sure your clothes are clean. Not all scientists (especially academic ones) can not care about fashion. Of course it's not a new observation, but being blase about fashion is totally a thing about privilege, to a degree.

Witness the closet dilemmas of the Female Science Graduate Student Who Is Teaching Today. I am at most 7 years older than the students I am teaching (and look younger), so I have to make sure that I look mature and authoritative, which today means dress slacks and a shirt (but not THAT shirt because it is too low cut, and not THAT shirt because it is too casual, and not THAT shirt because I wore it last week and have gotten comments on evaluations about how I must have a very small wardrobe). OK, so I find a shirt, but it doesn't really match my pants, so maybe I'll wear a skirt, but then I need tights because I haven't shaved my legs in a few days. What shoes? Well, normally I'd wear heels but combined with the skirt and tights maybe that's too feminine for my meeting with my advisor about a postdoc in Republic of Congo (I need to convey that I can totally handle running around a swamp forest, no problem, and don't want to bring to mind that stupid lady from Jurassic World). OK, so flats it is, but they all look ridiculous with these tights, so back to pants it is, and I guess I'll find a scarf to wear to cover the neckline on THAT low cut shirt? And now, 30 minutes later, I am ready to go.

And then my boyfriend puts on his khakis, pulls a polo shirt from the closet, and heads off to work with some gentle ribbing at how long it takes me to get ready in the morning!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:47 AM on September 14, 2015 [141 favorites]


I used to teach Business English in major corporations throughout Greater Copenhagen. One class was literally "don't wear your fancy jeans to a business meeting in the UK" - it was a class we all taught at one point or another. I used to get so.much.pushback from entitled business men who then went to meet the new CEO of their hedge fund in London and came back apologising to me.

Nowadays I mainly observe people from my Remote Office (the cafe in one of Scotland's top tourist attractions) and I can always tell when there is a bus-load of Germans or a bus-load of Americans. Despite our individual personalities, there are some national trends that just persist. In case you are wondering, it's practical rain-proofs in bright colours for Germans and baseball caps + oversized clothes for Americans. It's uncanny.
posted by kariebookish at 7:50 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

--I wore a tshirt to my IT job one day and the manager told me a collared shirt was required. I (foolishly) asked why and the response was, "Because we have to deal with clients." My retort: "but we never deal with clients face-to-face and even rarely on the phone!" ::scowl:: "Just wear a collared shirt...."

--I have often observed that anyone working in sales seems to wear an shiny ill-fitting suit.

And of course, you can go to just about any mall or strip-zoned business area and every one will have a uniform/dress code of some sort.
posted by CrowGoat at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


roomseventeen, it is less "forcing," and more "strongly encouraged." I mean, I won't lose my job if I decided to not wear dresses/skirts, but I would be seen as "not a team player." I have reminded them upon occasion of my rights under the Ontario Human Rights act in re: to clothing.

When I was "forced" by my family to " look nice" twice in the same year for really stupid family weddings I decided "HAH I'LL SHOW THEM" and bought some dresses on modcloth with some fun, garish prints. (Safari animals wearing sunglasses and purple and teal galaxies, if you must know.)

It backfired when both my grandma and my mom, two ladies who think anything outside of the beige or navy blue color families is a bit of a fashion gamble, thought I looked charming and adorable.
posted by phunniemee at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

I take it you've never been to the south?
posted by phunniemee at 7:52 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Despite our individual personalities, there are some national trends that just persist. In case you are wondering, it's practical rain-proofs in bright colours for Germans and baseball caps + oversized clothes for Americans.

My (very American, very New Englander) father-in-law, who wears hiking boots for essentially any journey on foot longer than to the car, was greeted by a person asking for change in Lisbon with a cheery "GUTEN TAG!"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


I don't know any Americans who wear oversized clothes. The "trend" seems to be form fitting and tight, at least recently.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think there's a difference between "I don't care about fashion and therefore do the minimum to be employable/acceptable and wish I didn't have to" (which of course will differ depending on your job and amount of social privilege you have) and "I never think about fashion because I never have to", which is all about privilege most of the time.

There are lots of women - known to me personally! - who don't care about fashion and wish they didn't have to make an effort. They do have to make an effort, with the exception of a few lab scientists I know, and that's unfair, but it's not that they care emotionally about fashion; they care about negotiating social rules in order to keep their jobs.

I feel like these conversations tend to confuse paying attention to fashion because you have to with caring about fashion. "Caring about doing what it takes to stay employed and not get mocked on the street" isn't the same as "being eager to see the fall line of scarves from your favorite scarf-maker".
posted by Frowner at 7:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [61 favorites]


I'm fascinated by the emerging male trend of wearing the suits of a smaller slimmer you...

Wife and I were watching the new Colbert show last week, and she commented that she's surprised he can't afford a suit that fits.

Ah, fashion.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


In a post called "Why Americans dress so casually" it doesn't seem like threadshitting to come in and explain why you dress so casually. And being minimally fashionable is not just another fashion, just as standing at the bar is not just another dance.
posted by pracowity at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


This thread is also getting me excited that the weather is starting to change and soon I'll be able to dress like I want* and not like a person who might possibly sweat to death on the way to work.

*Cosplaying as a liberal arts professor at a small New England college in the 50s.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:01 AM on September 14, 2015 [32 favorites]


I wear sweatpants everywhere, unless it is hot and then I wear shorts. What this signifies to the world is that I have pretty bad chronic pain from spinal injuries and may at any moment need to lie down on the nearest flat surface, including the floor. Literally the sole thing I think about when I put clothes on is "is this appropriate body covering for the weather outside". HOWEVER I do care about fashion a reasonable amount and enjoy very much seeing other people look well-put-together. But I feel no guilt or shame or whatever at having to dress solely for comfort.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:01 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is this the thread were we have a contest about who cares the least about the clothes they wear bc take a look at this suit fashioned entirely out of polo shirts with inch-sized television show logos on them.
posted by griphus at 8:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


But "not caring about fashion" is a fashion on its own.

You're not one of those people who claim that atheism is a religion, are you? I care about fashion to the extent that I want to like the clothes I wear. Whether you or anyone else likes my clothes, is not something I care about.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Clothing doesn't contain signals. People make judgments based on clothing. The clothing itself is just an object. The study of what people judge from what other people are wearing is certainly valuable, because people do of course make those judgments, and others do deliberately tailor what they wear to that process. But that's not just a fashion thing. People also make those judgments based on appearance. And somehow a lot of people who think it's just fine to trash other people for not caring about clothes are still people who have some shred of decency when it comes to trashing other people for being fat, or having bad skin. Lots of people make judgments based on skin color. It's valid to want to analyze how that impacts the world. That doesn't mean it's a good thing. It's one thing if you just look at someone and think, hey, I like that person's taste in clothing. That's fine. You can like someone's taste in clothing, or home decor, or art, or whatever. But how often does someone fail to get a job because of their taste in home decor? You'd guess that'd only be relevant if you were applying to be an interior designer or whatever.

Judgment of clothing ends up being different. It's inextricably tied to judgment of bodies. Oh, you don't dress nice, you don't take care of yourself. Isn't that exactly the same thing people say to those who're obese? It's not any different. I think Frowner gets where I'm coming from. I have to put a ton of time and money into this stuff not because I want to, but because I'm obligated to do so just to maintain a living wage and keep people being basically polite to me, and that's just wrong.
posted by Sequence at 8:04 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


this suit fashioned entirely out of polo shirts with inch-sized television show logos on them.

"NASCAR Casual"
posted by Greg Nog at 8:04 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


*Cosplaying as a liberal arts professor at a small New England college in the 50s.

Mine is "1950s librarian who might also be a witch." I have SO MANY weird brooches saved up for cardigan weather, you don't even know.
posted by nonasuch at 8:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [44 favorites]


Oh, you don't dress nice, you don't take care of yourself. Isn't that exactly the same thing people say to those who're obese? It's not any different.

This. I get compliments all the time about what I'm wearing, when I'm wearing a $10 shirt from Old Navy and a pair of skinny jeans. The person isn't saying I'm wearing nice clothes. I'm not. They are saying I look cute because I'm thin.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:06 AM on September 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Sequence and Frowner nail it. I don't like having to wear office clothes at my job, but considering it is how I pay my bills, I have to suck it up and do it Because That is What I Am Supposed to Do. Is it fair? Nope, especially since I have minimal interaction with our clients. Do I wish I could wear something more casual and yet pretty polished to indicate I am still professional? Hell yes.
posted by Kitteh at 8:07 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, Frowner, the problem is that often the former gets conflated with the latter and - by putting effort into the way I dress, even for purely utilitarian reasons - people think I'm not as serious about Science and the Pursuit of Knowledge because I clearly care about frivolity like fancy clothes while male grad students in my department are serious wearing their jeans and button down checkered shirts every single day. I think there's room for both aspects of clothing, signaling, and caring about fashion to be discussed.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:08 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


I wonder what role social attitudes about age are playing here. Once upon a time, a suit and hat differentiated men from boys. And dressing like a child was considered undignified. I think that since then, our attitudes about children, and what it means to be childlike, have changed.
posted by idiopath at 8:08 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


There is very little in this world more tragic than the polo shirt and its current place in society.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

I take it you've never been to the south?


Or met a fancy gay man or butch gal?
posted by mollymayhem at 8:09 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


My mother, for example, truly didn't care about fashion - she wore baggy rayon crepe skirts and blouses in inoffensive colors plus some flats from the eighties for work her entire career, replacing things only when they fell apart (and you'd be surprised how resilient certain rayon crepes are) and for casual wear, she had a couple of pairs of my old acid-washed jeans from the late eighties, plus some pull on pants and some old logo tee shirts that I'd left behind when I left for college, and this stuff did for her basically her entire adult life, with a few new tees subbed in now and then. She was just completely fashion-unseeing - it wasn't that she couldn't have had new stuff. (This made matters a bit difficult for me in junior high and high school, because most of what I had was her hand-me-downs from the late seventies and early eighties, and we never had a mirror that showed more than your upper torso and head; you can see from photos that I really looked rather startling until I was about sixteen.)

And it wasn't that she secretly cared, or was making a statement ; she was just totally unable to perceive fashion stuff. She grew up wearing the hand-me-downs of a sister who was totally different in build and coloring (and who, of course, was some years older) and I think she just decided not to care, and not-caring became a habit by the time she was in her early twenties.

If you're a woman in certain kinds of pink collar gigs, especially in the midwest, you can wear baggy dresses, skirts and blouses that pretty much stay the same from decade to decade, and while you may look dated, it really doesn't impact your work chances much.
posted by Frowner at 8:10 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


If people dressed solely for comfort, their clothes would look a lot more like pajamas than they do. They'd wear sweatpants and housecoats and bathrobes and underwear out in public, not chinos, jeans, and polo shirts.

Absolutely. Clown suits are comfortable and practical, but you don't see a lot of them on the streets.

I've been wondering lately if I could rock hakama for everyday. Talk about comfortable and practical! Bonus, really cute.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:11 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


pracowity: "just as standing at the bar is not just another dance"

If I were studying the history of dancing, I would absolutely be interested in why people go to dancing venues and don't dance. Is it because it plays a major role in dating and courtship rituals? Is it for professional reasons? Perhaps there is a religious component?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think that since then, our attitudes about children, and what it means to be childlike, have changed.

You're not wrong.
posted by theraflu at 8:16 AM on September 14, 2015


I would absolutely be interested in why people go to dancing venues and don't dance.

mrs. mmascolino doesn't ski but she still goes on ski trips.
posted by mmascolino at 8:16 AM on September 14, 2015


The person isn't saying I'm wearing nice clothes. I'm not. They are saying I look cute because I'm thin.

Huh. That's interesting, because I do actually get complimented on my clothes a lot, and I am not thin at all. But I do dress very deliberately, with a very careful eye for fit, and I enjoy bright colors and interesting prints. I have a few favorite novelty-print dresses that I save for days when I need a pick-me-up, because I've never once worn them out of the house without getting a compliment.

I also go out of my way to compliment others, both because I personally like clothes and because I know how nice it feels to get a genuine compliment. A lot of the time, the people I compliment are also people who care about fashion, and are pleased that someone else has noticed the effort they put into an outfit, or the quality or uniqueness of a piece they're wearing. They don't necessarily have the same personal style as me, but it's usually a nice moment of connection.
posted by nonasuch at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]



If I were studying the history of dancing, I would absolutely be interested in why people go to dancing venues and don't dance. Is it because it plays a major role in dating and courtship rituals? Is it for professional reasons? Perhaps there is a religious component?


Yeah, but you wouldn't try to tell them that they had really been dancing all along.

There's quite a lot in "not caring about fashion", and obviously if you published a book about not-caring, you'd shelve it in the fashion section, but I think that it's a lot easier to convince people that they are free just to wear an untucked polo and jeans to work every day because of privilege than to convince them that in their secret heart of hearts they care profoundly about fashion.

I think there's lots of people who do care about fashion who wear polo/jeans - god knows you meet enough of them in certain sectors of the left, usually writing misogynist articles for Adbusters and patronizing everyone who doesn't look like them, but those people are different from people who really just don't want to think about it.

It seems like when you occupy one intellectual position, it's very easy to see all the variety within/around your intellectual position, but perilously easy to lump everyone who disagrees. So to anarchists all communists are the same, or all conservatives are the same, but anti-authoritarianism is a land of contrasts, etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 8:18 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Clothing doesn't contain signals.

So? It's also true that words don't contain meaning, but here we are talking.
posted by erlking at 8:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


I also go out of my way to compliment others, both because I personally like clothes and because I know how nice it feels to get a genuine compliment.

That is a rad thing to do. I worked in a fashion boutique (sort of) and I really miss having a place where it was totally okay for me (as a dude) to do that and stand much much less of a chance of coming off a creeper.
posted by griphus at 8:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


This. I get compliments all the time about what I'm wearing, when I'm wearing a $10 shirt from Old Navy and a pair of skinny jeans. The person isn't saying I'm wearing nice clothes. I'm not. They are saying I look cute because I'm thin.

...or possibly because you have removed the price tags from your clothing and they have no way of knowing that the shirt was 10 dollars? Or possibly because a $10 shirt can absolutely look just as cool as a more expensive one? Or possibly because you have combined fit and textures and colors in a way that makes both items look well-tailored and balanced and makes you look pulled together?

I mean I don't think my boyfriend owns any item of clothing that cost more than $20, but he dresses with an eye for color and fabric and harmony, and sometimes he just puts something together that is real damn sharp. When I say "that looks bomb," I absolutely do not mean, "you look thin and thin is best."

And he definitely doesn't mean "I look cute because I'm thin" when he compliments my dress, because I am neither cute nor especially thin. He means that the dress is an interesting cut and pattern and well-fitted to my body and well-suited to whatever we're doing that day.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]



Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

Barely worth refuting but here's a fairly lengthy list of non-ironic bowtie wearers. You might also include any gent who ever attended a formal event.

Now I'm here: A middle-aged gent myself, the one thing I will not wear is blue. I own not one single article of clothing in any shade of blue. Try maintaining that standard with panache and insouciance.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


There is very little in this world more tragic than the polo shirt and its current place in society.

*looks down at striped polo shirt pulled haphazardly from the drawer this morning*

*notices coffee stain prominently on display above navel*

*wonders if that's from today's coffee, or if maybe it didn't come out in the wash from last time*

*nods quietly in solidarity with entropicamericana*
posted by Mayor West at 8:24 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


...or possibly because you have removed the price tags from your clothing and they have no way of knowing that the shirt was 10 dollars? Or possibly because a $10 shirt can absolutely look just as cool as a more expensive one? Or possibly because you have combined fit and textures and colors in a way that makes both items look well-tailored and balanced and makes you look pulled together?

I doubt it. I guess it's a possibility, but really, it looks like I shop at Old Navy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I think it is meaningful to look at "fashion" as "any and all choices about clothing"

And that's fine—but that is, obviously, not the definition of "fashion" that people have in mind when they say "I don't care about fashion". And yet there are always people like Clemente who pretend to be baffled by this statement, so they can "correct" the misconception.

