Appropriating ‘inappropriate’ clothing

Generally speaking, a gentleman should not wear clothes that reveal his balls.

Generally speaking, a gentleman should not wear clothes that show his balls.

I don’t mind making jokes, but I don’t want to look like one.
Marilyn Monroe

Depending on where you are, cross-dressing may or may not be deemed ‘inappropriate’. For that matter whatever you wear, cross-dressed or not, might be ‘inappropriate’. Just who in the hell are these self-righteous little sods who decide what’s appropriate or not, and should we pay attention to them?

Obviously, I’m not referring to the pragmatic reasons clothing might be inappropriate (say, going out in a blizzard at -40C in a bikini, or wearing long, flowing, baggy, hippyish garments when working next to the gears of a combine harvester), but the moral, cultural, and aesthetic aspects (and I’ve already posted a couple of things about ‘morality’; suffice to say I think morality is a really dumb basis on which to criticise or proscribe clothing).

Culturally inappropriate?

Whether or not we consider clothing appropriate or not depends on the culture we grow up in. People either ‘fit in’ like the rest of us, or else they stand apart and remain foreign. It’s also a common misperception that ‘our culture’ is rich and diverse, while people in ‘other cultures’ are all the same. This may sound contradictory, but people are funny that way.

For example, we might hear of Arabic outrage, or an Indian assault over women in skimpy dresses, but it would be wrong to assume that ‘The West’ is uniformly liberal when it comes to clothing. It’s a sad statement of fact that women anywhere in the world might feel they have to choose very carefully what they wear.

Bestie-cartoon What’s ‘inappropriate’? Uncovered head hair? Showing ankles? A bare midriff? Going topless? Showing off underwear (whether from a lack of belts, or a g-string ‘whale tail’)? Tight clothing? Full nudity? Standards vary depending on where you are and the times you live in. Fashions change (for brevity’s sake I’ll skip a potted history of fashion for another post), but this doesn’t mean that those at the forefront of those changes don’t have to put up with a lot of crap for being different.

So much for culture. I’m just grateful for the one I happen to be in.

It is better to be looked over than overlooked.
Mae West

Aesthetically inappropriate?

Apparently some colours work well together, and others do not. I’m not sure if this boils down to anything more than current taste – certainly, I have no idea if there’s any consistency to the idea. How does it work? Search me! When I started out, I just paid attention to what the mannequins were wearing in clothes shops and took it from there.

BethDitto04What about being fat or thin? Maybe you feel that certain clothes are inappropriate for particular body shapes or sizes. Well, so what? A few years back I introduced a talk by Dr Mark Tovee from Newcastle University on standards of beauty. As I recall, it’s down to perceptions of health. In sub-Saharan Africa in countries where HIV is prevalent, the onset of the disease is marked by rapid weight loss – so being larger and fatter is taken as a sign of health, and therefore more attractive than being slim or skinny (thinking of the Venus de Willendorf, a similar preference may have existed in paleolithic times). In any case, whatever someone’s size and shape, I’m struggling to see why an observer’s opinion of their clothing choices should matter.


Elizabethan children


1950s children

There’s also the matter of ‘dressing for one’s age‘. Like all the previous things I’ve mentioned, if you care about this, then you will no doubt get on very well with other people who care about it too. But really – what does it matter? Sure, people can and will complain about adults dressing ‘like children’ (or ‘comfortably and casually’, perhaps?), ignoring the fact that fashions change. In ye olden days, children’s clothing was more or less the same as adults’ (see picture above, top, from Elizabethan times); to my amateur eye, it seems that the idea of making childhood special and sacrosanct with its own separate dress code is a phenomenon of the Victorian and 20th Century eras (see picture above, bottom, from 1958). Maybe our culture is reverting to previous norms?


The idea of ‘dressing like a grown up’, or dressing for your body shape, or in the ‘right’ colours is basically a social marker for identifying ‘people like us’. And if you’re not part of that crowd, you will be looked down upon by those who are in it. Now apply this to ‘dressing appropriately for your gender‘.

Frankly, anyone who thinks me wearing a dress is ‘inappropriate’ can fuck off. (And that’s me being polite.)

If you can afford to wear what you want without repercussions, do so. I have no advice for anyone living in a place where law or culture is hostile to cross-dressing, and I wouldn’t be so presumptious to pretend to have any answers for them – All I can say is, I hope that their circumstances improve.

In a similar vein, I’m not going to tell anyone else how to run their lives. I have certain aesthetic preferences, and I judge for myself whether or not someone’s clothes ‘look good’… but I’ll just keep it to myself. Why should anyone else care what I think of their clothes? To whose benefit is it to make someone feel bad about what they wear? If they feel good wearing them, that’s all that matters, surely?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s