"Clothes are freedom—freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor."

Here's what to say the next time somebody rags on about the kids and adults these days with their droopy pants and turned-around baseball caps...


This pretty much nails the clothing revolution of the past 40 or so years:

Americans dress casual. Why? Because clothes are freedom—freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor. The rise of casual style directly undermined millennia-old rules that dictated noticeable luxury for the rich and functioning work clothes for the poor. Until a little more than a century ago, there were very few ways to disguise your social class. You wore it—literally—on your sleeve. Today, CEOs wear sandals to work and white suburban kids tweak their L.A. Raiders hat a little too far to the side. Compliments of global capitalism, the clothing market is flooded with options to mix-and-match to create a personal style.

That's Deirdre Clemente writing at Zocalo and Time. She's the author of Dressing Casual: How College Kids Redefined American Style and she comes out and admits upfront that she owns "17 pairs" of sweatpants. "For me," she writes, "casual is not the opposite of formal. It is the opposite of confined."

Preach it, sister. Clemente's essay reminds me of Tom Wolfe's 1976 New York magazine piece that popularized the slogan "the Me Decade" (despite his signature snark, he saw it in mostly positive terms). As many observers yammered on about economic malaise and inflation (which were definitely real problems), Wolfe focused on how the proliferation of cheap clothing and other accoutrements of style become democratized for the first time in U.S. history:

In America truck drivers, mechanics, factory workers, policemen, firemen, and garbagemen make so much money—$15,000 to $20,000 (or more) per year is not uncommon—that the word proletarian can no longer be used in this country with a straight face. So one now says lower middle class. One can't even call workingmen blue collar any longer. They all have on collars like Joe Namath's or Johnny Bench's or Walt Frazier's. They all have on $35 Superstar Qiana sport shirts with elephant collars and 1940s Airbrush Wallpaper Flowers Buncha Grapes and Seashell designs all over them.

Indeed, he argued that "The new alchemical dream is: changing one's personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one's very…and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!)" The massive, ubiquitous, and relatively fast rise in post-war living standards allowed more and more of us to do what rich people had always done: invent our own rules.

courtesy and Terry Colon

Read Wolfe's whole essay, which I've argued elsewhere (both in The Declaration of Independents with Matt Welch and at the late and lamented site is still the essential key to contemporary America:

Intellectuals, artists, and architects, Wolfe notes, had always had great plans to "pygmalionize" the common man. "But once the dreary little bastards started getting money in the 1940's, they did an astonishing thing — they took their money and ran! They did something only aristocrats (and intellectuals and artists) were supposed to do — they discovered and started doting on Me! They've created the greatest age of individualism in American history! All rules are broken!"

A quarter of a century after The Me Decade was so named, Wolfe's analysis is more relevant than ever: We are that much richer still, that much more all aristocrats now, and never less likely to heed the call of "remoralization" emanating from a wealthy Beltway pundit.

More in that vein here.

Related: That time Alan Simpson literally talked about the kids today "who are walking on their pants with their cap on backwards listening to the Enema Man and Snoopy Poopy Poop Dog."

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  1. “Clothes are freedom?freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world; freedom to blur the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor.”

    Next you deviants will start calling it “freedom” for cats and dogs to live together!

    1. +1 Mass Hysteria

  2. I for one am in favor of clothing.

    1. I have mixed opinions

      Some people should skip it entirely, others need burkahs

      1. I have mixed opinions

        Try growing up and living at the beach…

        1. I did. 80% need less clothes, 20% need… well, like he said. Burkahs.

      2. I went to an amusement park yesterday. This country needs more fabric.

      3. The problem being that the ones most inclined to skip it are the ones that need burkahs.

    1. Bill Watterson is a fucking hero.

    2. Bill Watterson is a fucking hero.

  3. Crocs and sweatpants for all. Freedom!!

    (Shoots self)

    1. I’m picturing Bernie Sanders with Crocs and tie dyed sweats. It works on him….

      1. I smell patchouli

        1. I had to look that up.

          AND GET OFF MY LAWN!!