That's all I'm complaining about. I'm not objecting to studying casual clothing alongside non-casual clothing, nor to using the word "fashion" to encompass all clothing choices (as long as you're clear about your definitions). I'm just objecting to the tiresome "gotcha" game that people play around this.

because it gives people like you - who have very different thoughts and make very different choices than the vast majority of people - a place in the discussion.

I don't think I'm that much of a freak, but thanks.

"NO I OBJECT TO THE FACT THAT CLOTHING HAS A SOCIOLOGY. ... ACTUALLY WE CAN'T DISCUSS THIS SOCIOLOGICALLY AND THEOLOGICALLY INTERESTING PHENOMENON BECAUSE I OBJECT TO THE PREMISE OF GOD AND MUST TELL YOU WHY AT LENGTH."

If that's what you hear me saying, I'm afraid you're misunderstanding. I wish I knew how to make my meaning plainer to you, but sadly I do not. I apologize for my deficiencies in this area.

I would also say that my comment is mostly directed at the idea that a person who is sitting around removing logos from their clothes is caring about fashion very little. You apparently care a lot about sending a particular signal (that you're not branded by corporate logos), and you use your clothes to send that signal. That's fine! It's a perfectly fine and even laudable signal to send, but it's still a signal.

So, let's say I have a radio transmitter and a microphone in front of me. I choose not to turn on the transmitter, pick up the microphone, and broadcast the word "Givenchy" over the airwaves. Am I still sending a signal?

If you define "sending a signal" as "exhibiting any behavior, including inaction, which people might use to draw conclusions about me, whether I wish or intend for them to or not", then sure. But that's a bit of a semantic gambit, isn't it? I have a canvas, and I am choosing not to paint a picture on it. That does not make me a painter.

In a different vein:

Is it really true that people dress "more casually" today than they did, say, a hundred years ago? What's "casual" and what's "formal" is culturally defined. Certainly, many of the clothes we wear today would have been considered casual in decades past—but precisely because those clothes are now acceptable in churches and business meetings, doesn't that mean they aren't casual any longer? They're only casual when evaluated according to other sets of norms. Absent that historical context, we would have no reason to call them "casual".

I mean, Clemente rightfully acknowledges the importance of historical context—but it kind of undermines the premise that Americans dress more casually than other cultures, or that modern folks dress more casually than people did in the past. It only shows that our standards for what types of garments are considered suitable in different situations are different than they used to be. The Overton windows, if you will, of "casual clothing" and "formal clothing" have always been fairly arbitrary, and drift over time for all sorts of reasons.

Certainly the overall trend has been for some casual fashions to "graduate" to higher levels of formal acceptability, and for the old formal fashions thus displaced to fade out of use. And in that sense I guess you can say that we dress "more casually", in that fashions which we consider acceptable in certain situations would be considered unacceptable by other cultures. But I think that framing it that way is a little misleading—it encourages us to imagine that there is some objective standard, that our boundaries for "casual" and "formal" aren't arbitrary, and therefore that folks who fail to meet those standards have failed in some real and material sense that justifies our disdain or disapproval. Certainly there's often more than a hint of slur when people talk about the "casualness" of American dress.

I'm not trying to be obtuse. Just, y'know, offering my reaction to the interview. I promise I'm not sitting here seething with antipathy toward those of you who do choose to express yourself through clothing (as long as you're equally respectful of my own choice to abstain, and don't try to tell me that you know better than I do why I've made that choice).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:31 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I doubt it. I guess it's a possibility, but really, it looks like I shop at Old Navy.

Which I know you intend as a signal that I should think negatively about your clothing, but which doesn't quite send that signal.

I mean maybe if I were an old-school NYC fashion snob with a huge clothing budget it would, but as a middle-income resident of a less-assholish metropolis "looks like I shop at Old Navy" just means, "oh, so like literally everyone I ever see in the world, stylish and unstylish alike."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:31 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I mean seriously if there is supposed to be some way to know on sight that a tshirt is from Old Navy and not from J. Crew or whatever, I do not have access to this knowledge. I own three heather-gray t-shirts: one from Old Navy, one from J. Crew, and one from some shmancy boutique in LA. I *regularly* fail to correctly identify each of these unless I really get all up in the stitching. Which I generally will not do with a stranger on the street.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:35 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks, griphus! I have fashion-conscious guy friends who have the same complaint, actually-- they don't want to seem like creepers, but sometimes a lady is wearing really cool boots and they wish they could say so without it meaning anything else. Yet another thing to lay at the feet of the small percentage of men who are assholes, alas.
posted by nonasuch at 8:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


> I have a canvas, and I am choosing not to paint a picture on it.

The fashion equivalent of this is walking around naked. And even this sends out signals to other people, even though they will certainly not all receive the same signals.

There is no neutral way to dress.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:37 AM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


(and you'd be surprised how resilient certain rayon crepes are)

That stuff's amazing and I wish I felt I could get away with wearing more of it when I'm not doing some kind of minimalist-packing-for-vacation thing. Bombproof and absolutely perfect for bicycle commuting. There aren't any natural-fiber fabrics that hold up like that stuff does (no pilling ever!), and it's stretchy and comfortable without being as form-fitting as leggings are (no, I am not repurchasing all my shirts in lengths that would cover my ass, so leggings are generally not something I feel comfortable wearing.)

It's a shame the only color that fabric looks even sort of acceptable in is black. It looks even more cheap and tacky in lighter colors.
posted by asperity at 8:37 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tease my male professor friends who dress casually about "squandering their male privilege on wearing a T-shirt to class," because my wife sure can't get away with that. I know at least one guy who dresses up in solidarity with his female colleagues who have to.
posted by straight at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


escape from the potato planet: "I don't think I'm that much of a freak, but thanks."

I hope I didn't come across as suggesting you were a freak. I really respect your choices about fashion, and lean that way myself (though I did just buy a polo shirt with a bunny-head-and-crossbones logo, because, c'mon, bunny-head-and-crossbones), but I think you are pretty deeply in the minority of clothing purchasers if you resist any clothing with a logo on it. Anyway, no offense intended, and apologies if I did so.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:39 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am offended that people choose to read 'signals' into the one-inch growth of beard on my throat and the fact that I haven't washed my hair in two weeks. It's just hair. This is the same as the Klan
posted by shakespeherian at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


So, let's say I have a radio transmitter and a microphone in front of me. I choose not to turn on the transmitter, pick up the microphone, and broadcast the word "Givenchy" over the airwaves. Am I still sending a signal?

If you define "sending a signal" as "exhibiting any behavior, including inaction, which people might use to draw conclusions about me, whether I wish or intend for them to or not", then sure. But that's a bit of a semantic gambit, isn't it? I have a canvas, and I am choosing not to paint a picture on it. That does not make me a painter.


Except you say that you remove logos and go out of your way to find clothes that don't have them or have them in places you can remove. Those are all choices.

In any event, if it were true that some significant percentage of people WERE going up the transmitter and saying "Givenchy" and you consciously chose not to, then I'll stand with that being a way of sending a signal, absolutely; I don't see how it could be anything else. Your analogy only seems the other way, because you invented a hypothetical that is a thing people don't do in large numbers. Large numbers of people do, in fact, wear clothes with logos on them.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


If you define "sending a signal" as "exhibiting any behavior, including inaction, which people might use to draw conclusions about me, whether I wish or intend for them to or not", then sure. But that's a bit of a semantic gambit, isn't it? I have a canvas, and I am choosing not to paint a picture on it. That does not make me a painter.

This is, indeed, but 'inaction' and 'remov[ing] brand labels' don't obviously go hand-in-hand. If you buy a painting and then strip off the paint to get a blank canvas, that's not quite the same thing as buying a blank canvas. It's also not quite the same thing as being a painter, no, but it's far from inaction, and far from 'not caring.'

It is also entirely fine, and I actually do this too; more on the end of not buying clothing with brands or logos, but also occasionally removing them. I do think that counts as caring, though.
posted by cjelli at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


the Future will be all jumpsuits all the time, and we will look back on the days when we weren't basically wearing onesies with a nostalgia bordering on existential longing.

Speak for yourself... I would welcome such a future with open arms. I would love nothing more than to never have to think about what to wear each morning. I kick myself for not choosing a career where I could wear scrubs.
posted by barnoley at 8:43 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a software developer... there's something profoundly satisfying about earning a six figure salary in shorts and a t-shirt.
posted by ph00dz at 8:46 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Certainly, many of the clothes we wear today would have been considered casual in decades past—but precisely because those clothes are now acceptable in churches and business meetings, doesn't that mean they aren't casual any longer?

This seems like a really good point. Does it make sense to say people are dressing more casually for work and other formal ocassions? Wouldn't whatever clothes that people feel obliged to wear in a formal setting have to be considered formal by definition?
posted by straight at 8:47 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese For what it's worth, I look at brands when I buy clothes---especially when thrifting---because it can be a marker of material quality. A Brooks Brothers button-down is likely to last me longer than a button-down from H&M. I don't buy clothes that often, so I want them to last a while.
posted by SansPoint at 8:49 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Does it make sense to say people are dressing more casually for work and other formal ocassions?

I was working this around in my brain and for a second I thought I had it with the idea that people are dressing at work more like they dress not at work, but suits used to be standard non-work attire for men, too. I'm not sure there's an answer other than to say that he actually means "people are dressing in a style that gets the dress code name of 'casual'" I mean, in standard traditional dress code language (where black tie is "semi-formal"), work is an informal event to which one wears an informal outfit, a business suit. Now casual and informal don't mean the same thing in terms of standardized dress code language, but the language is definitely slippery.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:53 AM on September 14, 2015


I'm a software developer... there's something profoundly satisfying about earning a six figure salary in shorts and a t-shirt.

Oh really?
posted by deathmaven at 8:54 AM on September 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


I have fashion-conscious guy friends who have the same complaint, actually-- they don't want to seem like creepers, but sometimes a lady is wearing really cool boots and they wish they could say so without it meaning anything else.

i think it's mostly okay to just be like "hey nice boots" and then go on with your day without expecting any further interactions, but this seems impossible for the average guy on the street. if you're gonna get mad that some total stranger doesn't effusively thank you for an unwanted compliment on the street, no matter how well intentioned, then you are not the kind of person who can handle innocently complimenting women. even then there's going to be a significant number of women who will see this as another godawful microaggression, though.

i wonder how that sartorialist dude gets away with it. saying "i have a website" doesn't necessarily make it sound less creepy initially.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:55 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess that if I think about it, I dress better for leisure activities than I do for work. I usually wear a shirt with buttons and slacks and real shoes on Fridays because my wife and I go out to dinner that day. And unless there's a pool, I'm not going to wear a t-shirt to a party.
posted by octothorpe at 8:57 AM on September 14, 2015


by putting effort into the way I dress, even for purely utilitarian reasons - people think I'm not as serious about Science and the Pursuit of Knowledge because I clearly care about frivolity like fancy clothes while male grad students in my department are serious wearing their jeans and button down checkered shirts every single day.

I've mentioned this before, but I always think of my friend the math professor and the silver nail polish. Along with her own sense of style, she has a remarkably good sense of this kind of social cue - in college she used to dress differently on days when she had a class at Harvard vs days she had a class at MIT.
posted by maryr at 8:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


Coincidentally, this popped up on my Twitter feed yesterday:
Thomas Jefferson sometimes greeted dignitaries while wearing his PJs. On one such occasion, British minister to the United States Andrew Merry was on the receiving end of Jefferson's casual attire. He was not happy about it, writing,
"I, in my official costume, found myself at the hour of reception he had himself appointed, introduced to a man as president of the United States, not merely in an undress, but ACTUALLY STANDING IN SLIPPERS DOWN TO THE HEELS, and both pantaloons, coat and under-clothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, and in a state of negligence actually studied."
Looks like it came from this Mental Floss article.
posted by mhum at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


i wonder how that sartorialist dude gets away with it. saying "i have a website" doesn't necessarily make it sound less creepy initially.

It probably helps that he's likely wearing the kind of clothing that shows he cares a lot about nice boots instead of a heather grey teeshirt with a lewd joke about Chewbacca.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:00 AM on September 14, 2015 [16 favorites]


I don't mind what I wear so long as it's the same every day.
posted by colie at 9:02 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


wookies mate
for life
;)
posted by griphus at 9:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you're a woman in certain kinds of pink collar gigs, especially in the midwest, you can wear baggy dresses, skirts and blouses that pretty much stay the same from decade to decade, and while you may look dated, it really doesn't impact your work chances much.

Right, because if you're a woman in certain kinds of pink collar jobs (and let's just leave off the fact that we literally describe job types by referring to clothing), you don't really have any opportunity for advancement anyway. So the goal becomes dressing in a manner that you doesn't get you hit on or accused of general wantonness, but doesn't make you the office mom and coffeemaker either. (Frowner, it sounds like your mom was aces at making this work, which I mean sincerely as a compliment. If it was by accident that would be lovely, but I would bet that it was not.)
posted by maryr at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I actually walked out of a job interview years ago when the hiring manager said that IT were expected to set a "fashion standard" for that office.

Also, this almost invariably backfires. When I see those guys trying to "dress up" by wearing an Oxford shirt, a tie, and pleated slacks, I think, "ah. Those are the terribly dressed IT guys."
posted by deanc at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure this is just my cis-white-het-male privilege speaking; but.. I would absolutely change careers before I would change my wardrobe. I'm in IT specifically because I can wear heavy metal t-shirts with the word "fuck" on it and barely get a second glance.

Though, I will say that the 90's were rather annoying, as my "uniform" from the 80's had become momentarily trendy (jeans, t-shirt, flannel overshirt). I was glad when grunge died.

I wore a tie to an interview in 2004 or so. I explained that it was the "urg" bit. (worked there for 10 years, so i guess it went okay.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese For what it's worth, I look at brands when I buy clothes---especially when thrifting---because it can be a marker of material quality. A Brooks Brothers button-down is likely to last me longer than a button-down from H&M. I don't buy clothes that often, so I want them to last a while.

Yeah but you do know that the length of time you've owned a shirt is not apparent to the casual viewer, right? When I look at you I don't know where your shirt is from. The point of my comment was that when I compliment someone on their clothing I 1) am not secretly complimenting them for being thin and 2) do not know that their clothing is from Old Navy (unless it has a logo on it I guess) and would not consider clothing from Old Navy so inherently unattractive anyway that I couldn't possibly compliment its wearer sincerely.

(This was all in response to roomthreeseventeen's comment that people who tell her her clothing is cute must be lying and actually talking about her body, because her clothes are from old navy.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:09 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I seem to be and antediluvian throwback. I like dressing for work- it reminds me that I am indeed being different than when i am at home. When I first started working I wore suits, and thankfully that has changed. But the process of making sure everything is clean and basically matches is a nice meditation to start the day - or if I'm really on it, I will pick it out the night before.

I even like dressing up- although living on the west coast affords less occasion for that. I went back east for a wedding a couple years ago and it amused the heck out of me that all the women not in the bridal party wore the exact same thing- a little black dress with a brightly colored scarf. Including me- although I did wear my motorcycle boots to accessorize..

tl:dr - LuckyMonkey21- thy name is vanity.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 9:10 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, this almost invariably backfires. When I see those guys trying to "dress up" by wearing an Oxford shirt, a tie, and pleated slacks, I think, "ah. Those are the terribly dressed IT guys."

Don't forget the square-toed Sketchers.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


//--I have often observed that anyone working in sales seems to wear an shiny ill-fitting suit. //

This sales guy is wearing jeans and a polo, which is my normal warm weather uniform any day I'm not seeing a client. Even when I see a client I only dress up to standard business casual. I can't remember the last time I wore a real suit. 5, 7 years ago maybe?
posted by COD at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2015


Americans do "business casual" very poorly, in my experience. It turns out being a polo shirt with pleated khakis that don't fit very well. Or there's the weird use of outdoor clothes at the office (the fleece vest and hiking books paired with an Oxford shirt and chinos).

