Friday, May 29, 2009

When I take over the world there will be Civil Uniform Code

I am browsing for a new pair of jeans. After just a short search I find the perfect pair. Before I can complete my celebration, C stops me and tells me that they are out of fashion. I say "But hey, they are comfortable, they are not too expensive and the crotch has just the right roominess!" and he tells me "but they are so 80s". He is not the kinds who thinks about invisible consensus-building cultural forces that make you believe that bell-bottoms are cool today but inexcusable tomorrow. He will probably never provide me a scientific explanation for why one thing is more fashionable than the other but he is so smug and secure that he knows better.

In this blog I take a lot of digs at institutions, such as Religion and Patriotism, that coax you into blind conformance. Fashion can be a mean beast too. Over the years I have done a lot of thinking on the topic of why we are so judgemental about people based on what they are wearing. At one point I was convinced that black t-shirts and cargo pants are the only articles of outer clothing that I ever need. They cover enough of my skin to not hurt anybody's fragile sentiments and they are comfortable and maintenance free. And black is better than white because the dirt doesn't show. However, I know I will never be able to bring this homogeneity to my wardrobe without being socially ostracized. I set about figuring out why the world is so obsessed with what everybody else is wearing.

Fashion is a leftover instinct from the times when, as cavemen, we imitated the most successful individuals among us in the hope that we too could replicate their social and sexual accomplishments. This explains why in Victorian England women wanted to be like the fat noblewomen or fatter, and these days girls want to be like Princess Diana or thinner. I know I'm trivializing here, but that theory combined with the structured analysis of the memetics approach can explain a lot of our behavior. Economics has a huge role to play. Models, Marketers, Advertising professionals, investors, designers and entrepreneurs all have a vested interest in making the obsolescence cycles shorter and shorter so that you get tired of your clothes before you've washed them twice. Clothes of course are a way to advertize our pedigree too. I don't have feathers that I can unfurl, so I'll get myself an Armani suit. That will be the topic for another post. In this one, let me just fret about the impact.

If people didn't feel the pressure to wear different shoes for different occasions and carry different handbags with different clothes, a lot of cows, alligators and deer would be saved. We probably wouldn't have girls dying from anorexia, if we didn't overestimate the penalties of being fat. If we didn't stand exasperated in front of the wardrobe every morning and not think about how repetitive we've started to appear, a lot of time would definitely be saved. A lot of money, needless to say. A whole lot of pettiness too.

I think about how Gandhi wore the same dress whether he was meeting the queen in London or a villager in Champaran. He must have cared a rat's ass about what the other person was wearing too. That's my idea of freedom! That's where I'd like civilization to go. We've gone beyond and conquered several of our genetic predispositions and I'm sure at some point in the next million years we'll stop letting fashion dictate so much of our lives too.

Meanwhile, C is trying out a really trendy shirt. I ask him to take a picture and show it to his kid 15 yrs from now. In all likelihood she will say "What were you thinking?". She probably will start laughing too. I must be far ahead of my time, because I'm already doing that.
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