    2. What about Crocs, sweatpants, and a leather jacket.

  4. Your freedom to expose your underwear stops in my face, when I have to follow it up the stairs.

    1. Unless it’s a hottie with a whale tail.

  5. It’s also freedom for me to say that you look like a fucking dumbass with your pants around your knees.

    1. SECONDED!!!

    2. No, that is racism. Duh. It is only freedom to complain about the clothing sense of those who are haven’t paid enough to be considered “Protected Classes” by our wannabe liberal overlords. (This is distinct, by the way, from our true Lizard Overlords, who, as far as I can tell, don’t care too much about what we wear as long as it doesn’t get suck in their teeth.)

    3. Every time I see that “style” I wonder how many people it has caused to get an atomic wedgie? It looks sooooooooo tempting.

    4. Yep. You’re free to dress like a bum.

      And I’m free to treat you like a bum.

    5. Seriously. I realise this is me turning into someone who yells at kids to stay off my lawn, but holy fuck. Every time I see that, I think it just means they’re too stupid to operate a belt.

  6. Every generation seems to dress less formally and more sloppily than the previous generation. Not really sure why that is.

    1. They are searching for the lost togas of Roman times but haven’t realized it yet.

      1. TOGA! TOGA! TOGA!

    2. Because we can. It’s touched on in the article.

      1. In poor societies people tend to dress very similarly. The richer a society becomes, the less similarly they dress. Like you said, because they can afford to.

      2. I didn’t really see an explanation for why it only trends in one direction, but then again I only skimmed the article.

        1. Because it doesn’t. Instead, previous generations see any change as lowering standards.

          It applies to everything: clothing, cars, hairstyles, fingernails, grammar and slang, culture in general, politics (here I mean personal politics as opposed to basic functionality).

          1. Meh, it’s all social signaling. Whether you’re rocking a tuxedo or a mohawk, or both.

          2. Nope. I never said “lower standards”; standards change. I said dress becomes “less formal, more sloppy”. It has changed in one direction.

        2. Modesty trends downwards until there is a revival in ‘traditional’ values, via gigantic war or other huge destruction of society. Lest modest clothing is by its very nature more casual, so as a side effect other types of casual also become acceptable.

        3. I didn’t really see an explanation for why it only trends in one direction, but then again I only skimmed the article.

          Me too and what I picked up was that with the weakening of “class” distinctions, people can dress how they want. Most people like to dress comfortably.

          1. Yeah, I remember when my mom made me get in a suit to fly on the airplane. It was horridly uncomfortable for a 6yr old. It happened because rich people flew, and since rich people wore suits, it was expected that you look like them when you went where they were.

            I have no problems with looking nice- when presenting in front of a crowd, taking the wife on a date, or going to a wedding. But the occasions where you need to be gussied up are few. Working at an office where you already know everyone. Flying in a plane or hopping on a train. These are times when it is more important to be comfortable.

            Also, Commando Baby!

  7. Needz Virginia Postrel on glamour as counterpoint.

  8. Get off my lawn!

  9. The superficial freedoms are the best freedoms.

    1. Who cares whether or not you can speak your mind freely and espouse unpopular ideas?

      You’ve got the freedom to show everybody your asscrack and misspelled tattoos, that’s what matters.

    2. “The superficial freedoms are the best freedoms.”


  10. As a software engineer, if your company requires a tie, good luck recruiting. Business casual is bad enough.

    1. When you start looking like professionals you’ll start feeling like professionals and then, God damn it, you’ll start acting like professionals.

      1. “Neckties are for closers!”

      2. “You can’t sell shit! You are shit! Hit the bricks!”

    2. As a software engineer, if your company requires a tie, good luck recruiting. Business casual is bad enough.

      When I was doing software, a couple co-workers and I would have “Formal Friday,” where we would dress in khakis and polos/buttondowns on certain fridays (I would work from home every other friday, so I was lucky to have pants on at all during those days). The rest of the week it was jeans/gym shorts and t-shirts.

  11. I’m wearing a necktie right now.

    1. But enough about your auto-erotic asphyxiation hobbies….

    2. Yeah, as a belt.

      You’re not foolin’ anyone, Fist.

  12. If you need clothes or tattoos or piercings to express yourself, the message you are sending is loud and clear: you are telling the world that you are a moron. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. I don’t know about you, but I express my individuality by dressing like all the other poorly educated malcontents.