My most comfortable "business casual" workplace was where I could leave my shirt untucked and wore jeans. Since I started working for banks, the minimum standard of dress has been a dress shirt tucked into slacks, which only serves to show the office that we are all developing a pudgy waist.
posted by deanc at 9:13 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was around 11 or 12 my dad came home with a story about his day. It seems that he was walking in Beverly Hills (where he worked) and he stopped into a swanky jewelry store. Now, at the time my dad was doing ok, but wasn't rich and certainly couldn't have afforded anything in the store. He was also balding and was probably dressed like Jim Rockford. They buzzed him into the store, and then the saleswoman said, I don't think there's anything here in your price range. My dad replied, "Never judge a person by the way they dress. You just lost a big sale."

I don't think he ever knew what a powerful message he sent, so if anyone has a problem with the perms-tan lines from wearing my flip-flop sandals all the time then all I can say is, You just lost a big sale.

(LA is probably an outlier, though, because it's really true that you cannot tell someone's status here only by the usual markers.)
posted by Room 641-A at 9:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like the idea of cosplaying as your profession or ideal profession. If clothing is performative than it should be a hell of a performance. I learned a lot about male dress and style from a friend who is a very butch lesbian.

Very often I cosplay as an accountant or middle-manager. Sometimes I cosplay as a venture capitalist. Occassionally I cosplay as a college professor. Other times I cosplay as guy who works at home a lot, or a stay-at-home dad. I've been cosplaying as an active dad for a few years, too. Many of the other commenters here are cosplaying as IT nerds! It's great.

The thing that makes fashion interesting is the moving target of it all: in the professional culture of the US, you've got aspirational dress happening in various ways, and so people gradually move into and out of each others wardrobes. Tech startups start looking like warehouses, warehouse workers start dressing like ranchers, who themselves look like Wall Street types, who increasingly dress like British nobility, who are a dying breed but pretend to be musicians, who pretend to be farmers or prisoners or stockbrokers or royalty or whatever. Meanwhile ordinary folks are always trying to look like the have more or less money than they actually do.

I don't think we'll ever be wearing jumpsuits, but I could see a day when the tables are so topsy-turvy that Wall Street bros are wearing hoodies and the IT workers are wearing suits.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:16 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


You're not one of those people who claim that atheism is a religion, are you? I care about fashion to the extent that I want to like the clothes I wear. Whether you or anyone else likes my clothes, is not something I care about.

Ha. This is a very specific type of criticism that I get on the internet and only on the internet when I talk about internalized fashion rules and identity kits.

I have just about the narrowest comfort window for fashion of anyone I know because I have a very poor internalized sense for fashion rules, and as a result, I have to articulate them and experiment to find the right balance of what I can wear without inviting unwanted social assumptions. Effectively, I have a slowly evolving uniform of clothing that I can wear that doesn't cause people to interact with me funny.

If I don't consciously think about fashion rules, I will be the fifty year old woman in the grocery store who is dressed like a 12 year old boy headed to the skate park. And there are other various stereotype threats to navigate as well. The way I dress absolutely affects the way people interact with me. I don't want people to assume I'm xenophobic or socially conservative. I don't want people to think I'm trying too hard to be 'cool.' I don't want loss prevention to follow me around. I don't want that white van to stop me and ask if I need condoms or a place to sleep. All of which have happened to me at various points in my life because of the way I was dressed.

People who internalize fashion norms don't notice that stuff because it's internalized so deeply they mistake it for a default. And it's always the white, middle-class people who internalize them the most fiercely. There is no more ardent believer in fashion neutrality than the middle aged white guy in chinos and a polo shirt who has convinced himself and everyone else that the default state of the human is "middle aged, middle class, middle manager." That's why so many public school uniforms are pretty much just cosplaying that guy. (And it can't be a henley shirt, either. It has to be a polo shirt, with a collar. And despite the sole practical function of a collar being that you can pop it up to protect your neck from sunburn, you can't pop the collar without inviting ridicule, because polo shirts with popped collars are just going TOO FAR.)

But, you know, the fact that I am personally not good at fashion just makes me appreciate and respect those who are all the more. I understand how complicated an art it is, and how fraught the social rules are, and I am genuinely impressed with people who have the skills to navigate them elegantly. Particularly young women who manage to not only navigate those rules, but express themselves in creative ways, sometimes coming up with whole new looks on a daily basis.

I recently had to get a whole bunch of dental work done, so I was in my dentist's office pretty regularly for a while there, and the receptionist was awesome at fashion. Every time I went in, she was carefully and meticulously put together, with a single, cohesive look including hair, nails, clothing, jewelry, and makeup; and every time, it was different. She is a young woman, working as a receptionist, and probably not wealthy, but the sheer amount of skill and creativity she put into presentation was just amazing. Her mastery of that art is no less impressive than any other creative artist's. She's a genuinely nice, smart, interesting young woman, and she's incredibly talented with fashion. Why do we denigrate and cast fashion as a lesser skill or interest than any other social communication method, whether it's language or visual arts or music or anything else? What social frameworks go into the way we perceive people's communication through fashion vs. how we perceive their communication through language?

You cannot not communicate, no matter the medium. One of the things you can communicate is apathy and disinterest, but you can't just communicate nothing.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [73 favorites]


Paul Ryan is a real offender, but Ron Paul is also wondering around in suits that look like he bought them second hand after an offensive lineman wore them for draft night.

It's deliberate in that a lot of men, particularly those who young adulthood was in the 1990s, got the idea that "bigger size = more masculine" and decided to err on the side of "sizing up" when choosing their suits.
posted by deanc at 9:24 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting. The only reasons I ever break my specific look are when a) attending a kink community event or b) I know that I'll be in a space that is explicitly safe for different types of gender performance. Where I live, a and b usually intersect. But otherwise, despite the fact that I'd almost always rather be in long, loose tunics and leggings, I wear other things. Being perceived as respectably middle-class and straight-laced has helped me out more than once.

And if it were possible for me to do so, I'd narrow my closet down to 8-10 well-made pieces that could be versatile across seasons. The minimalism might read as my having some degree of privilege*, but it would also hide the fact that I'm usually too poor to afford a fluctuating wardrobe.

*See: Matilda Kahl
posted by Ashen at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2015


If I don't consciously think about fashion rules, I will be the fifty year old woman in the grocery store who is dressed like a 12 year old boy headed to the skate park.

That would immediately make me think you were cool.
posted by Foosnark at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, this almost invariably backfires. When I see those guys trying to "dress up" by wearing an Oxford shirt, a tie, and pleated slacks, I think, "ah. Those are the terribly dressed IT guys."

An IT person in a suit and tie is indeed sending a signal - usually it is one of the following:

* I am a mainframe dinosaur from a bygone era - capable of deep wizardry, but mostly on obsolete systems.

* I am a SAP consultant - this is going to cost you.

* I am in enterprise sales - I am not to be trusted on deadlines, cost estimates, system functionality or the time of day.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [17 favorites]


Other times I cosplay as guy who works at home a lot, or a stay-at-home dad.

As a woman who works from home I often feel like I'm cosplaying as a wealthy stay-at-home wife when I go to the gym.

I mean, there's a distinct practical reason for all of the individual items I'm wearing--a light jacket because it's chilly outside and a tank top because it's hot inside, a pair of capri leggings for the same reasons (not hot enough for shorts, not cold enough for long pants if I'm gonna be running), a pair of big sunglasses because it's sunny and I'm not wearing makeup to the gym, hair pulled back because obviously. And yet, the fact that every other woman at the gym at 11am is identically styled seems like definitely not an accident. We're "making practical choices" but we are also signaling a thing...the difference between them and me is that my signal is a lie. And also that they have really nice teeth.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


No offense taken, Rock Steady. Thanks.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Witness the closet dilemmas of the Female Science Graduate Student Who Is Teaching Today. I am at most 7 years older than the students I am teaching (and look younger), so I have to make sure that I look mature and authoritative, which today means dress slacks and a shirt (but not THAT shirt because it is too low cut, and not THAT shirt because it is too casual, and not THAT shirt because I wore it last week and have gotten comments on evaluations about how I must have a very small wardrobe). OK, so I find a shirt, but it doesn't really match my pants, so maybe I'll wear a skirt, but then I need tights because I haven't shaved my legs in a few days. What shoes? Well, normally I'd wear heels but combined with the skirt and tights maybe that's too feminine for my meeting with my advisor about a postdoc in Republic of Congo (I need to convey that I can totally handle running around a swamp forest, no problem, and don't want to bring to mind that stupid lady from Jurassic World). OK, so flats it is, but they all look ridiculous with these tights, so back to pants it is, and I guess I'll find a scarf to wear to cover the neckline on THAT low cut shirt? And now, 30 minutes later, I am ready to go.

Chura, I found this really interesting from the perspective of another Female Science Graduate Student Who Is Teaching Today... but my gender presentation is different, so I'm released from some pressure quite a bit. Like, I am kind of loud and butch despite looking my students' age, so once they realize I am the TA they usually don't need me to armor up too much to get respect... which frees me up quite a bit in the casual department. So I can get away with going "do I have to interact with students in the lab today? Okay, definitely need jeans then... no shorts, goddammit, gotta show off good PPE. And I'm teaching, so I'll throw on a cardigan over my nerd t shirt, and which shirt sends an acceptable message to the students again? Okay, that'll work, and I need close toed shoes so I can model that form of dress, so.... huh, stompy shitkicking boots or sneakers or...? Yeah, I don't have time for boots, sneakers it is, right, ready to go."

It's interesting to me how different disciplines have dramatically different expectations about what a grad student "should" look like and dress--especially while teaching. At my university, you can tell who the other evolution/ecology students are because everyone is in khaki shorts or jeans, comfortable sandals or hiking boots, and t-shirts or cardigans. The men appear to decide on their shaving schedule entirely at random, with intervals ranging from daily to "I cuts my hair and I shaves my face once every six months whether it needs it or not" to a performance art depiction of a chaotic system. On the other hand, you can tell the cell and molecular biology students because when they turn up at conference they're wearing actual business casual wear with blazers or formal button-down shirts, and I always know if the TA in the room before me is from the English or History departments because they'll be dressed in actual suits. I mean, they're trendy dandy fashion, usually, but it's nothing like what people wear in my department.

That said, the women generally dress a step more formally than the men I know, I suspect because women are more likely to not be perceived as authority figures either by undergrads or by other students and faculty. You wind up having to walk this careful line between "too formal to be a Real Biologist here" and "clearly I am an undergraduate who can be bossed around by anyone who looks at me sideways." And like I said, because I am queer and I have a less femme gender presentation and because I have a more informal discipline I get away with more than other women I know. I can get away with a t shirt and jeans forming the nucleus of my "wardrobe" because I'm borrowing the male dress code, and that's not something I know that many women in my department feel they can do.
posted by sciatrix at 9:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]



If I don't consciously think about fashion rules, I will be the fifty year old woman in the grocery store who is dressed like a 12 year old boy headed to the skate park

HAH- I am in your age cohort and have noted/wear the same thing. it is the most expedient ensemble for moving fast and getting your crap done.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Man, for two years I worked in an office (tech startup) where everyone in upper management wore a suit with no tie every day. I (one level below) would actually get heckled by the CEO when I showed up wearing a suit and tie.
posted by 256 at 9:36 AM on September 14, 2015


dressed like a 12 year old boy headed to the skate park

These days they are wearing impossibly skinny pants sagged to just below the crest of their hips which doesn't even seem possible but there you go.
posted by phunniemee at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


like leggings worn over an explosively full diaper. it is incomprehensible.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


I know at least one guy who dresses up in solidarity with his female colleagues who have to.

I hope that solidarity is dressing in dresses.

I have a policy that if an employer ever asks me to dress in a suit I will tell them I'll happily do so, bu that it must be a properly tailored custom suit - and they must pay for it.

On the OTHER hand, I found that it can be a ton of fun to show up at the job where jeans/tshirt is the dress code wearing a 3 piece suit. Outdressing everyone (including the executives) can be amusing.

Also funtimes to dress casually most of the time, but then wear a sharp suit one day and take a long lunch.
posted by el io at 9:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


although for reals, drop crotch skinny pants are the grand unifier of the human race. literally everyone no matter what your age/race/body type/gender/etc, everyone looks incredibly stupid and terrible wearing them.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:43 AM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

And doctors! Long neckties can catch a lot of germs, so a lot of men doctors wear bow ties as their neckwear.
posted by cadge at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


everyone looks incredibly stupid and terrible wearing them.

The Rules of Fashion say there is a teen somewhere pulling off that look but I haven't yet seen it.
posted by griphus at 9:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


BEYONCE looks stupid in them and she could be god emperor wearing a trash bag
posted by poffin boffin at 9:50 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is no more ardent believer in fashion neutrality than the middle aged white guy in chinos and a polo shirt who...

Since you started your comment by quoting mine and talking about it, I wonder if you think you're talking about me with this bit. It might interest you to know that I'm no longer middle-aged, and never wear chinos or polo shirts. For many years, I've favored Hawaiian shirts in short-sleeve weather, but lately I have rediscovered guyabarras, because pockets. If you're getting a message from my wearing such things, I sure hope it's enjoyable. For my part, I don't care.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:51 AM on September 14, 2015


There is definitely a way to compliment women on their clothes without coming off as creepy. I think it's contingent on just being fast. Like "love your boots!" and then on your way.

I started dressing better maybe a couple years ago now after my grandma called me a "Ragamuffin" when she saw me, so I fairly regularly get complimented on outfits these days, and there's definitely the creepy-compliment, and the sincere-compliment, and I think the sincere one is just given freely, and doesn't follow up with a weird response-expectation.

one day I was standing at a crosswalk downtown and a man came up behind me, and as he passed me on the street he was like "nice jacket, nice shoes, nice skirt, cool tattoo, nice rings." and then zoom.. he was gone. it was bizarre and very memorable.

I wish it wasn't true, but fashion totally sends signals, even if you don't want them, and even if you don't know what they are. I was getting too young of a read for a long time, until a fashionable friend of mine finally was like "it's your shoes and makeup." which I have changed, and hardly ever get mistaken for highschool anymore.

Art school was an interesting fashion experience. When I started first year, my whole class was very.. deliberate dressers, I guess. Lots of images being given through the way you dress and style yourself. by the time I graduated in 4th year, all those same people were just in jeans and tshirts every day. Part of it is getting dirty/painty/ruined, and part of it is when EVERYONE has such individualistic style, it's very unsatisfying to try to stand out when everyone stands out. So let's all just get homogeneous!
posted by euphoria066 at 9:53 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Coincidentally, this popped up on my Twitter feed yesterday:

Thomas Jefferson sometimes greeted dignitaries while wearing his PJs. On one such occasion, British minister to the United States Andrew Merry was on the receiving end of Jefferson's casual attire. He was not happy about it, writing,

"I, in my official costume, found myself at the hour of reception he had himself appointed, introduced to a man as president of the United States, not merely in an undress, but ACTUALLY STANDING IN SLIPPERS DOWN TO THE HEELS, and both pantaloons, coat and under-clothes indicative of utter slovenliness and indifference to appearances, and in a state of negligence actually studied."


Receiving guests en deshabillé was totally A Thing for upper-class eighteenth-century folk. Society beauties might have a whole coterie of male friends hanging out in her dressing room while she got ready for an event. That's why their dressing gowns and stuff were so fancy and decorated.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:55 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have to put a ton of time and money into this stuff not because I want to, but because I'm obligated to do so just to maintain a living wage and keep people being basically polite to me, and that's just wrong.

Really? It's "just wrong"? Lots of things we do professionally are done because it helps us get taken seriously, and there's nothing morally wrong with that, any more than formatting our resume into a well accepted template, using our "inside voice" while enunciating clearly when speaking to someone, and showering on a regular basis ("what's wrong with the smell of my natural musk?" I hear someone asking).

