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I know it's not a hammer, but it's still a tool!

July 14th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Ok, one verrry last post on Dressaday’s Airplane Rant, and then I’ll stop. Really and truly. Honest.

Unfortunately, something tells me this post of mine is going to be pretty much wind up as a rant itself. Probably because of certain phrases, like this one from the comments from someone by the name of “wampoline”:

I have to say I was appalled at the anonymous toddler mom’s comment on this blog: “I would no sooner dress up for an airplane ride than I would for a road trip in my own personal car.” This idea of the American nuclear family traveling about in its own little bubble, uncaring and oblivious to the world around them, is insular and selfish, to say the least. Just because you have a child doesn’t mean you are not part of a larger society. And just because you are a “mom” doesn’t mean that you are invisible to other people around you. What message about the world and life is that toddler getting from such an attitude?

Sorry to say, but this comment fairly well makes my pressure-weight (you do have a pressure-cooker, right?) rattle like crazy every time I read it. Or, to borrow their language, I’m appalled every time I read this comment. To say the least.

I’m sorry, but I see nothing insular and selfish about giving a child the attitude that there are more important things in life than dressing in such a way as to give as many people as possible the most pleasure of looking at you. Caring about the people around you is not about giving them something nice to look at! And if all the people around you are selfish enough to only want to see things that look pleasing to them, they can just go insulate themselves inside their houses where they don’t have to see anything except those things which agree with their tastes. Just because I’m not invisible doesn’t, ahem, mean I need to be pretty.

Did you get that irony? Did you click that link? That link goes to a Dressaday post where Erin says:

. . .got me thinking about the pervasive idea that women owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness.

Now, this may seem strange from someone who writes about pretty dresses (mostly) every day, but: You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”. . .

But what does you-don’t-have-to-be-pretty mean in practical, everyday terms? It means that you don’t have to apologize for wearing things that are held to be “unflattering” or “unfashionable” — especially if, in fact, they make you happy on some level deeper than just being pretty does. So what if your favorite color isn’t a “good” color on you? So what if you are “too fat” (by some arbitrary measure) for a sleeveless top? If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.

I was going to make a handy prettiness decision tree, but pretty much the end of every branch was a bubble that said “tell complainers to go to h***” so it wasn’t much of a tool.

I apologizeth not.

I know that in her airplane rant, Erin didn’t technically attempt to try to place any more restrictions on airplane clothing than: Don’t stink, don’t hang out of your clothing, and don’t wear any shoes (e.g. flip-flops, etc.) that get in the way of accomplishing a smooth ride for all involved. (All of which, by the by, I agree with.) But Erin does also say:

My take is that people who wear clothes on airplanes that are better suited to washing a series of strangers’ cars at $5/pop have essentially given up all hope that they will ever be the recipient of happy chance. They’ve decided serendipity is not for them, so they’ve forsaken the notion that perhaps one day they may need to make a good first impression on a stranger. . . Before you leave for the airport, look at yourself in the mirror, and think: Could I meet and IMPRESS someone who would change my life while wearing this? And if the answer is “No,” change.

And Erin isn’t the only one who felt this way. As another commenter by the name of Cherie says:

I feel exactly the same way. My favorite Coco Chanel quote comes to mind:

“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

Amen to that!


First of all, since when did fate/chance/destiny/serendipity/enchanted-creatures-in-disguise care what people look like? From all my reading of myths, fairy-tales and the Brother’s Grimm, it was never the vain, good-looking people who had any luck. You’d be much safer as a bedraggled, virtuous wood cutter/spinner. Low class people, who probably couldn’t even pass the muster of “clean” and “not stinking”.

Really, though, I’m kind of annoyed by all this dress-to-impress preaching. Everyone always wants to pull out the what-if-you-met-an-old-flame or what-if-you-met-someone-famous scenarios, as though this is such a stunning and brilliant argument we must all fall silent in the face of it. But, if I met an old flame (hypothetically speaking), and the thing he would be most interested in was how I looked, it only goes to show why he would be an old flame. There’s no point in getting too friendly with people who won’t be friends when you look as ugly as a snotty sheep, because some days, you just are, and what’s the use of friends who desert you when you’re having a bad day?

