Fashion is something that often creates binaries. People either care or they don’t. Or people say fashion doesn’t matter but will still be very happy to comment on how you’re dressed. We live in a society where we like to think anything is possible and judgement is becoming less and less prominent in society. Alas, it is not. As a society, we still have issues with what people wear, despite it being absolutely none of our business.
There is moral judgement if you wear too much, if you wear too little. There is moral judgement if you dress for your religion, there is moral judgement if you dress like you don’t have a religion.
I love clothes, and I love shopping. I love the feeling when you find something special and you know exactly how you’re going to wear it: you know what lipstick, what shoes and what bag will look amazing with this new piece. I don’t love creating an outfit that I feel amazing in and having some man in a van cat call me, or some person on the street yell obscenities at me for my clothing choice – both experiences have happened to me.
Clothes are expressive, and I try to express myself fully in what I wear. It’s incredibly disheartening to be outward and expressive with clothing just to have it thrown back at you. This does, of course, go the other way as well and when you wear something a little bit out there and creative you can generally count on positive and enlightening feedback from complete strangers who appreciate the confidence in your outfit.
Strangers are strangers because they do not know you. Yet they take it upon themselves to judge and criticize me for my fashion choices. Even people I know comment on the way I dress, asking ‘are you really going to wear that?’, ‘That’s an interesting look.’ These indirect comments are often enough to make me turn around and get changed into something plainer, something more conforming. Is that what people want? Conformists? Because that isn’t me, and I want my clothing to reflect that. I want my clothing to reflect who I am.
This behaviour relates directly to morals. This behaviour shows how people believe there is a right and wrong way to dress, and that by being ‘fashion forward’ I am breaking that moral.
The other way of looking at this is exploring how other people think it is responsible to react to clothing. At work in a bar, wearing a Jack Daniels No7 t-shirt, I had a customer tell me he was going to call me ‘number 7’, because ‘that’s what it says on your boobs’. Not only is this behaviour unkind and a form of harassment, it also shows the man making a moral decision that is was alright to address me in that way; because of the clothes I was wearing.
Because fashion is obvious and on the outside of the body, people believe they can say what they like because they can see it. People seem to think they have a moral right to discuss clothing ad they don’t. People shouldn’t discuss things they don’t know anything about, but adults are happy to tell teenagers to take make up off or to go and get changed. Clothes don’t hurt people; other people hurt people and blame it on clothes. One piece of fabric isn’t the difference between someone being provocative and someone else not. Maybe you just liked that little black dress, it doesn’t have to mean ‘you’re asking for it’. It means you like it and that is all that should matter.
Clothing does have power, power of expression. Clothing does not have power of morality; that comes from the individual.