Friday, April 30, 2010

Dressed to Distress

When it comes to fashion, comfort has always been my first concern. A pair of shoes with sky-high heels and dagger-pointed toes may look impressive, but all I can think when I see them is, "I hope whoever buys those doesn't have to be on her feet all day," and then I gravitate toward the soft-soled flats nearby. Growing up, I was only interested in the most comfortable clothes. I didn't like clothes-shopping, and I saw no appreciable difference between the shirts and pants I might choose for myself and those my mother (who knew my predilection for comfort) might pick for me.

As a young adult I did become more concerned with colors and styles, favoring vivid reds and blues, but still I thought of comfort first, fashion a distant second. I sought ways to combine comfort with class, more concerned with what I would see in the mirror than with what an attractive man might see when he met me. But when I met the man who would become my husband, matters changed a little. "Will he like this?" took its place alongside "Will this be comfortable?" On learning that his favorite color is green, I started to stock my wardrobe with green shirts. So I gave in to the concept of "dressing to impress" rather late in life.

I'm still not sure what I think of people dressing to please others rather than to please themselves, particularly girls (getting younger every year) who dress scantily in the hope of catching the eye of this or that guy in the desk across from them. But at least their reasoning makes some sense to me -- which is more than I can say for another fashion choice.

What drives a man or woman to dress in a manner likelier to repel the opposite gender than attract them?

I first became aware of this "trend" when thumbing through a novelty catalogue and coming across a shirt with the blazon, "Men Are Not Pigs -- Pigs Are Intelligent Animals." I couldn't help feeling sorry for anyone who might have so much interest and emotion invested in male-bashing that she might buy such a shirt and then wear it out in public, making her resentment plain to all who see her. If a gal genuinely wants men to stay as far away from her as possible, she might wear this shirt.

For some time, I thought only women could get away with wearing gender-hostile shirts like this, but I was mistaken. A couple of years ago, a student of mine showed up for class wearing a shirt with two pictures and caption. The first picture showed a Boy Icon and a Girl Icon standing side by side, but in the second picture, the Boy Icon had his arm raised, and the Girl Icon was tumbling out of the frame. The caption read, "PROBLEM SOLVED."

As funny-tasteless as that shirt is, it's downright benevolent compared to a shirt a friend of mine told me about. The shirt belonged to a biker, as the helmet tucked under his arm made clear, and the blazon appeared on the back. It stated, "If you can read this, the b---- fell off."

What girl would give her number to the guy wearing either of these fashion statements?

One should always be careful before drawing too hard and fast a conclusion from such a tiny wrinkle in popular culture, but I can't help frowning a little at what such shirts might say about our society at large, and how men and women relate to each other. Hostility seems to be percolating on both sides, an outgrowth of the divorce culture and greater numbers of kids growing up with authority figures of only one gender, and no example before their eyes of a man and a woman enjoying a giving and affectionate relationship. It's as if guys and gals don't like each other very much anymore, and now both are willing if not eager to say as much, out in the open, on the clothes they wear.

"Dressing to distress" may not seem very significant, I admit, but it strikes me as a tiny piece of a very bleak puzzle.

(An aside: what is with these pants with writing on the behind? Even more to the point, what's with these ladies who wear pants with writing on the behind? After all, eyes naturally gravitate in the direction of letters on clothes. Call me old-fashioned, but it doesn't thrill my soul to think of strangers ogling my backside as I walk down the street.)

1 comment:

  1. I believe that "insult humor" has become the most common form of human interaction. I blame television for this, especially situation comedies. I cannot discuss this at length without sounding like an old coot.