Maybe my experience is different because I was a scruffy kid who walked around in shorts and a tshirt but always knew I had to put on a suit for church or a family wedding or an interview and had to follow the business casual dress code in high school, but the idea of "dressing one way in one situation and dressing another way when the circumstances call for it" has always been pretty clear laid out and can be seen dating back to my working class and farmer grandparents and further (as far as I can tell from the photos).
posted by deanc at 9:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have a policy that if an employer ever asks me to dress in a suit I will tell them I'll happily do so, bu that it must be a properly tailored custom suit - and they must pay for it.

Now all I can think about is the time Mrs. Slocombe got fitted for her Executive Suit on Are You Being Served, at about the 21 minute mark here.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:01 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a software developer... there's something profoundly satisfying about earning a six figure salary in shorts and a t-shirt.

Eh... even in ultra-casual environments, it's possible to dress better or worse. That T shirt can either be a bargain bin item or one that really fits well, the shorts can be the wrong color for your sandals, your exposed arms can be scrawny or toned, etc. I haven't mastered the art of it myself, but some developers really manage to look credible and confident by wearing just the right casual clothes. And yes, I do believe they get a similar little boost to well-dressed people in other occupations.

Oh, and the no suits at interviews thing is totally a thing. It took me probably 5 or 6 interviews to realize that my clothes were sending all the wrong signals. A nicely-fitting button-down and clean, well-fitted jeans are more than enough for interviews in tech.
posted by miyabo at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


When I was just starting out as a consultant, I didn't have quite enough nice clothes, so I kept track of what I'd worn to visit each client so I wouldn't repeat outfits too often. Then came a good fifteen years of having both more confidence and more clothes, so I no longer worried about it. Now that I have my own company, it's casual clothes every day except when visiting clients... and I'm back to having just a few formal business outfits that pack well and trying not to wear the same thing every time.

But I no longer really care.
posted by carmicha at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the Venn of 'Grown Ass Adults in jeans and fandom shirts' and 'Grown Ass Adults with the palate of a picky 5 year old' looks like.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


god emperor wearing a trash bag

job's taken
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


You cannot not communicate, no matter the medium. One of the things you can communicate is apathy and disinterest, but you can't just communicate nothing.

Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things. So you really are just communicating your priorities.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:15 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Since you started your comment by quoting mine and talking about it, I wonder if you think you're talking about me with this bit. It might interest you to know that I'm no longer middle-aged, and never wear chinos or polo shirts. For many years, I've favored Hawaiian shirts in short-sleeve weather, but lately I have rediscovered guyabarras, because pockets. If you're getting a message from my wearing such things, I sure hope it's enjoyable. For my part, I don't care.

No, I didn't mean to directly address everything to you. I know waaaay too many middle aged middle class white guys. I am married to a 50-something, middle class white guy who 'doesn't care about fashion' pretty hard. I mean, he has a whispery-thin and nearly translucent, grotesquely tan, pocketed short sleeved button down shirt WITH EPAULETTES I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP and a hole right in the chestal area that he literally wears outside to places. It is the most aggressively "I don't care about" fashion statement I think I've ever encountered in the wild, and I demand a medal for not having already thrown it away behind his back.

He quite stridently doesn't care about fashion, so I got great joy from buying him a couple of novelty hipstery t-shirts from Threadless and then watching him never wear them outside the house. They are extremely comfortable, they are well fitting, and yet he actually cares enough about fashion that he will not even wear the laser cat shirt to mow the lawn or walk the dogs. Ha ha. FASHION PLATE.

So I mean, honestly answer for yourself: If you were given a super-functional, not just practical but TACTICAL all-weather hoody that just happened to be pink and Hello Kitty themed, would you wear that to the grocery store? How much extra would you pay for a cell phone case that did NOT have a picture of One Direction screen printed on it? I mean, and not just as a dare, but would you wear or use these things unselfconsciously and not as a joke, but out of pure practical interest? Or even just something with a designer logo or some other 'fashion-ey' element? In my experience, most people who think they "don't care about fashion" care enough to pay a little extra for things that project what they consider to be a neutral fashion stance.

And even now, I'm not directly and specifically talking about you personally, but I am extrapolating based on people I know and devious social experiments I have performed on them, often without their knowledge or permission.

PS: My son WILL wear a functional leather belt I got for like $2 because it has "DIVA" emblazoned across the back in rhinestones, but honestly, he's a little bit of a hipster, so.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2015 [41 favorites]


being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things.

Wait, I thought it was us fashionistas who were supposed to be the condescending ones? Geez.

I spend time on my self-presentation because I find it enjoyable. I don't consider it a waste of time. In fact, being good at choosing attractive and interesting clothing is how I earn a living.

Plus, if nothing else, it's a useful way to weed out people who automatically assume I'm shallow because I like clothes.

(also, for the record? I lived in jeans and t-shirts until my early 20s, and was disdainful of fashion because I hadn't figured out yet that the kinds of performative femininity I saw modeled around me weren't the best or only way to 'dress up.')
posted by nonasuch at 10:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things. So you really are just communicating your priorities.

A waste of time would be willingly spending hours and hours to look well put together and looking like you got hauled out of a trash heap on a hook.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:24 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things. So you really are just communicating your priorities.

Sort of - but what if my priority is "choose neat shoes instead of playing Candy Crush" or "collect scarves instead of living in a house where I have to do a lot of yard work"? Folks often assume that caring about clothes comes at the expense of, say, Reading Serious Books or learning new skills, but how many people who have leisure time at all really spend every moment pursuing virtuous activity? I don't, for example, watch television - so dinking around with my wardrobe really comes at the expense of marathoning Mr. Robot, while teaching a community ed course and learning plaster repair proceed unabated.

I was also going to say that caring about clothes as a hobby is one of those things that men are socialized to find dull and society is taught to find trivial, precisely because it's one of the ways that women enjoy and elaborate upon the things that are socially required of them, and because it involves some stereotypical feminine skills. If you're going to be judged, for instance, on whether you wear appropriate makeup, you might as well learn to do some fun things withe makeup.

Stereotypical male nonsense hobbies - craft beer, caring deeply about records or bicycles - get a lot more of a pass than caring about clothes....and caring deeply about bicycles has about as much relation to the healthful and practical deployment of the bicycle as caring deeply about clothes has to do with staying warm, etc.
posted by Frowner at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [56 favorites]


Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things.

I don't entirely get why people (I don't mean you specifically r317) who are generally in favor of creative endeavors think sartorial presentation is dumb and trivial
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2015 [22 favorites]


A waste of time would be willingly spending hours and hours to look well put together and looking like you got hauled out of a trash heap on a hook.

That happens all the time in fashion.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh man. I'm sort of obsessed with clothing and personal style choices right now, having recently lost enough weight to edge me out of most plus sized clothing. And because my size and budget have restricted me to shopping at Old Navy and ModCloth, my wardrobe is cheap t-shirts and tank tops, shitty jeans, and cotton dresses in prints so twee it makes my soul hurt sometimes. I don't always want to be wearing a pale blue dress covered in a white sunshine and clouds print, you know? Some days that's fine but lately I've felt like an overgrown toddler and I'm just not into it anymore.

So, now that I'm pretty much back in the top of the straight size range, there are a lot more shopping options open to me... and they're pretty much all crap. It's really dismaying. People are paying a lot more attention to me and how I look, which is at turns exciting, terrifying, and annoying as fuck, and I have no idea what I even like anymore, but all I see around me is either cheap poorly made fast-fashion crap that falls apart quickly or more expensive versions of the same crap at nicer stores that just falls apart a little bit more slowly. I know the twee stuff in my wardrobe sends a message I'm not 100% behind, but... what message do I want to send? What sort of attention do I want? How willing am I to indulge other people's need to talk about my body and what I decide to wrap it in in the morning before I leave home? Can I defend myself or run from an attacker if someone tries shit on me (a genuine concern in my neighborhood, as assaults, robberies, and rapes appear to be on the rise), or do my cute shoes prevent that?

And, having scrolled through some of this thread before posting... how much am I allowed to care about how I look before I'm judged as being a vapid little featherhead? I have big boobs and I'm sort of blondish, how does that affect the calculus here?
posted by palomar at 10:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


When I was younger (I'm 47), I used to go to the Gap and Club Monaco and shops like that and buy clothes that fit but I always felt like a lump. No matter what I wore. I'd look in the mirror and understand that the clothes were the correct size but I always felt uncomfortable, like I was wearing a size too big or a size too small. Coats felt like ponchos or they felt like straightjackets. Shoes felt like bricks. Nothing worked.

Then, a friend gave me an expensive jacket. Like, a $3000 jacket. Something I'd never in a million years think of buying because I thought, "I've worn suit jackets before and I feel like an asshole in them. Why would I pay 10 times the price the 'same' jacket costs at H&M?! I don't want to wear one anyway -- I'm not gonna pay more for something I hate."

Well, it wasn't the same jacket. It felt great. It felt like I wasn't wearing a jacket. But I looked in the mirror and it fit, unlike any piece of clothing I'd ever worn. People stopped me on the street and complimented me. Strangers touched my jacket and said nice things -- for the first time in 40+ years an unknown female commented on my clothing and it was a positive comment.

I haven't set foot in a Gap or Banana Republic since. I buy quality used clothing made by Pal Zileri, Kiton, Cucinelli, Cydwoq, Pink, Zegna, Loro Piana... Yes, they're more expensive, but they last longer. A used Cucinelli jacket can cost between $400 and $1000. A Banana Republic or Gap jacket can cost $200 - $500. When buying used, the cost difference isn't as much.

I used to not care about fashion. I still don't -- in the sense that I don't read up on it or spend much time thinking about it. But when I go shopping, I buy quality garments, not only because they look good on me, but because I feel good in them. Not psychologically, but physically. I no longer feel like a lump. I'm not frumpy. I'm far more comfortable in my Outlier Climbers, my Mister French Shirt, and my Cucinelli coat than I ever was in Gap Jeans and American Apparel t-shirt.

This isn't to say I never wear t-shirts. (I never wear jeans though). I wear them most days at work (I work retail) because I do a lot of bending and lifting and touching of dirty items and it's not practical to not wear one. But when I get home, I change into my proper clothes before heading out with the dog or to meet a friend for dinner.

I'd much rather be this guy than this guy. The former looks more comfortable to me.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 10:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


If you were given a super-functional, not just practical but TACTICAL all-weather hoody that just happened to be pink and Hello Kitty themed

Which reminds me that I have a perfectly fine HK t-shirt that I haven't worn because it's HK. It's silly that I'm not wearing it because it's HK. I mean, it's even blue, not pink!
posted by FJT at 10:32 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


You cannot not communicate, no matter the medium. One of the things you can communicate is apathy and disinterest, but you can't just communicate nothing.

Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things. So you really are just communicating your priorities.


I feel like you think you're disagreeing but actually are saying the same thing, which is that fundamentally all fashion choices communicate a thing and there's no way to not communicate a thing with your choices. Are you saying that discrepancies between intended and interpreted signal exist? Because nobody here is denying that at all. Or are you just trying to find new ways to say "y'all look dumb to me, tryhards"?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:32 AM on September 14, 2015


On the OTHER hand, I found that it can be a ton of fun to show up at the job where jeans/tshirt is the dress code wearing a 3 piece suit. Outdressing everyone (including the executives) can be amusing.
Paul Fussell, in Class, has an interesting riff on how a (specifically American) upper-class marker is to be conspicuously either under-dressed or over-dressed compared to everyone around one (the example he gives for the latter, IIRC, is wearing a three-piece suit while queuing at a hot-dog stand). Not that I'm suggesting in any way that this is your motivation, el io, but I'll cop that it's been mine in the past — under certain conditions you can look classier in a bowtie with a flagon of cheap cider in your hand than a cocktail.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


A used Cucinelli jacket can cost between $400 and $1000. A Banana Republic or Gap jacket can cost $200 - $500.

You do realize most people don't have $400 to spend on a coat, right? And you can buy a jacket at Gap for about $100 or less.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'd much rather be this guy than this guy. The former looks more comfortable to me.

That's because the former is an adult making an effort at being a put together adult. The latter is an unfashionable child and will still be one if he's dressing the same way at 40.
posted by asockpuppet at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2015


aiiieeeee the logo

it burnssssss
posted by shakespeherian at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd much rather be this guy

You mean the one wearing a bare chest and a bathrobe in public? Um, aight dude, you do you. But that's the kind of guy I give a wide, wide berth on the subway.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:40 AM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


You do realize most people don't have $400 to spend on a coat, right? And you can buy a jacket at Gap for about $100 or less.

Okay, so here's where the advent of fast fashion and stagnant wages in the developed world have combined to make our mental math about the value of clothing totally bonkers. As I said upthread, the average woman in 1940 had 1/4 the wardrobe of a woman today, and that wardrobe cost a larger percentage of her income. Average people did pay the equivalent of $400 for a coat, because they would wear that coat for the next 15 years.

Now we have vastly larger wardrobes, but they're mostly $5 t-shirts that are going to develop holes the third time you wash them.
posted by nonasuch at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


On the OTHER hand, I found that it can be a ton of fun to show up at the job where jeans/tshirt is the dress code wearing a 3 piece suit. Outdressing everyone (including the executives) can be amusing.

Not that I would recommend for anyone to work for my previous employer, but this can be a dumb bad idea.

It was at a small start up prop shop trading firm with no dress code (literally it was "please be wearing pants" and "shoes, if you'll be walking around the office, for safety reasons"). Usually people would come to interviews wearing either Traderbro Elite (well fitting dark colored pants with a non-white button up) or Traderbro Standard (clean jeans and solid color t-shirt), which are both totally safe, bland options.

But every once in a while you'd get some fucker wearing a suit, and nothing screamed "I have no idea what I'm doing here" more than wearing a suit to a place where most people don't even own, let alone wear to work, a suit. On a first interview it was really just shrugged off as someone relatively new to the job market trying to play it safe by following the rules. But if you came to a second interview wearing a suit? After you had been interviewed by someone wearing umbros? No, dude, you do not understand the culture here and do not understand the kind of job you're applying for, next applicant please. I actually heard two supervisery people discussing a candidate and saying "he wore a suit again, is he just not paying attention?" before flinging his resume unceremoniously in the bin.
posted by phunniemee at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Now we have vastly larger wardrobes, but they're mostly $5 t-shirts that are going to develop holes the third time you wash them.

Maybe you don't buy a lot of decent quality $5 shirts, but most of us do.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you are too fat to wear modern "slim fit" suits and sportcoats, do what I do and look for the "Executive Fit" label on the sleeve (called "Regal Fit" at Jos. A Bank). It used to be called "Portly", which I love to pieces, but apparently made some fellows (or more likely, some marketers) uncomfortable. You get that little bit extra to go around the burgeoning middle. Available at all fine stores (probably not Macy's though, they seem to have gone all-in on slim-fit suit separates).

A well-fitting suit or sportcoat changes your whole outlook on life, especially if you don't HAVE to wear one. Don't like a tie? Try a dashing neck scarf, a "day cravat". People will whisper about you behind your back, and I swear at least some of those whispers will be positive.
posted by Fnarf at 10:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


BEYONCE looks stupid in them and she could be god emperor wearing a trash bag
thank you for capitalizing BEYONCÉ but next time please remember the diacritical

(HAIL BEYONCÉ)
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 10:48 AM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'd much rather be this guy than this guy. The former looks more comfortable to me.

The former is handsome and well-lit by gorgeous sunlight and the latter is a tween staring at the camera like he's testing to be a stock photo for a cereal box
posted by Greg Nog at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. It is not a mysterious surprise that people have wildly varying opinions about fashion and dress along multiple vectors, so maybe let's try and aim for "here is a substantial thought about my personal experiences/perspective/etc about this in my life/work/whatever" and less "no u".]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


If you are too fat to wear modern "slim fit" suits and sportcoats, do what I do and look for the "Executive Fit" label on the sleeve (called "Regal Fit" at Jos. A Bank). It used to be called "Portly", which I love to pieces, but apparently made some fellows (or more likely, some marketers) uncomfortable.

