In my first post, Fashion Matters, I said that even people who claim that they don’t care about fashion tell us information about themselves with their clothing choices. This is something that I think about all the time.
There are plenty of people who respect fashion as an art form or an act of self-expression and still don’t care very much about wearing things that are trendy or “fashionable”. There are also plenty of people who look down on fashion as something frivolous or superficial, sometimes put off by the feeling that the world of fashion is exclusionary or judgmental, and claim not to care about fashion at all. We all know these people; they’re the people who talk about how they “can’t be bothered to keep up with all of the different rules of fashion”, how they “just throw on a t-shirt and jeans and get on with it”, that sort of thing. To me, statements like this are often judgmental of fashion and people who can be bothered to keep up with it.
People who criticize the fashion industry for being judgmental might be right, but if they’re judging people who are into fashion, then are they really any better? If you assume that someone who participates in or cares about fashion is superficial and judgmental, aren’t you really becoming the thing you hate?
We all judge each other based on appearance. That’s the nature of being a human. Now, I’m not saying that it’s okay to think you can determine someone else’s value based on their fashion choices or the amount of money that they spend on clothing, but I am saying that a person’s appearance gives you an impression of what they’re like. Sometimes if I’m on public transport during rush hour, I try to guess people’s professions based on their clothing choices. I don’t make guesses about their moral character, but you can guess that the person wearing khakis and a flannel might be less likely to work in finance than the person wearing a suit.
The “just throw on jeans and a t-shirt” crowd tell us information about themselves with their jeans and t-shirts as well, which is why I’ve never understood this claim. For example, one of my favorite YouTubers and also one of my favorite people that I’ve never actually met, Hank Green, has a song called “T-Shirt and Jeans”. Hank sings lines like, “it doesn’t mean anything” and “we’re gonna have to talk so that you can find out who I am.” Listen here:
I think Hank meant for this song to be a fun explanation of how he prefers clothes that are comfortable and simple rather than clothes that make a flashy statement, and I know that he isn’t among those people who consider themselves superior because they don’t care about Fashion™. The description of this YouTube video even says,
“I wrote this after a debate with Tom Milsom. A debate which, to be clear, I was not the winner of. I actually think that fashion is a perfectly viable form of communication and that is absolutely an art. So, yeah, I agree with the perspective of the song but not, like, completely.”
But the first time I heard this song I remember disagreeing with Hank because I thought about how much a t-shirt can tell you about a person. I mean, realistically, if I see two people out in public, and one is wearing a Ravenclaw t-shirt and the other is wearing a Michael Kors dress, who am I really learning more about?
The Michael Kors dress tells me that you like Michael Kors dresses. Depending on how it’s styled, it might not even tell me that much about your fashion sense – are people who wear designer clothing exactly how it’s styled on the runway or in Vogue more fashionable than people who shop at Target but assemble their outfits with care and personal flair? I don’t think so.
The Ravenclaw t-shirt tells me that you like Harry Potter, and that you like it quite a bit since you’re wearing merchandise and it’s not the standard Gryffindor merchandise. It also tells me that you identify as a Ravenclaw, which would tell me a whole lot of other things about you, but that seems like it might be an unfair advantage, so I won’t go there. Just based on the fact that you’re wearing Harry Potter merchandise, I might assume that you like to read and that you’re not afraid to unironically enjoy things that other people might consider to be a little bit nerdy (although I’m not sure how nerdy it is to like one of the most successful franchises of all time). This, to me, is the beauty of buying merchandise from our favorite franchises, musicians, or other fan communities – wearing a Pizza John shirt or a Patriots jersey is like a bat signal to other people who share your interests.
Even if you’re just rocking some jeans and a plain white t-shirt, you’re giving me personal information about yourself. The way that your jeans and tee fit, whether or not they’re ripped or stained, if those rips or stains are artful or careless, and the way that you carry yourself when you wear them tell me a ton of stuff about you. Your jeans and t-shirt are two parts of your appearance, so they factor in to the impression that you make. Just the decision to wear a plain white t-shirt and jeans gives me the impression that you’re interested in a simple and comfortable look – or, at least, that’s what you’re interested in today. Perhaps you aren’t interested in drawing a lot of attention to yourself or you prefer to make statements with your shoes, your hat, your jewelry, or your words.
If you’re wearing clothes that aren’t in style right now, or your outfit doesn’t match, you’re not telling me that you’re a bad person or that you’re any less worthy of my time, but you might be telling me that you don’t really care about fashion. If that’s cool with you, then it’s cool with me too.
Your outfit doesn’t tell me everything I could ever need to know about you, but neither does a well-curated, flashy, designer outfit. Needing to talk to someone to really get to know them isn’t specific to people who wear more basic clothing. Appearance gives you an impression, which can be important, but it’s not everything.
So maybe you don’t care about fashion. Maybe you feel alienated or intimidated by the idea that the fashion world comes with all of these rules and judgments, maybe you’re just simply not interested in clothing beyond the fact that it keeps you from being naked. That’s cool. But as long as you wear clothes, you’re expressing things about yourself with them. Even if you’re just expressing how much you hate shopping for clothes.