“The clothes make the man,” or more broadly speaking, people dress like the sort of person they’d like to be. The clothing we wear says a lot about how we see ourselves, so understandably people often have strong opinions about the sort of clothing they prefer or approve of.
Many people say they don’t care about fashion, that they don’t care how they look, but they still insist on dressing themselves a certain way. Perhaps they unthinkingly wear formal, conservative styles. Perhaps they want clothing that is simple, utilitarian, and casual. When people say they don’t care about fashion, it usually does not mean they’d be perfectly comfortable wearing anything.
Young people commonly go through “phases” where they try out different styles of personal presentation. In changing the fashion of clothing they wear, they are in fact trying to figure out what kind of person they want to be, what kind of person they want to present themselves as.
Naturally, this is often cause for alarm among their elders. If a boy wears baggy jeans that show off his boxers, does that mean he wants to be a criminal when he grows up? Or does he merely respect the toughness and self-assurance of his peers who dress that way? In the same sense, does a person who wears blue jeans literally want to be a gunfighter from a cowboy movie, or are they merely imitating the attitude of those characters?
Is a girl who wears revealing clothing trying to get the attention of men? Or does she simply want to feel free and beautiful? Or, perhaps, is there something subconsciously sexual in her conception of freedom and beauty? Many women feels it’s improper for male authority figures to tell them how to dress. Men should be able to control their desires regardless of what women wear, they argue, and women should be free to wear whatever they like without fear of judgment or unwanted attention. On the other hand, most people seem to agree that it’s inappropriate for men to wear very revealing clothing.
Some people feel than an undue interest in fashion is shallow and superficial. It’s one thing to care about your personal appearance and want to dress well, they say, but it’s very different to spend lots of money chasing the latest fad. On the other hand, many people feel that the changing styles of the fashion industry is a legitimate art form, and they feel better about themselves when they can wear something that’s really cutting-edge.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What do you like to wear? How do you like to present yourself to the world? How has your personal style changed over time? Have these changes been mirrored by changes in your personal values and sense of self-worth?
Have you ever worried about someone because of their choices in clothing?
How do you think an adult should respond if they’re worried about what a young person is wearing?
Clothing choices say a lot about a person’s sense of identity. Different styles are associated with different values and modes of living, and we dress like the sort of person we want to be.
Adults are understandably concerned when young people adopt clothing styles that some people consider inappropriate. However, young people need to be free to work out their personal identity on their own. When adults are worried about what young people wear, they should be able to discuss their concerns without condemning the young people’s choices and desires for independence.
It’s often unclear what a person is trying to accomplish with the clothing they wear. We should not leap to conclusions about another person’s values based on their appearance, as they may understand their own personal aesthetics differently from what we expect.