I wear a lot of Brooks Brothers shirts, initially because my wife's family purchased them for me, and eventually because I've been happy with the ones I have, I know exactly how they'll fit me, and they're something I can afford on my salary if I wait for sales.

The thing is, I'm decently heavy (probably 20 pounds over weight by BMI), I wear their "slim fit"* shirt size, because the market for Books Brothers is largely older conservative men, many of whom are ample. Looking for suit makers who market to that demographic (especially American men) can also work, is what I'm saying.

*Or I used to. Now I wear "Madison" in shirts, which is what used to be slim, but the same name is used for what used to be "a giant sheet of wool suitable for use as an emergency shelter for a family" in suits and coats. Marketing is confusing and terrible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe you don't buy a lot of decent quality $5 shirts, but most of us do.

Really? I mean, I can make them last because I wash cold on the delicate cycle and line-dry like it's my religion, but I sell clothing for a living and one my most frequently-heard complaints is that cheap fast-fashion stuff, especially the knits, starts disintegrating within half-a-dozen wears. Buttons fall off, seams unravel, pinholes appear spontaneously and sweaters pill.

...wait, you're not talking about, like, Hanes cotton t-shirts bought by the pack, aren't you? Because those aren't actually cut to comfortably fit the bodies of many, if not most, women, and they're certainly not work-appropriate for many people.
posted by nonasuch at 10:58 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


My cotton $5 Old Navy/Gap shirts that I buy on clearance normally last a few years.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2015


I will attest to the awesomeness of $5 Old Navy t-shirts. Not only have I had this latest bunch since 2013, I washed them on a washboard once a week for about 14 months and - though they're getting disconcertingly see-through - they are all still wearable (with a normal colored bra and maybe a cardigan on top)!
posted by ChuraChura at 11:05 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. Keep in mind that men's clothing has not suffered quite the precipitous drop in quality that women's has, especially in the last few years with the price of cotton going up.

Also, literally the day before yesterday I got to handle a linen sailor suit and satin beaded dress from 1918 that both looked basically brand new, so it's possible my standards are too high.
posted by nonasuch at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd much rather be this guy than this guy. The former looks more comfortable to me.

It's a trick: they're the same person.

The second photo captures Joey Quinlan in 1998, just one week before he was arrested for a murder he did not commit. The other picture catches up with him fifteen years later, after he escaped from prison, changed his name to "Ignazio Mezzanote," and consecrated his existence to the twin gods of vengeance and insouciance.
posted by Iridic at 11:08 AM on September 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


If you are too fat to wear modern "slim fit" suits and sportcoats, do what I do and look for the "Executive Fit" label on the sleeve (called "Regal Fit" at Jos. A Bank).

I was buying shirts at some generic non-hip multinational chain store (Marks and Spencer I think?) some time ago, and they had shirts labeled "slim fit" and "urban fit". I'm sure there's a cringe-inducing reason why they thought this wording was a good idea, but I can't figure out what it might be.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:14 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's a cringe-inducing reason why they thought this wording was a good idea, but I can't figure out what it might be.

Not sure if you are being sarcastic? Urban is code for Black.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:16 AM on September 14, 2015


It's a trick: they're the same person.

Which one is taller? Most people say "the one on the right!" But guess again: These two men are actually brothers. The doctor is - you guessed it - the mom
posted by Greg Nog at 11:18 AM on September 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


But that's the kind of guy I give a wide, wide berth on the subway.

Well if he gets his own personal space instead of being packed ass to elbows on public transit you can be damn well sure he's more comfortable.

It checks out.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm wearing the same v-neck ribbed knit Old Navy tops I bought in 2008. I love pairing them with swushy, colorful skirts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:21 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


People, BUTTON-DOWN is a kind of collar (the kind that has buttons and looks ridiculous with a tie) the shirt that has buttons going up the middle is a BUTTON-UP. They come in a variety of styles, colors, etc.

Yes an button-up can have button-down collars.
posted by oddman at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


One tragedy of casual-everywhere is that it is no longer possible, even at the opera, for a man to wear a tuxedo in public without having people come up to him all night and ordering drinks. At least not in the fleecy hell of Seattle.
posted by Fnarf at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


You mean the one wearing a bare chest and a bathrobe in public?

I've done the 'bare chest' half of this on a hot day and it was great.
posted by griphus at 11:23 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes an button-up can have button-down collars.

I think the conflation comes partly from the fact that very few non-button ups have button down collars. This is fine, button down polos aren't really a thing the world needs, but it can be confusing.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2015


oddman: "People, BUTTON-DOWN is a kind of collar (the kind that has buttons and looks ridiculous with a tie) the shirt that has buttons going up the middle is a BUTTON-UP. They come in a variety of styles, colors, etc. "

This begs the question of what kind of shirt do you wear?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:28 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"what kind of shirt do you wear"

It depends on the occasion, of course.

(One wears button-up shirts, with or without button-down collars. Is that what you meant?)
posted by oddman at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2015


Wait, was that a Major Tom reference?
posted by oddman at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well if he gets his own personal space instead of being packed ass to elbows on public transit you can be damn well sure he's more comfortable.

I've done the 'bare chest' half of this on a hot day and it was great.

I mean there's no question he is more comfortable, he is half-naked in a bathrobe. What confuses me is the circumstances under which the outfit signals "proper clothes" moreso than "deeply eccentric and sheds more chest hair into his food than one generally expects"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


What happens when you wear a buttoned down collar and unbutton both collar buttons?
posted by FJT at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sprezzatura?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:38 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


What happens when you wear a buttoned down collar and unbutton both collar buttons?
posted by oddman at 11:40 AM on September 14, 2015


Bowtie? The only humans who wear bowties are clowns and TV weathermen.

Bowties are cool.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


What confuses me is the circumstances under which the outfit signals "proper clothes"

I'm squinting and I think there's a really, really deep V-neck under all of that.

It actually reminds me of this dude I saw on the subway and he was very tan with very thick, tangled dreads stacked on his head and jeans covered in holes and kind of a shitty, poorly-fitting shirt and I couldn't tell if he was very wealthy or very poor and then I realized he was wearing Diesel sneakers and had a leather knapsack that couldn't have cost less than $500.
posted by griphus at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


you cannot un-Tucker-Carlson the bowtie, sorry
posted by indubitable at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Tucker Carlson stopped wearing bow ties a while ago, allegedly because people were abusing him in public for wearing them (and not oddly enough for being Tucker Carlson). He stole that affectation from George Will anyway.

I'd like to wear bow ties, but I don't want to be the "bow tie guy" so I don't. It's just not something you can wear every now and then unfortunately. They also tend to look like they were tied by the a creature without opposable thumbs when I've tried.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:50 AM on September 14, 2015


John Malloy wrote books on Dressing for Success. He gave up writing the version for women because it's a rapidly moving target. The clothes you wear send a message, whether you consciously choose the message or not. And many people can't afford to send an intentional message.

I'm wearing navy blue shorts, a patterned long sleeve tee, fake Toms and a fleece pullover. Not a work day.

I will only rarely wear clothing that I can't move well in. That includes shoes, so only very low heels.

For work, I try to have clothes that are Column A (tops), Column B (pants or skirt) and where most of the A & B items go together, and I can throw on a loose jacket or sweater for comfort, maybe a scarf. I just want to be able to get dressed fast, and I am not a morning person. This isn't easy for women; the popular color palette changes, and I can't mix things or, worse, the popular clothing is shaped and cut in a way that is unflattering or that I don't like. So much simpler for men, and a lot less expensive.

I'm job-hunting and totally confused about what to wear for interviews, but it turns out that my obvious age says the most.
posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I care about clothing and sartorial presentation etc., but it doesn't matter much since I am fat and broke right now so all my clothes send the message "this person is fat and broke and wears whatever is cheap and fits."
posted by thetortoise at 12:00 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


palomar: I have no idea what I even like anymore, but all I see around me is either cheap poorly made fast-fashion crap that falls apart quickly or more expensive versions of the same crap at nicer stores that just falls apart a little bit more slowly.

Have you tried looking online?

I'm pretty fat and I also like Renaissance Faire style clothing with embroidery and drips and drabs, and I get 90% of my clothing through a single store which covers every size from XXS to 6X. It's sort of amazing. There are a bunch of similarly niche store options, and you might want to check them out and make a list of what you find attractive, and then see about trying some to see what you like to wear. When I'm exploring new ground, I tend to make a browser folder with the theme and then collect whatever I find on searches (I have a new house I'm fitting up, so right now there are a lot of curtain findings and suchlike).

Checking out Sartorial blogs or pinterest can be a good way of getting ideas, too, and often include contextual clues as to how the person wants to be perceived or how the viewer is perceiving the person. Shows like Project Runway offer a similar service.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:01 PM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm a cis white male academic. It's my privilege to be able to wake up every morning and decide on my wardrobe while packing my pannier, before I even turn on the room light.

Seems to me this should be an option for everyone whose job doesn't, for some kind of legitimate reason, demand uniformity or formality. Seems to me this should be treated as an equity issue.
posted by gurple at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


You do realize most people don't have $400 to spend on a coat, right?

You do realize that some of us live in places with long winters and $400 on the right coat is a good "investment" as they say. I mean, I've never spent over $300, but $400 is far from unreasonable.
posted by maryr at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2015 [9 favorites]


I think a lot of the disconnect people are experiencing is because fashion is so much about the subtleties of how people treat you, so if you can pass as unremarkable without much feedback then you have the luxury of not caring and dismissing clothing as something which should be unremarkable because you are unmarked. Certain categories of people have less of that luxury, and for some dress may literally be a life-or-death situation, and those categories tend to be the lower privileged people in a given situation.

I think a lot of the "I don't care about fashion" pushback is actually a pushback against this gaze - against the right of other people to judge you at all - and thus skews toward privilege. Part of being privileged is feeling as if one is an individual who should be judged based on ones essential nature, not any superficial issues of dress or deportment.

Lesser privileged people know we're judged no matter what, and that additionally our clothing will be used to justify what others do to us. Women are often blamed for "attracting" harassment and even rape due to clothing choices. Casual and comfortale clothing is used for a justification of reading black men as a "thug" and thus a threat that needs to be reacted to with lethal force. A lot of the conversation about the butch versus femme appearance within the LGBTAQ community is about clothing, presentation, and risk.

A lot of this thought gets dismissed as simply self-expression, however, and additionally as shallow, frivolous, or unnecessary by the people least likely to be judged based on clothing. This is typical, but I really wish it would happen less.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:10 PM on September 14, 2015 [49 favorites]


". I'd look in the mirror and understand that the clothes were the correct size but I always felt uncomfortable, like I was wearing a size too big or a size too small."

Could it have been the size though? Different companies measure things differently. Or was it the cut?
posted by I-baLL at 12:22 PM on September 14, 2015


Maybe you don't buy a lot of decent quality $5 shirts, but most of us do.

Where??? Decent quality to me equals something that won't pill, become rough, misshapen, or get holes in a year's time. Something that is well fitting and not a lumpy thoughtless mess on my body. Not to mention there's the whole slave child labor thing, as well. Though I know terrible garment industry practices run the gamut of crappy Old Navy clothing all the way up to high end clothing. But you KNOW child labor is used in the production of Old Navy and the GAP.

Admission: I get Alexander Wang tees and tanks for 25 bucks a pop at the local Nordstrom Rack (Slub Classic Muscle Tee, to be precise). These things - plain black and grey fabrics - run about 80 to 90 bucks retail. Insane, right? But goddamn if they're not the best 25 bucks I've spent on clothing. They look and feel amazing even after owning them for a couple years.
posted by Windigo at 12:28 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, ON $5 shirts are serviceable but they're junk after a year's wear. The newer ones (within the past 5 years or so) are see through within a couple of months. I have ones that are 10 years old that are in better condition than the newer ones. They're not a shirt that I can say "this is the sole thing covering the top of my body today" unless I want Nipplefest2015 on 14th street. They're for wearing under sweaters in the fall & winter.

see also american apparel
posted by poffin boffin at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


You do realize that some of us live in places with long winters and $400 on the right coat is a good "investment" as they say. I mean, I've never spent over $300, but $400 is far from unreasonable.

I am a lover of coats and I break down coats into their per diem cost. Chicago conservatively has, what, 4 months of proper coat wearing winter? OK, so that's 30x4, 120 days, plus let's say an extra 10 for the lousy Smarch weather and the inevitable "what the fuck, April?" So 130 days per year I'm going to be in a coat. If you're buying at the end of the season, you can get some really excellent coats in the sub-$300 range. Works out to about a dollar a day over two seasons to be warm and look fly as hell. Sounds good to me. And most good coats will last you long past that, so you're in one of those "for just pennies a day" situations.
posted by phunniemee at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have recently discovered that teeshirts last longer if you own more than one at a time.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:40 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Alton Brown says bowties are cool, so there is that.
posted by COD at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2015


I think a lot of the "I don't care about fashion" pushback is actually a pushback against this gaze - against the right of other people to judge you at all - and thus skews toward privilege. Part of being privileged is feeling as if one is an individual who should be judged based on ones essential nature, not any superficial issues of dress or deportment.

I definitely think there's a lot of truth in what you're saying, but I think you're conflating ignorance of the extent to which clothes are used as social signaling (which tends to be conferred by certain kinds of privilege) with pushback against the fashion industry and media-produced anxieties about dressing the "right" way and keeping up classwise. I see some of both happening in this conversation, as with most conversations about fashion.

I mean, for whatever it's worth, I don't think I fall on the more privileged side here, since I've been harassed plenty for my gender presentation, especially when living in more conservative areas. But I completely understand where the "fuck fashion, can't I just wear whatever and not be judged" folks are coming from, because my weight fluctuates a lot and it seems like I have little control over what I can wear. Some of us realize we will never be seen as "neutral" no matter how we dress, but we still long for the possibility.
posted by thetortoise at 12:44 PM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I wear a bow tie to parties occasionally but it takes me an hour of watching YouTube videos and cursing loudly before I can get the damn thing tied correctly.
posted by octothorpe at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's interesting - and I did the same thing, myself - that those of us in the thread who admit to liking higher-end fabrics and caring about fashion make a point to talk about how we don't pay retail. Because...why? We worry we'd be seen as shallow? Wasteful? It's only OK as long as we're going out of our way to get a bargain?
posted by Windigo at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


Nipplefest2015 on 14th street.

I'm in.
posted by griphus at 12:46 PM on September 14, 2015


you and your low cut freddie mercury tank tops are already headlining this festival
posted by poffin boffin at 12:48 PM on September 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


Well, maybe, but to me, being that well "put together" suggests a waste of time to me when you could be doing other things.

That's kind of funny, because when I see someone in an aggressively don't-care-about-fashion ensemble, to me it suggests that this person is more likely to be kind of Puritanical and to have a kind of holier-than-thou attitude about people who they perceive as insufficiently practical. I'm certainly not getting disabused of that association reading this thread.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: Tucker Carlson stopped wearing bow ties a while ago, allegedly because people were abusing him in public for wearing them
Well, for a start, if these aren't ready-made bowties, I'll eat my... bowtie, I guess.

In 2007, after leaving a job that required me to wear a tie in tropical heat, and considering more generally that wearing a tie had marked me as a man whose destiny was not my own (look, I was a rebellious twentysomething), I vowed that I would never wear a tie again. When I started being invited to weddings a few years later, this was problematic, as wearing a suit without a tie in Ireland generally suggests that you are on your way to audition for Westlife. I decided that a bowtie was an acceptable compromise and now wear one with pride when I'm in a position where a suit is called for but want to avoid having to cover "Mandy" during the reception.

Now, fair enough, over here the bowtie doesn't have the same conservative-political-commenter associations as in the US, but isn't that all the more reason to reclaim it? Furthermore, a properly-tied bowtie ought to look organic, flowering, barely contained.

