Clothing is a very peculiar thing.
It used to be that it was very much of a place and a people, with particular materials only available in particular places or for people of particular social classes, made in ways typical for certain professions and/or peoples. Nothing much changed, except slowly
Clothing, one might say, was thus one factor that made one at home, and visibly of a place and a position.
Now, we have much more freedom to dress as we’d like, but we also have some people paying their clothes ever less attention, others paying rather too much attention to what style guides and stores present as the latest fashion. And fashion comes in seasonal cycles, sometimes to the point where people only seem to know about the seasons anymore because it’s time for a new style.
In ways big and small, clothing is still a major part of a habitus; the typical appearance in looks and manners that marks a person as belonging to a certain class. T-shirts and blue jeans have something to say, as does the cut of a tailored suit.
Not thinking about clothes at all is just skimming the surface and forgetting about their influence on a person and his/her appearance in the world; just following fashion trends is equally as superficial.
And there, we are not even thinking much about the impact of their production and the consumption behaviors associated with them. (One oft-cited statistic states that Americans throw away some 70 lbs. of textiles each and every year, at quite the environmental and financial cost…)
Nor are we, at that point, thinking about the qualities that clothes provide, in making their wearer fit into environmental conditions, even as that is one of the primary purposes of clothing.
Clothes may seem to be presented so much because the textile industry is big business, and fashion an even bigger one. Whether it is the right dress to show off curves, the right suit to show a standing, individualistic combinations or pret-a-porter to show style, there is an interest.
Outdoors pursuits also, aside from fitness, need proper clothing and profit from better gear – and dismissive of fashion as outdoors people may be, there is an influence of style even in the, also big-business, world of outdoors and sports gear and its reviews. (Colorways alone change regularly, and the fashionable colors can be seen at the trade shows some 2 years in advance.) Again, a natural interest.
No wonder, as clothes, at a deeper level, are interesting because they represent social concerns – of displays of status, wealth and/or health and beauty – that just would be of interest to a social animal like we humans are.
We are influenced by the things that clothing represents, as far as we notice or know them. The proverbial first look by which we judge a person is a look, to a large extent, not at their bodies but at their clothes; something is noticed, whether we want to or not.
Even the refusal to participate in fashion is a fashion statement – and one cannot opt out of social estimation. As Mark Twain observed in his typically wry way, “Naked people have little or no influence in society.”
Someone who dresses wrong for a particular occasion, out of ignorance, will be held in low esteem by those in the know about such conventions.
Someone who is seen as knowing fully well what the conventions would be, but flaunts them deliberately – the manager using the red sneakers effect – is assumed to be in a high position that allows him (or her?) to do so.
For ways of making oneself at home, then, fashion is a difficult topic, but clothing, within or outside of the vagaries of fashion’s changes, is an essential theme.
As we live much of our lives in our clothes, more so even than we do in the places we call home; as we present ourselves at least as much, if not more, by way of what we wear rather than as the bodies we are, it is an issue to consider.
We can wear clothes to feel comfortable in them as we are, or we can wear clothes to become as the clothes make us feel.
In the tense play between protection from the elements and physical comfort on the one hand, social conventions and their flaunting as well as representations of symbolic qualities, on the other hand, clothes also make a perfect way to think about the tension we all face in making ourselves at home.
On the one hand, home is the social world where we want to live our very own individual lives but also depend on other’s opinions and approval; on the other hand, home is the uncaring companionship of the places in which we live, with us doing what we do in the weather and climate they have.
In between, we do what we do – and the question is how we can make ourselves more at home there, deciding what we pay attention to and what we don’t, so that we more deeply live richer lives.
Time to take a look at some examples… and for me to ask: Do you just wear what’s in the stores you’ve grown up going to? Mix and match? Go minimalist? Follow fashion or your own style, or try not to care about any of that?