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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

We must change the way we judge clothing

<o judge and should judge people based on what they wear. It’s absolutely crucial to social function that you’re able to see a person and assess something about them. Clothing is immediately apparent and says a lot, and exchanging one style of it for another is costly and labor intensive, and so clothing demands a commitment. No other vehicle for signaling has all of these traits.

But wait, I hear you cry. Being judged by what we wear creates an awful problem: people who for whatever reason can’t dress well are the victims of bias and poor treatment. Poor match-ups with societal dress standards are due to the fact that said standards are not well enumerated, and it’s a taboo to talk about how we judge people based on how they dress.

I know well the pain of one who does not dress nicely and suffers as a result. In the old days, whenever I’d explain to a parent or sympathetic friend that I believed that my poor dressing habits were resulting in bad treatment, I’d be comforted with reassuring truisms about how those who judged me by my appearance were not friends worth having or how I looked fine just the way I was. While this healed my feelings, the actual cause of those bad feelings (namely, mistreatment due to how I dressed) was still unresolved. If we’re going to collectively impose a cost on poor dress, we’d better unambiguously explain that to the people who are paying it.

Another tremendous issue is the current handling of socioeconomic class. Due to the prohibitively high cost of certain styles of clothing, some people aren’t able to send the signals they want to with their clothes. But that’s not a flaw with the idea of judging people based on the clothes they wear, only a flaw with its current implementation. The system as it exists now was constructed by the rich, and so one of its most important features was that rich people could use it to identify themselves in a way unavailable to the poor.
However, one can just as easily conceive of a system where the primary function of clothing isn’t to signal how much it costs, but signal something about the personality of the wearer. That’s what we should be striving towards, and we do it by collectively buying less expensive and more expressive clothing, clothing that says more about us than about how much money we have, and yet is available to people regardless of income.
Better definitions for the current standards of dress happens to also be necessary to convert them into ones more friendly to people of all income levels, in addition to their necessity in alleviating the pain of those who doom themselves out of simple ignorance.

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