And as for the famous person, I always imagine (pretend?) that they would be rather pleased to be treated like normal person, after having so many screaming masses dogging their footsteps. And, if they would really be more pleased if they were treated as the Sky’s one great gift to the Earth, well then, I don’t think I would really be getting on so well with them anyway. So ix-nay on the dressing to impress them, too.

Really, I don’t understand why this is so difficult for people to grasp: Clothing is a tool.

If the vehicle which most suited your needs was a pick-up truck, would you buy a car simply because the neighbors think it looks better in your driveway?

Please don’t say yes, please don’t say yes, please don’t say yes.

Thank you.

And also, please don’t get started telling me all about what we owe to society. (You know, I almost titled this post “Mother Russia“.) I do understand that there are some burdens to society. After all, that’s why there is such a thing as nudist colonies; they wouldn’t have to go colonize if they weren’t an offense to society. To me, I think society’s rights can be put rather concisely by saying, “Try not to be be an offense to those around you.” This is a long, long, long, long, long way off from having a burden to please those around you, but some people seem to get it all mixed up anyway.

Your clothes are there for your purposes. The clothes are subject to you, not the other way around. What you chose to wear depends on what you desire to accomplish.

There are the “physical” or “practical” goals. Practical goals are those that have your clothes aid you in the activity you are doing, whether by comfort, freedom of movement, protection, camouflage, durability, fast drying, warmth or any other thing.

And there are “emotional” or “psychological” aspects to clothing as well, whether it be in how you perceive yourself (I feel more confidant when I wear these clothes) or how others perceive you (I get better treatment in the stores when I wear these clothes).

But you have to be careful to differentiate between those that say you ought to dress, and how you can dress. Some would say you always ought to wear those clothes, and point to how you are “treated better” when you are wearing them. If that is what you want to do, it is certainly valid. But, you may also choose to continue wearing the clothes that suit you and (a) put up with bad service, (b) use other means of getting good service, (c) shop some place where they’ll treat you respectfully without you having to dress up, or (d) other. (There’s always an “other”, right?)

Clothing is a tool in your hands that you may (or may not) use to influence situations to (hopefully) bring about your desired outcome. In some cases, this is referred to as “dressing appropriately” or “dressing for the situation”. (Note, too, that even that phrasing rules out a single way of dressing.)

An example that springs to my mind is one that is not directly related to clothing per se, but it is related to how we present ourselves/treat others.

There was an occasion where a brother of mine and I had to take pick-up truck after pick-up truck of trash to the dump. My brother called every dump worker we had dealings with either “sir” or “ma’am”. I don’t just mean occasionally, I mean at the end of every sentence.

“Yes, sir!”

“Okay, sir.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“All right, that’s what we’ll do then, sir.”

I had a hard time not cracking up at the juxtaposition. Not that people were rude when they spoke to us. Actually, most of them never spoke. The might grunt, or nod their head, but really? It was obvious that no one liked their job, were bored out of their minds, and quite possibly some of them had never been called “sir” before in their lives. They spend their whole day working with trash, an occupation that is not exactly refined. They kind of slouched along, and avoided eye contact, and did just what they had to do.

So one could quite easily say that such formalities were over-kill or a bit out-dated. Sure, you can never go wrong with good-manners, but when in Rome do as the Romans, right? I mean, it felt a little like wearing spats and a top-hat to go eat at McDonald’s. Some of the modern generation don’t even seem familiar with the usage of “sir”—I overheard some young staffers at Lowe’s trying to get a man’s attention by addressing him as “guy”. And some generations rebel at being called “sir”. “‘Sir’ was my father. I’m not ‘sir.’

But, our multitude of trips did go quite smoothly. Sometimes the workers even went above and beyond the call of duty and helped us unload. Even if they thought us a bit weird, I think it’s safe to say they appreciated being treated with respect and not being taken for granted. Was it necessary to go to such lengths? I don’t believe so. Can acting in such away effect they way you are treated? I believe so.