    2. No tats or piercings for THIS guy. I let my dark-blue-avec-les-trois-bands, velveteen, old-skool Adidas “sweat” suit and red Adidas Gazelles do the talkin’…..

    3. Because if your self-expression doesn’t match the self-expression of your average salaryman, you’re a moron!

      1. No, if your self-expression through your clothes, tattoos, jewelry, piercings, etc.. takes precedence over your self-expression thru ideas and action, then you’re a moron.

        +5 popped collars

        1. “The clothes make the man…”

          Or DO they?

        2. That wasn’t the claim.

          1. I am confused and want to fit in here: am I supposed to get a tattoo, and if so what of?

              1. +1 tonight’s loser

            1. A woodchipper, obviously

            2. Crusty, if you want a tattoo then just get the word ‘cliche’ tattooed across your forehead.

            3. Full back tattoo of lobster girl.

          2. without agreeing or disagreeing with anything – I have known a substantial number of people who’s outward appearance was mostly a substitute for a personality rather than an extension of it.

            That said….This seems like a great opportunity for Vice “Do’s and Don’ts”

            Do = Have Sex With a Clown

            Don’t = “Beach Goth”

            1. I have known a substantial number of people who’s outward appearance was mostly a substitute for a personality rather than an extension of it.

              Yes, and they project that onto others, so that they think whatever a person is wearing, or their tattoos (or lack of tattoos), has enormous meaning.

              1. yep.

                i was in bands with a lot of these people. they had concerns that my shoes didn’t send the right message.

                1. or ‘any message’

            2. I have known a substantial number of people who’s outward appearance was mostly a substitute for a personality rather than an extension of it.

              My point, more exactly. I remember the days when I thought my Miami Vice linen jacket/pants combo made me cool.

              1. It can just be social signaling (I’m hating this phrase, now), or it can be a choice between hedonic or utilitarian.

                Sometimes things (clothes, jewelry, shoes, body art, whatev) are beautiful and people like to enjoy the pleasure of owning/wearing beautiful stuff. I have a favorite pale pink (almost beige) cashmere sweater with wonderful cut and feel.

                If you’re buying a certain brand because all the people you want to be like own the same brand then, yeah, you might be a sheep, but whatever. Some people dress oddly, uniquely, originally or not because they enjoy the feeling, sensation, effect.

                1. I have a favorite pale pink (almost beige) cashmere sweater with wonderful cut and feel.

                  Pics with 50’s-style cone bra underneath or GTFO.

                  1. Well, it is crew neck, dress cut (high waisted), and cardigan, so a cone bra would be era appropriate. But, I’ll stick with my lycra comfort bra (no underwire) for comfort.

                    1. my lycra comfort bra (no underwire) for comfort.

                      BAN BRAS

            3. I have known a substantial number of people who’s outward appearance was mostly a substitute for a personality rather than an extension of it.

              Even if it’s an extension of your personality, it can suck. I’ve known plenty of people with shitty style (clothing and/or tattoos) that express their shitty personality through their shitty style.

              IMO, shitty clothing is better than shitty tattoos/piercings. You can take an obnoxious shirt off. You’re stuck with the tattoos/piercings.

    4. Hey, its your freedom to think that those of us who have tats or piercings are morons.

      And it is our freedom to think that you are an uptight broad who needs to get laid.

      Aint freedom grand?!

      1. Yes, yes it is

  13. “Because clothes are freedom?freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world”

    This is fine, but some people think this is the same thing as having control over how other people perceive you.

    I’m reminded of something Scott Adams wrote
    “Contrary to popular belief, its often your clothing that gets promoted, not you. You reap some benefit by being the person inside the clothes. Always dress better than your peers so your clothes will be the ones selected for promotion. And make sure you’re in your clothes when it happens. One man made the mistake of bringing his dry cleaning to work and ended up as a direct report to his own sports jacket.”

  14. I waiting for my Z Cavaricci’s and Bugle Boys to come back in style.

    1. +1 Members Only jacket

    2. Pink muscle tee and crazy bodybuilder pants!

      1. Zubas, if I remember correctly

  15. And not yet a single reference to the Free to Nipple wackadoos?

    1. Those crazy ass bitches, thinking they should be allowed to express themselves.

      1. *puts on “Free To Be You And Me” LP my mom used to play on the old RCA Victrola…*

      2. It is the part where they think they can dictate how other people perceive their expression, i.e. desexualizing the the nipple.


