Clothing Privilege

Posted by – November 2, 2013

This piece by John Scalzi about why he can wear generic clothes (mostly) says a lot about privilege in a very tangible way:

My systematic and personal advantages mean that nearly all disadvantages posed by someone judging me on my appearance are temporary and light. This is also why I find it amusing to post deeply unflattering pictures of myself online (see the one to the right as an example); I don’t have to worry about the negative side-effects of doing so. People who actually are judged on their appearance, and for whom that judgment will have a material effect on their life, don’t have the same luxury to be unconcerned as I do. What’s interesting and amusing to me is a matter of stress and anxiety for others.

which, coupled with this piece about poor people and brand-name clothes, really does explain a great deal of why people dress the way they do:

I do not know how much my mother spent on her camel colored cape or knee-high boots but I know that whatever she paid it returned in hard-to-measure dividends. How do you put a price on the double-take of a clerk at the welfare office who decides you might not be like those other trifling women in the waiting room and provides an extra bit of information about completing a form that you would not have known to ask about? What is the retail value of a school principal who defers a bit more to your child because your mother’s presentation of self signals that she might unleash the bureaucratic savvy of middle class parents to advocate for her child? I don’t know the price of these critical engagements with organizations and gatekeepers relative to our poverty when I was growing up. But, I am living proof of its investment yield.

Makes you think about your own clothing choices, and even how they change: at work, around friends and family.

So how is all of this gendered?

2 Comments on Clothing Privilege

  1. divadarya says:

    “Male” me is as utilitarian as it gets; T shirt and work oriented pants, like jeans or cargos and walking/training shoes: movie industry standard issue coupled with my long hair and pierced ears says: “I’m one of you, I’m not bullshitting you, and like you, I don’t really respect authority all that much either.”I’m dressed not express, but to calm, reassure and fit in.

    The regular me dresses in casual chic, with close attention to hair, makeup , accessories, scent and shoes. I’m telling you I take pride in my appearance, but I’m also aware of where I am, and what’s appropriate. I’m also telling you that I like who I am, and like how I look.

    Hm.

  2. julia09 says:

    That guy’s world is much different than mine! I dunno if I’d call it privledge though. I mean, his world seems to have little risk / reward to dressing up. His picture did give me the impression of white guys that don’t stand out, ones I’d never recognize one from the other.

    I work in a creative field where we express ourselves through our work. However, My authority as a designer and a public representative of the office, I feel it is really important how I look. Add to it all the social pressures women get put on them that men don’t have!

    To me it’s really important to be thin, pretty (as possible :P) and project a knowledge about fashion and what to wear. It’s embedded in the culture I live in as much as general culture that would see me as “less than” if i wasnt pretty or over the age of 25.
    I do feel my sense and skill with dressing has brought me rewards in the work place and beyond.

    “lookism” does count more for women.

    But it was nice to read that at least one guy had a light bulb go off in his head to consider it’s different for people who are not white, middle class and male.

    What I didn’t think he got was he saw his lack of care about clothes and personal appearance as a “privledge?” To me I love fashion and clothes and feel personal expression is a good thing about culture.

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