Otherwise I might look like a fogeyish try-hard, which God forbid, obviously.
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2015


I confess I am making more of an effort to set aside money to buy quality clothing that looks comfortable yet stylish to me. I am also trying to find more ethical companies which to buy from. It does take a chunk of money to squirrel away for things, though.
posted by Kitteh at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


As others have mentioned upthread, it's a lot easier to "not care about fashion" if you're -- not to put too fine a point on it -- young and thin. A 21-year-old at Starbucks wearing yoga pants, an oversized sweatshirt, and flipflops with her hair up in a scrunchie looks like a student who has better things to do than coordinate her outfit. Fat 40-year-old me? I look homeless.

My husband isn't young any more, on the other hand, though he is reasonably fit. But the way he "shops for clothes" is to text me "hey, if you're going to Costco, I need more shirts" and then I go to Costco and get him four shirts of the variety I know he will wear (button-ups in solid blue, or blue and white stripes, or VERY OCCASIONALLY some shade of green or grey) and then he's happy. He literally buys clothes the same way he buys peanut butter. I just can't do that. For one thing, Costco doesn't have a giant cube of women's work-appropriate shirts in twenty-eight different size options in the middle of the store.
posted by KathrynT at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2015 [28 favorites]


John Malloy wrote books on Dressing for Success. He gave up writing the version for women because it's a rapidly moving target.

If you're ever able to read the first edition of The Woman's Dress for Success Book it's fascinating from a sociological standpoint. Malloy did psychological/market/feedback research on male executives to get their detailed emotional responses to women's clothing choices--blue blouse or yellow blouse? Yellow blouse with a round collar or yellow turtleneck? And he didn't just focus on what made women seem powerful, businesslike, and responsible--most of his work is onwhat evoked hostility in these male executives. For example:
To drive home the point that you must take care when you combine suits and blouses [...] with the gray suit...

a white blouse gives you very high authority, a high status rating, and a business executive image without offending even 1 percent of the male executive population

a black blouse increses your authority so much that you offend 15 percent to 20 percent of the executive population...
If you don't think clothing messages are a highly delicate balancing act for some folks, think again...
posted by Hypatia at 12:56 PM on September 14, 2015 [34 favorites]


An IT person in a suit and tie is indeed sending a signal - usually it is one of the following:

* I am a mainframe dinosaur from a bygone era - capable of deep wizardry, but mostly on obsolete systems.


My father has some great photos of himself and his coworkers from back in the early computer mainframe days when they stripped down to their boxers, undershirts and black socks (with sock garters!) and went and hunted down faulty vacuum tubes.

Underdressing for actually doing IT work has a long history.
posted by srboisvert at 12:57 PM on September 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


This thread is totally fascinating - more so than the article, which I find problematic in some ways. The thread demonstrates that there are specific American interpretations of formal and casual that are completely different from those in Asia and Europe (I think I could add more parts of the world, but hate to make assumptions about things I haven't personally experienced).
Untill an hour ago, I'd be the European saying that Americans are always more casual than others. But this thread has alerted me to something I also observed in the US when I lived there, but didn't really analyze: there are a number of jobs where formal is required and that "business casual" is a formal category onto itself. Flip-flops and a sundress are not business casual. At all. Flip-flops and a sundress are totally what I would wear to work if the weather demanded it. But at the same time, both American formal and American casual are incomprehensible to me.

This really confused me when I was in the US, because in my (European) eyes, sometimes the professor would be dressed in something more suitable for a Polish field-worker, in terms of quality, but was defined as "professional". And on the other hand, you had all this expensive luxury leisure wear, which was hard to define from a European point of view, but was completely unacceptable because of something race.

For me, the take-down is that it is relevant to be very specific when you talk about dress-codes, because it may mean different things to different people. And some people might be meeting unnecessary criticism because they don't get the code.

For a lighter take on everything, for years, I've been trying to convince my alternating bosses that we need to have lab-coats with logos. I'd love to wear a lab-coat every day all day, because it has pockets for all the stuff I carry around (I move around a lot at my job). My new boss is a textile designer, and you might think that textile designers are much into fashion - and they are. In their own strange ways. But they also wear lab-coats much of the time, because they work with chemicals. So I might finally be getting my way.

Another fun fact from working at an art academy where everyone is preoccupied with aesthetics: being conscious about your appearance can mean a lot of different things, and one of the many joys of graduation day is that every class has their own style: Gamer-people are always slightly overweight and wear fan-shirts. Fashion people are always incredibly radical in style. Textile people look like very gentle biological farmers. Architects heading for the creative, competition sections are dressed in black and wear incredibly expensive clothes for students. Architects heading for the tech-jobs look like the gamers but a lot slimmer. Industrial designers look like marathon runners. Ceramicists are even dirty on graduation day, I kid you not.

Right now, I am in pajama pants and a hoodie, but at work I wore a formal, dry-cleaner type dress and shoes. I hate shoes. I have international students, and some of them would be too confused by a professor in pajama pants and slippers.
posted by mumimor at 1:05 PM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


most of his work is onwhat evoked hostility in these male executives

I want to know more about which items of women's clothing make men angry.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2015 [27 favorites]


I want to know more about which items of women's clothing make men angry.

idk but I can tell you from personal experience that wearing purple tights with rainbow unicorn socks and doc martens can make certain kinds of men not talk to you at all, which has a utility all its own.
posted by phunniemee at 1:10 PM on September 14, 2015 [24 favorites]


poffin boffin: "I want to know more about which items of women's clothing make men angry."

So that in two weeks or so she can open her new boutique, RageClothing.com. Motto: Eye-Fuck the Patriarchy!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:12 PM on September 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


I wonder what the Venn of 'Grown Ass Adults in jeans and fandom shirts' and 'Grown Ass Adults with the palate of a picky 5 year old' looks like.
posted by asockpuppet


Jesus, talk about a hackneyed stereotype. Next time there's a meetup at an interesting restaurant I'll wear my top hat and spats, too.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Part of being privileged is feeling as if one is an individual who should be judged based on ones essential nature, not any superficial issues of dress or deportment.

This is true. But it gets turned around as well when said unprivileged person who mentions he owns a suit in the correct size received retorts of "you are just a privileged popinjay!"
posted by deanc at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've got in the habit of wearing standard software developer uniform, which in my neck of the woods involves short hair, jeans, a plaid shirt and oxfords. In the office, this is a neutral clothing option which is utterly unremarkable and nobody seems to think twice about it. It successfully communicates "software developer", in that no guests have ever mistaken me for the admin staff or a graphic designer (luckily).

I only have to go about five feet outside the office for my exact same uniform to become an extremely NON-neutral option. Outside the office, it very clearly communicates "lesbian", a fact which I'm sometimes informed of by passing youths.
posted by emilyw at 1:21 PM on September 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm in the centre of a Venn Diagram between the circles of 1) wanting to be fashion conscious, 2) being of a non-standard body type, and 3) not able to afford bespoke clothing.

There is stuff on the rack that looks good, but I went a long time in baggy pants with too much ankle showing and in billowy button ups with the shoulder seam halfway down my upper arm or with what I refer to as gorilla arms, with my cuff ending inches short of my wrists. I've learned to compromise and do things like buy shirts that fit my torso and have permanently rolled up sleeves.

The slim trend in menswear has been to my benefit (skinny teenage me would have really pulled off skinny jeans and v-neck t's) but I still suffer from the fact that big and tall sizing is most often big AND tall. And I'm not. I spent an afternoon with a salesperson in a major department store trying on every brand in the dress shirt department and not a single one truly fit.

European brands do a little better by me. I still have to slog through trying things on at H&M or Topman, but at least I know going in that something SHOULD fit me. The Scandinavian brands at the department store are just out of my price range but I'm guessing they're my best bet.

For many of us, fashion is compromise. I'm jealous of the tales above about just grabbing a shirt for someone else at Costo or Old Navy. Not that I want someone else to be doing my shopping for me. I'm jealous that there are clothes out there that just fits other people, because it doesn't work that way for me.
posted by thecjm at 1:22 PM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've also noticed that kind of fashion double-bind other people in the sciences were talking about. You can dress for the approval of the Very Serious People (usually straight men) who think that paying any attention to appearances is a sign of being a frivolous, insufficiently rigorous time-waster who doesn't belong in the sciences, or, for example, you can dress to feel attractive to other queer men, but it's difficult to satisfy both of those objectives at once. Also, in my experience, merely "dressing for comfort" isn't actually enough to satisfy the first goal -- instead it has to be sort of an occlusive, drab style of comfort. I suspect this is because not only is drawing attention to your appearance frivolous and therefore unbecoming of a serious STEMlord, but it's also effeminate because showy and/or revealing clothes might invite someone to look at you, and ornamentation is supposed to be (in patriarchical terms) a "female" role. Thus, it's anathema for hegemonically straight men to dress to be looked at (even worse, what if one of those people looking at you were another man?!?). Because of undercurrents like this, I am strongly inclined to distrust the argument that fashion refuseniks merely have more important things on their mind.

This is all sort of orthogonal to the casual vs. formal axis, though: a male STEMlord can wear a suit if required to, as long as it doesn't fit (that would call attention to his body; worse, that might reveal that he intentionally wanted to call attention to his body).
posted by en forme de poire at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2015 [19 favorites]


I want to say in this thread also how much I appreciate that generation of tumblr kids who are super into their dress sense and interrogating every kind of gender norm. Thanks to their work, in a couple of years I've gone from thinking of myself as a fat middle-aged butch who wears whatever isn't dirty and is the stand-in for "unstylish" in the media to thinking of myself as a raffish genderqueer dandy. Keep on truckin', tumblr kids, you liberate us all.
posted by thetortoise at 1:31 PM on September 14, 2015 [26 favorites]


I'm about to head out for Rosh Hashanah dinner with the family, but before I go, this struck me as funny: I spent the morning unloading vintage clothes from the back seat of my car, all formerly the property of a woman who started collecting vintage in the 70s when she first moved to DC. She appears to have had really, really specific taste: if she liked something, she'd just keep buying it. So I have unpacked, among other things, a heap of solid-color rayon 40s dresses in navy and black and maroon, a big bag of knit v-neck wool pullovers, three pairs of jodphurs, and an entire box of Boy Scout uniform pants.

Meanwhile, I am surveying my own closet in dismay, because despite owning literally a hundred dresses (not counting shop stock) I am not sure I have even one that won't make my mother make That Face. Although I do have enough blue 1950s shirtdresses to outfit a small army.
posted by nonasuch at 1:33 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do think sometimes in these discussions when we talk about "comfort," there's a sort of slippage where it's not clear whether we're really just talking about just clothes being comfortable, or whether we're actually talking about a concept with a moral dimension that is maybe closer to "modesty." Clothes that flatter the body and that may even be revealing can also be very comfortable, for example, and there are a range of styles of casual comfortable clothes at any given price point (though, of course, fewer for many body types). But often when I've heard people talking about dressing for comfort, that's not all they seem to mean: instead, they seem to mean choosing clothes that are not only comfortable but also identify them as placing a low value on aesthetics, personal appearance, and anything coded as "frivolous." (Sometimes that list of non-valued activities also seems to include sex and in particular inviting sexual attention, as I mentioned above talking about men in science.)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:52 PM on September 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


A waste of time would be willingly spending hours and hours to look well put together and looking like you got hauled out of a trash heap on a hook.

You leave Vivienne Westwood out of this.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:54 PM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm a woman in the sciences and I dress terribly. Not that I don't want to dress better. I'm quite sure that people are constantly judging me as too feminine or not feminine enough, lacking seriousness or professionalism, just as other women in the sciences report. But I'm not savvy enough to figure out which clothes are sending which signals, so I carry on wearing slacks and rumpled blouses and clogs every day (god I love/hate my clogs, but at any rate I can't seem to give them up, so far. They are indestructible and terribly comfortable and so easy to slip on and off at need. Which is a lot because I walk and take shortcuts and get my shoes dirty.) And no one says anything, but who knows how much further my career would be if I had the time and knowledge and money to dress well? (And further in what direction?)

Anyway, besides a general lack of knowledge/confidence in terms of knowing what looks good on me, and lack of the time/commitment/money to acquire and take care of nice things, and the terrible self-consciousness which afflicts me whenever I dress differently than my normal mode, there is one other big obstacle standing in the way of me looking like an "after" picture instead of a "before" picture.

When I spend a noticeable amount of money on something "fancy" (even if I can afford it) I feel like I am turning into some stereotypical rich person, like the kind of person who would've worn fur coats a couple of generations ago, who has servants and goes to gallery openings and has opinions about wine. I know that this is not the signal I want to send. But I don't know how to be a thirty-something not-particulary-skinny woman who cares about how she dresses without sending that signal. That's what pretty much all the clothes that aren't jeans look like to me, now that I am not a kid anymore. (And pretty much all jeans just look like mom jeans on me, now that I'm a mom.)

What other identities are available to me? I wish someone could just tell me what mid-priced brand would signal what I want to signal, which is more or less "Professional scientist in corporate R&D. Wants to be read as a woman, but feels self conscious in a skirt when there are no other women around wearing skirts. Likes the outdoors and doesn't like ironing." Then I would just buy all my clothes from that store and be happy. Any suggestions? Bonus if it's a brick-and-motor store you can find in malls, so that I can try stuff on.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:35 PM on September 14, 2015


Leaving work settings to one side, I think some of it is people (Canadians, anyway, can't speak to US practices) seeing public space as an extension of private space. Like it's completely acceptable to roll out of bed in yoga pants and go right to the coffee shop, grocery store, etc. I see that much more often in the suburbs, where there isn't much of a sense of 1) community or 2) occasion. What some of them seem to be saying imo is "I don't need to see anyone other than me / You don't exist". Whereas in cities, people tend to make somewhat more of an effort - they recognize that an audience is present, and have specific things to say to them.

(I love everything about clothing, and enjoy seeing people express themselves with deliberate choices. I almost don't care what they're saying, as long as it's considered.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:39 PM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think a lot of the "I don't care about fashion" pushback is actually a pushback against this gaze - against the right of other people to judge you at all - and thus skews toward privilege. Part of being privileged is feeling as if one is an individual who should be judged based on ones essential nature, not any superficial issues of dress or deportment.

Lesser privileged people know we're judged no matter what, and that additionally our clothing will be used to justify what others do to us. Women are often blamed for "attracting" harassment and even rape due to clothing choices. Casual and comfortale clothing is used for a justification of reading black men as a "thug" and thus a threat that needs to be reacted to with lethal force. A lot of the conversation about the butch versus femme appearance within the LGBTAQ community is about clothing, presentation, and risk.

A lot of this thought gets dismissed as simply self-expression, however, and additionally as shallow, frivolous, or unnecessary by the people least likely to be judged based on clothing. This is typical, but I really wish it would happen less.


What I don't get is how to square this acknowledgement of all the injustices perpetrated in the way people are judged and treated unfairly because of what they wear with the celebration of fashion as an art of self-expression.

I wish I could enjoy the skill and artistry of people who play the fashion game well without being part of a system that punishes people for not playing well a game they may not want to play at all. I wouldn't want to be critical or dismissive of, for instance, women who put time into clothes and makeup, since they will likely be punished if they don't. But it's hard for me to enjoy or praise someone for doing fashion well when there is that element of coercion in their participation, and when I know of the unfair consequences for those who are unable to do it well (because they lack the time or money or awareness or skill).
posted by straight at 2:42 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not impressed by labels (whether haute couture or street fashion), and I don't understand why I'm supposed to be. (I actually remove brand labels from my clothing, and I won't buy clothing with a logo that can't be removed.)

Cayce Pollard, is that you?

One of my favorite parts of Pattern Recognition was William Gibson's tidy characterization of Cayce Pollard vis a vis her wardrobe, and his explanation of her wardrobe:
CPUs for the meeting, reflected in the window of a Soho specialist in mod paraphernalia, are a fresh Fruit T-shirt, her black Buzz Rickson’s MA-1, anonymous black skirt from a Tulsa thrift, the black leggings she’d worn for Pilates, black Harajuku schoolgirl shoes. Her purse-analog is an envelope of black East German laminate, purchased on eBay if not actual Stasi-issue then well in the ballpark.

