Sunday, April 12, 2009

Identity and clothing?

I recently read this article from the NY Times describing recent changes to the laws of Riviera Beach, FL banning low-rise pants that "reveal skin or underwear." It seems to me that the entire process is marked by absurdity on all fronts.

It is absurd that a town would feel it necessary to write a law banning how one wears their clothing. The question is, why outlaw low rise pants? Are they sexually suggestive? Do such pants frequently fall down? Are the pants offensive? .... But the real question is, why stop there? Why not ban short shorts, low cut shirts, tank tops, baggy pants, flip-flops and all such offensive clothing? Why not write a law mandating uniforms? No matter how one slices it, any such laws concerning clothing are culturally bound and therefore arbitrary (the article suggests it might be racist as well). In the not so distant past it would have been considered scandalous for a woman to wear pants.

It is equally absurd that the men charged with the absurd crime vehemently argue that their clothing is an expression of their identity. In the same way that laws prohibiting low-rise pants are bound by arbitrary folkways, so too are norms for what is fashionable.

Is it truly possible to wear clothing that is able to express the depths of who you are? If I wear jeans, does it say that I'm uncaring casual, or sloppy, or nothing at all? If I wear a novelty T-shirt with a joke on it, does that make me a funny person? To what extent is one's fashion really the product of their individuality? The absurdity of it all makes me think of this quote from the movie "The Devil Wears Prada":

"You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar De La Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of 8 different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic casual corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff. "

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