In the same way, I would say your appearance can have effects, but it’s up to you to decide what you want those effects to be. If you dress to be comfortable, one expects you will be comfortable. If you dress in a crisp, business-like manner, one would expect you would be more likely to be treated in a crisp, business-like manner. If you dress in a casual, approachable manner, one would expect you would be more likely to be treated in a casual, familiar way. If you dressed in such a way as to blend in with those around you, your treatment will likely be the same as those around you. If you dress contrary to those around you, you will certainly get noticed more, though for good or ill depends on quite a lot of things. You have no obligation to dress in such a way as to “impress” someone, but if there is “someone” you wish to impress, you have the right to dress in such a way as you think will accomplish that.

It is not about serendipity, or chance encounters, or obligations to society. It’s not about what you “ought” to wear. It’s a realization that clothing is a tool, physically and psychologically. It is not, however, the tool. Though some may decide it is a powerful tool of communication and learn to use it skillfully, others may find that there are different tools that serve them better, and will not set time to the study of clothing.

Which goes back to that rather dry point: some people just don’t care what they look like. Get over it.

Posted in Contemplations, Fashion | 5 Comments »

5 Responses

  1. Linscee Says:

    I have to say, I think this post on Dressaday really got under your skin. Or at least, you have some very strong feelings about it. 🙂

    I don’t share the idea that we are obligated to dress to impress, but unfortunately, that’s exactly what we have to do for job interviews, business meetings, etc. But come on, on a plane?? Comfort is the number one priority for dress on an airplane, don’t you think.

    Even as I say that, I do know people who have received job offers on planes not to mention the upgrade to first class if you are dressed very nicely and the plane is crowded, but those have got to be the exception.

    You are not alone. We all don’t analyze other people’s choice of clothing. I have had entire conversations with people and after could not tell you what they were wearing, but I could tell you what color their eyes were. I like that about me.

    You seem to be a very grounded person who’s values are real. Don’t be dismayed by the artificial standards some people hold. They can’t help it.

  2. Rant of the Week: 7/15/07-7/21/07 » The Ethereal Voice Says:

    […] So take heed and don’t annoy The Tatterdemalion or this will be your fate. […]

  3. I know it’s not a hammer, but it’s still a tool! » The Ethereal Voice Says:

    […] _uacct = “UA-1202685-1″; urchinTracker(); Map of the Ethereal Land The Ethereal Voice Front Page – Politics – Money – Knowledge – Art – Food – Fun Masthead About I know it’s not a hammer, but it’s still a tool! By Tatterdemalion | July 14, 2007 – 5:20 pm Posted in Category: Unapproved Ok, one verrry last post on Dressaday’s Airplane Rant, and then I’ll stop. Really and truly. Honest. Unfortunately, something tells me this post of mine is going to be pretty much wind up as a rant itself. Probably because of certain phrases, like this one from the comments from someone by the name of “wampoline”: I have Click Here to continue reading. […]

  4. Kathleen Says:

    . . .got me thinking about the pervasive idea that women owe it to onlookers to maintain a certain standard of decorativeness.

    Really? Is that true? wow, I always knew I’d been living in my own bubble and that just clinches why I should continue to do so. And people say I’m weird?

    Re: airplane attire. I dress for survival and hang everyone and everything else. If that plane goes down, my clothing won’t end up killing or injuring me; nylons won’t melt on my legs. I wear steel toed 8oz leather boots, sturdy jeans and a non combustible top. My hair, being waist length, is braided. My wallet fits into a hip pocket. I carry leather working -not fashion- gloves year round.

  5. Tatterdemalion Says:

    Huh, that’s odd. I never saw Linscee’s comment before. Usually I get an email whenever some one posts a comment. Linscee, if you see this again, I’m sorry I missed your comment! The Dressaday post was really just a catalyst; what people “should” wear is always a hot-button topic for me, regardless of who or how it is brought up.

    Kathleen, I think there’s a pervasive idea that all of society owes it to each other to “maintain a certain standard of decorativeness”. Most people call it being polite and civilized. My impression is that most people don’t want to see other people looking “gross”, and that to appear so is rude. Where that line of “certain standard of decorativeness” falls can vary quite a bit from person to person, but it does seem to be that most people think that people “owe” it to society to meet certain appearance standards.

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