She sees her own gray eyes, pale in the glass, and beyond them Ben Sherman shirts and fishtail parkas, cufflinks in the form of the RAF roundel that marked the wings of Spitfires.

CPUs. Cayce Pollard Units. That’s what Damien calls the clothing she wears. CPUs are either black, white, or gray, and ideally seem to have come into this world without human intervention.

What people take for relentless minimalism is a side effect of too much exposure to the reactor-cores of fashion. This has resulted in a remorseless paring-down of what she can and will wear. She is, literally, allergic to fashion. She can only tolerate things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000. She’s a design-free zone, a one-woman school of anti whose very austerity periodically threatens to spawn its own cult.
I have always enjoyed how Gibson defines his characters by their relationship to consumer goods; as a young woman, this approach was my gateway into figuring out what my own relationship to the material world was going to be, and what sort of feedback loop would exist between my values and my belongings.
posted by sobell at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2015 [11 favorites]


What I don't get is how to square this acknowledgement of all the injustices perpetrated in the way people are judged and treated unfairly because of what they wear with the celebration of fashion as an art of self-expression.

I've been trying to figure out which bit of Foucault's gets into it (is it The History of Sexuality?) but the idea I think might be relevant is along the lines of "our pleasures are shaped by our constraints".

(Also, arguably, or maybe just for some, there's simple sensory gratification offered by texture, colour, pattern, etc. And as far as fashion or style goes, before you even get into identity stuff and larger meanings, there's something pleasing about crude difference and change. It can just be play [if you're allowed room for it and have the money. Or the time, to go hunting for vintage and second-hand stuff and fixing it].)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd be way more into fashion if it weren't for the artificial limitations put on it by social expectations. I find most modern clothing to be entirely bland and homogeneous, which makes it difficult for me to care about it. Even outside of a professional environment, the accepted "casual" uniform is usually "jeans and a tshirt or blouse". I primarily wear jeans and tshirt and look pretty shabby, but I'm effectively rendered invisible which has been fine by me so far. Would people treat me better if I were to dress in a more femme way? Possibly.

My desired aesthetic is somewhat like "post apocalyptic forest elf" (natural colors! organic shapes!), but all I can do is stare at the cool stuff I find on Tumblr and Etsy, knowing that even if I were to buy or make something like that, and even if it were flattering (a high bar itself if you're overweight), I wouldn't be able to wear it anywhere other than conventions and festivals because it's so off the wall from the norm that I'd be mocked mercilessly for "cosplaying" every day. (Hey, you're early for halloween! hyuck!)

I may end up doing it anyway someday if only out of sheer spite, but I'm self-conscious enough to start with, and painting a giant LOOK AT ME target on my back is offputting, even if it does limit my self-expression.
posted by Feyala at 2:56 PM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Feyala, I feel you that it's a lot of work and you don't want to deal with people's bullshit, but "post apocalyptic forest elf" is the best thing I've ever heard.
posted by thetortoise at 3:08 PM on September 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Like it's completely acceptable to roll out of bed in yoga pants and go right to the coffee shop, grocery store, etc.

honestly the only thing wrong with this is that it is totally disgusting to wear your outside clothes inside your bed. really it's just SUPER UGH to wear your outside clothes inside your house, period, but i acknowledge that this is both a me thing and a living in a big filthy city thing.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:10 PM on September 14, 2015 [8 favorites]


I went to Catholic school for many years. My clothing choices were always decided for me. Now that I'm an adult in my mid-20s I'm only now beginning to develop my own sense of what to wear, and I realize that I was on sartorial auto-pilot for quite a long time.
posted by DrAmerica at 3:12 PM on September 14, 2015


I'd be curious to hear from other MeFites in this thread who went to Catholic schools (or any schools with uniforms) how that has affected your fashion sense.
posted by DrAmerica at 3:14 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Aww, thanks thetortoise! At least I'm not alone in my bizzare taste in fashion. :)
posted by Feyala at 3:23 PM on September 14, 2015


I went to Catholic elementary, middle and high school. When I was getting ready for college, I realized I didn't have many clothes. I had collared uniform shirts and sweaters and skirts and gym clothes. I had jeans and pajamas. And that was about it.

To this day, I worry that any dresses or skirts that fall above the knee might be too short. I shopped with a friend once and tried on a cute pinstriped mini skirt but worried it was too short. The clerk looked confused at my friend who explained that I had gone to Catholic school.

When I got to college, I had one of those days brain farts and kind of forgot I wasn't in high school anymore and I actually thought, ooh dress down day! Then I noticed the pictures of the sports teams on the wall and thought, boys?? Boys!!

I will say that going to Catholic school set my "dressed up" bar slightly higher than my peers so I think in general, I'm usually a little more dressed up at work than others. And in some ways, it was helpful. It's hard for me to get dressed every day now - cutting down on the potential variables saved time. But do I have a hard time now because it's still new-ish to me?

Also, I can't wear a maroon sweater with a grey skirt. Flashbacks.
posted by kat518 at 3:42 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


What you wear is as much a signal of who you are as anything (more so than many things). There is nothing inherently wrong with sending any particular message, but pretending that you aren't doing so robs of you intentionality. Instead of being in control of the message, you send a haphazard signal. It's a waste.

It may be a waste, but it also isn't something I care too much about. There's too little time, and too much more that's interesting (and important) to do.

Mind you, I did feel a twinge a couple of years back when I came downstairs dressed to go out, and Daughter turned to Mrs.43rd and said "Oh look, he dressed himself..." Ouch.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 3:54 PM on September 14, 2015


Oh, and preferred dress for me is black 501s and a t-shirt from a brewery that is (a) several thousand miles away, or (b) no-one has heard of, or (c) preferably both.

So here in NY, it's Firestone Walker from CA, Harvey's from Lewes, UK, and Big Smoke from South London.

And I don't care what anyone says, ties are an invention of the Devil. I will make a *possible* exception for the one time I wore a properly tied bow tie with a DJ to a ball in Vienna, and could wander home at 4am with it undone... but that was the whole point of wearing it in the first place.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:10 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


More important things to do like make sure no one has heard of the brewery on your shirt?
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:20 PM on September 14, 2015 [15 favorites]


Regarding privilege-dressing, as I've mentioned before my kids go to a very economically-mixed school where we're on the higher end of the economic spectrum. In pre-K (when there was no dress code), the teachers used to be EXTREMELY apologetic when my son would get paint on his shirt, to a degree that I was like, "Well this is an odd social interaction, he's 4 and they're play clothes." It took me a while to realize that there was an inverse relationship between household income and dressiness of school clothes in his classroom, because it only very rarely occurs to me that someone might think I'm a bad mother if my child is covered in mud and wearing high-water jeans and a paint-stained T-shirt because I don't have to think about that because I'm a married, white, middle-class stay-at-home mom with two graduate degrees. Whereas a single mother with a high-school education and a part-time job whose housing is precarious, she is going to worry a lot more that DCFS might look at her family and say, "This child isn't being cared for properly." Whereas I would never consider that my kid's grubby clothes send that message! In fact, because we're privileged, him being grubby sends a message that we're the kind of cool parents who let kids get grubby and don't have to worry too much about the cost of replacing play clothes.

One of my neighbors had what he described as "hillbilly teeth" -- he received no dental care growing up in rural Kentucky and had very discolored teeth and was missing three near the front. He's a scientist with a Ph.D., and he used to wear suits a LOT when he had meetings with executives. I mentioned the other day that he was wearing a lot more business casual these days (because his shirt looked particularly sharp when I ran into him, was the context) and he said, "Yeah, since I got my teeth fixed, I don't worry so much about suits." He had a full dental and orthodontic overhaul after having a heart attack (because gum disease can contribute to heart attacks and since they had to do so much work, he figured he might as well pay the extra couple thousand to have movie-star teeth). He said people take him more seriously now that he has an expensive American smile, and he doesn't feel like he has to dress up as much to impress his superiors because now he reads as much more middle-class.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:26 PM on September 14, 2015 [44 favorites]


I LOVE fashion. I love it as a means of expression and creative outlet and I love it as sort of socialogical study - seeing how it evolves, what it communicates and what trends catch on and why. I gave up caring that some people might think less of me for caring about and liking fashion a long time ago. Maybe around the same time I realized how, as a woman, I'm supposed to look well put together and appropriately dressed and groomed for whatever situation I am in at all times; yet I'm somehow supposed to be able to do this effortlessly, as if it just comes naturally to me. Because if I show an interest in fashion, I would be doing so at the expense of giving my attention to more worthy things and I would be considered gauche or vapid. But really, fuck that noise. Because it's a really thin line from the innocuous "don't wear white after labor day" to the subtly more nasty things we tell women, like, women over xx years old shouldn't wear [thing]. Or women over size y shouldn't wear a bikini. And then we get into the realm of calling women "mutton dressed as lamb" and a multitude of other body and age-shaming nastiness.

At this point, if people are going to get weird about the fact that I genuinely love fashion for a number of different reasons, then I just know to group them in with the I-don't-own-a-TV/gets-apoplectic-at-Kim-K-being-on-NPR type of people. Which, really, how are they that different from what they disdain so much? Looking down your nose at people taking an interest at things that we as a culture have deemed to be shallow is just as much a form of social signaling as fashion or TV-watching could be construed as being. The thing that sometimes bothers me about this type of classism more than a lot of other -ism's is that it often comes from people who often hold themselves out to be more enlightened than the (in their opinion) lowbrow culture people that they're mocking, except in effect they're actually being worse people in their judgement than the group of people who just like fashion (or whatever) because it's fun and interesting and makes them happy.

Here's a quote I saw on Twitter awhile back that I loved (from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie):

I had learned a lesson about Western culture: Women who wanted to be taken seriously were supposed to substantiate their seriousness with a studied indifference to appearance. For serious women writers in particular, it was better not to dress well at all, and if you did, then it was best to pretend that you had not put much thought into it. If you spoke of fashion, it had to be either with apology or with the slightest of sneers. The further your choices were from the mainstream, the better. The only circumstance under which caring about clothes was acceptable was when making a statement, creating an image of some sort to be edgy, eclectic, counterculture. It could not merely be about taking pleasure in clothes.

From the article Why can't a smart woman love fashion?
posted by triggerfinger at 4:48 PM on September 14, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'm a cis white male academic.

I'll take "Statements I Never Thought I'd Read Twenty Years Ago" for $400, Alex.

Mostly because when I was a whatever-I-am-or-was academic, folks would occasionally request I conform to the khakis and polo corporate world. Much like the Masons of old, my particular speciality entitled me to not ever have to wear a polo shirt, and if they didn't like it they were free to figure out how to use drive A:/ to print on LPT1: on their own. Most wardrobe problems went away after that.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:52 PM on September 14, 2015


DrAmerica: I, too, went to Catholic school, albeit only for six years, and the uniforms have left me with strong distastes for the following sartorial concepts:

- Plaid neckties
- Canary yellow
- Polo shirts
posted by SansPoint at 4:56 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


> This is a thing? Christ that's alarming.

I feel certain this has likely been responded to many times already (long thread is long) but yes, this absolutely is a thing. I work in the boringest of boring grey cubicle jobs in corporate pharma where the chemists, engineers and techs wear grubby jeans and band t-shirts to work daily, yet the Evil Queen Bee in charge of HR has always demanded the admin pool adhere to similar standards. And yet, somehow having a "dress code" still permits any and all manner of horrid cheap flip-flops, open toed sandals (I ABHOR open toes in a professional setting and even more so at a manufacturing facility where large amounts of chemicals are involved, just... no) and tacky fast-fashion style tops that would look more appropriate in a tiki bar, YET SOMEHOW I always managed to be scolded for wearing well cut, properly fitting, conservative dark wash jeans (I hate pants and most don't come in cuts to fit me, jeans I can do) BUT I DIGRESS. Fortunately the director of the actual department I actually work for recently wrestled my job title and report out from under the HR team management structure, therefore I just scheduled an appointment to get some tastefully on-trend color streaks put into my hair as a probably-not-very-subtle middle finger response to that kind of body policing.

which is a very long-winded way of saying that yes, this is absolutely a thing, and it's mostly driven by the same sorts of judgmental busybody control freaks (frequently, but not always, women of a certain age and social demographic) who also tend to take over parent-teacher assemblies and homeowners associations and convert them into the unholy work of Satan Himself.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:27 PM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although I do have enough blue 1950s shirtdresses to outfit a small army.

The mental picture of a shirtdress-clad army makes me smile, nonasuch. I only hope that each soldier is also wearing a small, tasteful strand of pearls.
posted by virago at 5:49 PM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I went to a Catholic high school and I loved my uniform. I came from a repressive elementary school and junior high that had a very strict, very gendered dress code: no trousers for girls, short hair on boys, short hair on girls was discouraged, but not forbidden, no logos on anything, etc. My uniform was freedom. No more worrying about what to wear or if I was going to get in trouble because my shoes were too bright. The Catholic school had a clear rule - black, navy, brown, or athletic shoes. My former school had a rule against wearing 'bright' shoes, which in reality meant any shoe the teacher didn't like.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:56 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I definitely think there's a lot of truth in what you're saying, but I think you're conflating ignorance of the extent to which clothes are used as social signaling (which tends to be conferred by certain kinds of privilege) with pushback against the fashion industry and media-produced anxieties about dressing the "right" way and keeping up classwise.

I think class has actually become muddled in the US by wealthy people who wearing cheap, ill-fitting clothing, and how the pose of being ignorant of fashion is actually a status marker now - one which is spreading to other places.

I also think pushback against the Fashion Industry is difficult to tease out from the ever-present problem of "whatever many women are concerned with is stupid" styles of misogyny. In a variety of other times and cultures men take as much if not more care with their clothing - I honestly wonder how much of the current "casual" pressure in the US is actually a reaction to "clothing is a woman thing" differentiation playing out on a broad scale and internalized by women who who try to be taken seriously by imitating men (and men then have to further differentiate themselves - it's a moving target).

By and large, the media I've seen actually tends to portray women concerned with fashion as inferior, frivolous, unintelligent, etc... This is also played out in styles of cosmetics; women who wear "natural" style cosmetics are interpreted as normal, while women who wear anything deviating from that are interpreted as weird/quirky/stupid/young. It even plays out in otherwise feminist spaces and within woman-centric media; a number of my favorite books have sub-themes where the women concerned with and wearing pretty, impractical things are evil. As a woman who actually did make Queen Amidala's floofy coat from the end of episode 1 (only RAINBOW) this has caused some consternation.

In short - the landscape I see is very different from the one you see.


This is true. But it gets turned around as well when said unprivileged person who mentions he owns a suit in the correct size received retorts of "you are just a privileged popinjay!"

Well, yes. There is no win; that is how the game is set up. Someone will also say that if you really did want to not be poor, you would sell the suit and buy... something that would make you not poor, not understanding the suit is the attempt. The ultimate point is the only way to not be judged is to have a narrow set of characteristics which are entirely out of your control, but still - there is a reason the organized Civil Rights Movement wore suits, and it wasn't because they are comfortable to be assaulted/arrested in. It was a way of sartorially communicating with white people. The current trend of black performers and activists saying "fuck you, I'll dress how I want to" is the logical continuation as well, and I think far more psychologically healthy for the people as well as they haven't internalized that they "deserve" to be treated ill if they are dressed improperly.


What I don't get is how to square this acknowledgement of all the injustices perpetrated in the way people are judged and treated unfairly because of what they wear with the celebration of fashion as an art of self-expression.

Well, like anything human it's messy and best explored within individual situations rather than broadly. For example, one of the major aspects of fashion-as-control is black women's hair, where often dress codes don't allow for natural hair and so the women are expected to engage in expensive, scalp damaging procedures in order to conform to the false idea that hair is supposed to be straight.

Women often make a virtue of their trial through fashion ("our pleasures are shaped by our constraints" indeed!!), though others - as has been amply demonstrated in this thread - resent threading a needle they don't care about. I would encourage white men to put more thought into it and recognize the work other people put into their appearance. I think a good early step is to respect fashion as what it is - a form of non-verbal communication - and to try to relax around and appreciate all of the variation out there.

There is a certain poetry to the sneakers covered in duct tape and shirt with strategic holes that makes up a devout "my mind is more important than my body" relationship with the world, just as there is something wonderful about watching someone dressed up in bright clothes walk down the street. I remember fondly the first time I saw a man in a skirt, and his stomp and swagger as he took on the world in, what I would argue, one of the more comfortable modes of dress.

One of the peculiarities of human psychology is that observation of something often initiates change in unexpected directions.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:12 PM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


Reading this thread has been interesting and fun. It made me realize how many rules I have regarding my clothes not even counting the no-logo rule. For example, the mango colored t-shirt is not to be worn for housework or cooking because it will get stained. It is saved for biking with my husband because he likes it and it is eye-catching enough he can pick me out of a crowd of bikers. In fact cooking in T-shirts is right out because it is hard to remove oil stains.

Gardening clothes must be heavyweight cotton and in neutral colors-- white for shirts is best because they can be bleached. The main thing is that they need to protect me from sun, mosquitoes, and poison ivy, that means long sleeved shirts and full length pants even in summer. Also my hat has a mosquito net because I can't use spray.

Do not go to the dog park from the gym without changing pants first. Gym pants are soft, stretchy, and thin. Dogs at the dog park sometimes greet newcomers by jumping and clawing enthusiastically especially when the treat pouch worn around the waist has pieces of dried liver.

The blue cashmere sweater which my husband gave me is saved for nights in with him because I feel it looks a bit momish but he likes it. On the other hand, the grey cashmere twin set is saved for special occasions because it is too good for daily wear. For daily wear in the winter it is the black cashmere sweater-- the one with many moth holes that have been sewn up.

My main goals when dressing are: Look like a mature woman but not a senior citizen. Be comfortable and protected. Dress appropriately for the activity. Emphasize the big bust and small waist, de-emphasize the big bottom. Look as neat, tidy, and clean as possible. If at all possible convey elegance.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:19 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I explore the "Internet of Things" in my traditional soiled dashiki and swim fins, but back in the days in the office, I actually enjoyed wearing ties. I have a broad, deep chest, and, without a tie, even in expensive dress shirts, I looked like I was there to move the refrigerator.
posted by Chitownfats at 6:42 PM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


There is no win; that is how the game is set up. Someone will also say that if you really did want to not be poor, you would sell the suit and buy... something that would make you not poor, not understanding the suit is the attempt.

That's not quite the dynamic we see, though: it's more about the idea that someone who is prepared with a suit (eg, the working class, high school educated parents of Eyebrow McGee's school) for his nephew's wedding is regarded as some kind of privileged elite who has been blessed with some advanced sartorial cultural understanding that someone unprivileged does not have.

On the one hand, there's a rejection of bourgeois norms of dress on the part of many people to assert their independence from such things. On the other hand, there's a simultaneous claim that these norms aren't being rejected so much as "unknown" by the same people who consciously rejected them in the first place. You can't have it both ways.

"Fuck you, I'll dress how I want," only makes sense in the context of knowingly rejecting standards that you understand. In this case, if you want to call someone out for dressing well and put together when the occasion calls for it, it's not that he's an elite, it's that he's a conformist. But we are rightfully uncomfortable with calling out the lower-middle-class for adhering to standards of dress on necessary occasions for not being rejectionist, so instead there's a tendency to regard that person as possessing unearned cultural capital that separates them from the "deserving poor."
posted by deanc at 6:42 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sixteen years of Catholic school did nothing to dull my sartorial sense. But while I might know what looks good on others, I am basically trying to re-create an adult uniform for myself. So far, it involves a lot of black clothing.

And right now, I'm looking to update my wardrobe thanks to a career change. I've moved from wearing whatever was clean - but could stand to get dirty in the warehouse - to trying to find clothing that actually looks nice as I may be going out on sales calls. The hard part isn't finding clothes I like or that are priced reasonably, it's in getting over the feeling that I am playing dress-up when I actually bother to wear make-up and heels.
posted by bgal81 at 6:46 PM on September 14, 2015


More important things to do like make sure no one has heard of the brewery on your shirt?

You have nailed it exactly ;-)

Well actually, as a beer-and-brewing nerd, it is sampling the wares that is the important thing, and I just seem to end up with a lot of t-shirts as a result.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 6:57 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


People in the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere, but it's the only place I've ever lived) can be hilariously bad at figuring out people's class from their clothing. A friend of mine who is a POC immigrant, vet, and tradesman was walking around Seattle and somebody got up in his face and called him a "fucking gentrifier," totally unprompted. The best we could figure out why was his hip ironic t-shirt.
posted by thetortoise at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


virago: "I only hope that each soldier is also wearing a small, tasteful strand of pearls."

I've said this before, but I like to wear my pearls when I'm going to particularly stupid public meetings, specifically so that I can clutch them when people start going, "BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" In a similar vein, I like to wear an amethyst bracelet when I know people are going to be lying to me (amethysts being a traditional symbol of truth), and I just got an extremely pretty, delicate floral hairpin that says "Crush the patriarchy" that I like to wear on my grumpy days when the patriarchy needs extra crushing. Sometimes your clothing subtext can be actual text, or at least can be personally amusing.

Deoridhe: "Women often make a virtue of their trial through fashion ("our pleasures are shaped by our constraints" indeed!!)

My mother always said, "You have to suffer for beauty!" when I complained about, say, hoisery. It enraged me so much!

deanc: "In this case, if you want to call someone out for dressing well and put together when the occasion calls for it, it's not that he's an elite, it's that he's a conformist. But we are rightfully uncomfortable with calling out the lower-middle-class for adhering to standards of dress on necessary occasions for not being rejectionist"

I sometimes have to go to funerals for friends, whom I've made through school committees, who live in public housing and who wear airbrushed T-shirts with a likeness of the deceased to funerals. (Or who are immigrants from countries with very different mourning rituals, or whatever.) And it's always this giant dilemma -- do I dress the way I would for my grandmother's funeral (black suit, white shell, pearls, black 1" pumps, severe hair), or do I dress like I think everyone else will be dressed (Memorial T-shirts, black jeans, regular shoes)? And this involves MASSIVE questions of class, culture, race, religion, money, respect for the dead -- anything clothing can signal, it's at odds here. I have generally decided it is better to dress like I would for my personal grandmother, which everyone recognizes as a sign of respect for the dead at these multi-cultural funerals (I mean that everyone's funeral best in their own culture appears as respectful because you recognize it as dressing their best even if it's over the top), and be uncomfortably overdressed, than to try to emulate a culture I don't belong to, but I panic about it every time. (Dressing your children for a funeral adds a million layers of complexity to this calculation, especially since every culture declares children old enough for mourning clothes at different ages.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 PM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]


> Although I do have enough blue 1950s shirtdresses to outfit a small army

Where do I enlist?
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:25 PM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


> I'd be curious to hear from other MeFites in this thread who went to Catholic schools (or any schools with uniforms) how that has affected your fashion sense

My first high school had a uniform. My second high school didn't. One day when I was a Junior or Senior (at the uniformless school) I was walking through Boston Common and a small child pointed at me and said "Look, Mommy, a clown!"

This is, sadly, 100% true. I hope it answers your question.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:29 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Someone at my latest gig observed that I was wearing what appeared to be men's pants--my husband and I wear the same size. Greatly expands my choices and confuses others--double victory.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:57 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Many have said you can't exempt yourself from fashion, but Meryl Streep said it best.
posted by naturetron at 4:39 AM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I always wonder where these marvelously dressed Europeans hang around. I mean, I've been to the US and not necessarily the most fashionable regions (NJ/OH), and didn't really spot a big difference in the degree of casualness. Sure, there's country-specific clothing, and if I head down on the streets of Munich, I could pick a dozen people who'd be ready for an expedition into remote wilderness regions right now, whereas every Jerseyite without a metric oodle of gel in his hair (so about 40%) wore a baseball cap.

But the total number of casually dressed people seemed pretty constant, and apart from some high-fashion regions, even the usually more astute French and Italians don't really dress that much better on average (and let's not mention eastern Europe, where tracksuits replaced the hammer and sickle).

I would say that in England, France and Italy there are more really well-dressed people, which isn't something Americans (or Germans) excel at. But even ill-fitting suits and prep-wear isn't casual.

Personally, I'm sometimes slightly disappointed in my jeans-and-shirt-ness. But on the one hand, I haven't got the money to have proper shirts cleaned, nor the incentive of doing it myself (apart from overheating easily), and on the other hand haven't gotten quite around in my DGAF'ness to just wear something for basic coverage and warmth without paying heed to society. Like a medieval tunic or a speedsuit.
posted by pseudocode at 5:24 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, the grey cashmere twin set is saved for special occasions because it is too good for daily wear.

You should wear it all the time.

A few years ago my mom went and helped my grandma clean up her storage areas and they found a massive trunk just chock full of completely unused, mostly unopened, Very Nice Things my grandparents had received as wedding gifts in 1950. They were "too nice" for daily use so they got saved for very special occasions. Outlived my grandpa completely and only started being used when my grandma was almost 90.

It really changed my perspective on saving things for special occasions. Every day is a special occasion. Nothing is "too nice" or "too good" for me to enjoy right now. I don't mean like wearing a nice dress to the dog park where it'll get torn up, but things like hey, maybe I'll wear these baller shoes to work today for no particular reason, or these impossibly cute underpants when all I'm doing is running errands. I'm worth impossibly cute underpants every day and so is everyone else.

I just don't want to be my grandma using raggedy ass hand towels at 90 years old because she still hasn't found a good enough occasion or felt like she's deserved in all her years of life to pull out the really nice ones.
posted by phunniemee at 5:42 AM on September 15, 2015 [42 favorites]


Love clothes, love shoes, love makeup.
Wish I had more $ to burn on them. If that makes me shallow so be it.
posted by hockeyfan at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'd be curious to hear from other MeFites in this thread who went to Catholic schools (or any schools with uniforms) how that has affected your fashion sense

I went to a Catholic school with uniforms through eighth grade and...honestly, I dunno. For the first half of that time, I don't think I was self-aware of clothes beyond that they were something your parents help you put on to keep you warm, and for the second half, kids found ways to personalize what they were wearing via accessories, styling, and sizing. You can still tell who the skatepunks are when they're wearing a white polo and blue slacks.

I do think it's kind of funny how far off from most other reports here my work wardrobe is, but I'm a Federal government worker and we actually have a union-bargained dress code. Which is pretty much business-casual; since I'm not strictly public-facing--although kinda public-adjacent--I don't have to wear a tie (though today I am since we have a pretty high-level visitor). It's fine.
posted by psoas at 8:46 AM on September 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons I can wear cargo pants and collared shirts and sneakers all the time in my white collar job is that I'm a white chick. The level of casualness allowed for white folks in the US is very different in office environments than that for people of color - particularly black folks (and I want to say particularly black women but I don't know if that's a sampling thing on my side).
posted by rmd1023 at 10:19 AM on September 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


A wonderful distraction: the Gentlemen of Bakongo
posted by mumimor at 12:03 PM on September 15, 2015


I'm grateful to Sequence for saying: "I would much prefer the rest of the world didn't look at me at all." That is not how I feel myself, but I don't think I've ever heard that position put so plainly, and I need to remember that even my appreciative judgment of others' clothes is still a judgment and sometimes an unwanted one.
posted by brainwane at 6:25 AM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Many have said you can't exempt yourself from fashion, but Meryl Streep said it best.

That scene is stupid. If someone caught me rolling my eyes as she fussed over two shades of yellow paint that seemed indistinguishable to me, and started berating me about how PERHAPS YOU DON'T REALIZE THAT PEOPLE LIKE ME CHOOSE THE COLOR OF YELLOW PAINT USED ON EVERY FREEWAY IN AMERICA YOU CAN'T ESCAPE OUR ALL-ENCOMPASSING POWER, I would roll my eyes much harder.
posted by straight at 9:18 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also funtimes to dress casually most of the time, but then wear a sharp suit one day and take a long lunch.

Heh.
posted by klausness at 5:20 AM on September 17, 2015


I've never liked that scene from The Devil Wears Prada, either. It doesn't make sense. Yes, obviously stores like Target are influenced by high fashion; that doesn't mean that people who shop at J.C. Penny are obligated to give a crap about what Anna Wintour thinks.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:58 PM on September 17, 2015


he actually cares enough about fashion that he will not even wear the laser cat shirt to mow the lawn

Aw, man, Laser Cat is what I wear when I'm dressed to impress. I wish I was joking.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:11 PM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wish I was joking.

I sincerely hope you're not. Laser Cat!!!
posted by asperity at 9:07 PM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd be curious to hear from other MeFites in this thread who went to Catholic schools (or any schools with uniforms) how that has affected your fashion sense

Our Baptist school didn't have a uniform, but there was a very strict dress code (think Duggar/Mormon/Orthodox-style modest dressing). I *do* still enjoy wearing long skirts, and even when I'm at my ideal weight I'm not comfortable in sleeveless tops.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:06 AM on September 18, 2015


I've never liked that scene from The Devil Wears Prada, either

My take on the film version was that it was hard to get a bunch of wealthy, hard-driving movie industry professionals to make the Anna Wintour character look bad, so they rewrote the script to create a "you have to hard driving to be important and successful" character. To make fun of the Miranda Priestly character, the movie makers would have to literally be insulting themselves. The author was in a much better position when it came to personal freedom of her portrayal.
posted by deanc at 1:30 PM on September 20, 2015


I have a very poor internalized sense for fashion rules

Indeed!
For me, I think it is one of the side-effects of being severely bullied as a child. Given I was being bullied for reasons that were not internal to me (handy scapegoat basically), nothing I could change about me would help, and, as an interesting side effect, I kind of gave up on conforming socially in a bunch of areas. Basically the ones where kids police others for fear of being bullied themselves. I kind of feel like being that badly bullied kind of made me a nicer person, because I never participated in that 'trying to be part of the group' bullied/norm enforcing. So yeah, I escaped a LOT of social conditioning for conformity. My mother helped.

But that meant I just... didn't fashion. We had incidents like the 'Beige Ninja', where a friend and housemate sat me down and explained that an all beige outfit including kilt socks, cargo shorts I found on the side of the road, and a beige cardigan wasn't maybe the look I should aim for in life, even if it was comfortable and allowed me to pull the socks up or down depending on the amount of sunlight we were getting.
My style was described repeatedly, as 'bag lady'.
Oh, btw, THAT is what it looks like when you really, genuinely, do not care about fashion, and oh boy is it a statement.
If you have just 'happened' to end up wearing things that are widely acceptable for your age, class and gender, that is not a coincidence. I'm glad that you know what to do to avoid a lot of social opprobrium, but that's not an example of not caring, or not paying attention.

Fortunately, I had people who cared enough to explain to me why I should care about what I'm wearing, and how I could use it to message different things (sneakily!). I'd also read a bunch of books on design, and was hanging out with drag queens. All helpful, it's all just performance art.

Anyway, point is, not only did I get the hang of it. And at some point, I leapfrogged ahead!

Because, I'm not just wearing clothes to signal what I have passively absorbed as appropriate for my age, class and gender. I am not following trends closely enough to wear whatever the hell is in 'this year', but choosing what I want to message. It is more personal, and I guess a riskier approach which signals as 'stylish'.
I have been in a temp role in the last few weeks, and a couple of days in, they asked me if I'd like to apply for a Marketing position. (I work in IT and don't have a design/marketing degree, so WTF? But...!)
Anyway, dare I say... NAILED IT!
posted by Elysum at 4:20 PM on September 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


So great Elysum!
posted by mumimor at 4:54 PM on September 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


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