        2. A moronic undertaking if there ever was one. The size of women’s breasts is overkill, costly but functionally useless, unless that size has been evolutionarily selected for, as sexy adornment. The peacock equivalent; sexual selection; costly signaling.

          So we pretend that women’s breasts aren’t sexy, when women find it convenient. The same with pregancy, by the way. Assumption of pregnancy when convenient, otherwise fiction of sameness (no pregnancy) to men, see employment law.

  16. In the ivory tower of IT, clothing standards are optional pretty loose. I’m usually a sweater ‘n’ jeans guy – winter. Or polo shirt ‘n’ jeans – summer. Very casual here – sports sweatshirts are pretty common unless a big meeting is going to happen.

    1. This is how it pretty much works in most of the tech industry. However, some of our senior leadership are known for their super designer dresses/suits, so a lot of people come in very fancy attire. The important thing is that none of it is forced. I’m sure some of the underlings wearing designer dresses are suck ups, but some just like to look nice.

      I on the other hand can’t stand anything buttoned around my neck, and hate t-shirts so it is usually a polo shirt and cargo shorts for me.

  17. just got my new shipment of Reefs in time for Hawaii.


  18. “If there is hope”, wrote Nick, “it lies in the people who wear their pants so their ass cracks show.”

  19. freedom to choose how we present ourselves to the world

    Speaking as a guy who wears Levi’s and a t shirt 99% of the time, I am presenting myself as somebody who doesn’t give a shit what you think.

    1. You do give a shit. But this exercise is likely to train you to give less.

  20. I can cope with the “casual” clothing. What I’d like to see the back of are some of the colors. I know that theree are colors that look horrible on caucasians, but good against darker skin. I don’t mind those. Puss yellow doesn’t look good on anyone. Neither does vomit green. Could we please stop wearing/buying/selling/making clothes the color of sewage and toxic waste?

    Also, while we are talking about personal style, I want to pass on something I read in a impulse-buy book in a Barnes & Nobel checkout line.

    “Very few people look good in dreadlocks. None of them are white.”

    Words to live by.

    1. Except twenty something Co-eds. Being a young white female means anything looks good on you as long as it shows off enough skin or is tight enough.

      1. If they are fairly fit, yes. There are a good number of young, white females who have legs that look like a cheese grater but still wear very short shorts, or have asses that are flattered by tights, and yet still wear them.

      2. Some look good in spite of dreadlocks. Not the same as looking good in them.


    How Michelle Obama’s Fashion Diplomacy Punctured India’s Color Prejudice

    Shikha Dalmia|2.04.15
    Shikha Dalmia on the Soft Power of Michelle Obama’s Designer Wardrobe


  22. Hate to be Debbie Downer here, but what’s with the assumption that “blur[ing] the lines between man and woman, old and young, rich and poor” is an unalloyed good? Is Nick telling us that liberty is an ill-fitted, rumpled, olive drab Zhongshan suit clad on a human body – forever ?

    1. It’s progressivism man. “Not better, just different.” is the motto.

      If the difference involves greater authoritarian involvement and/or actively (or at a net cost) destroys competing conventions, so much the better.

  23. I don’t get it. Is social signaling really that important?

    I wear what makes me comfortable. If I am not in the woods that usually means jeans, brown leather Rockports, and a nice button up shirt. I only tuck if it is long sleeve. I have dressed the same way for as long as I can remember and have no intention of changing.

    I don’t have any tattoos, wear no jewelry of any kind, don’t belong to any churches or clubs and don’t have a quirky haircut. I drive a jeep only because I need to have access to lots of off-road places. I couldn’t give less of a shit what people think about me.

    1. It is to urbanites/suburbanites who struggle to differentiate themselves from millions of their peers. When the only difference between you and the 1500 other 16 year-olds who live within 2 miles of you is the clothing you wear, it becomes a way to carve out a social niche.

      See also: Home Owner Associations and the incessant suburbanite whine of “property value.” Same exact issue, but with houses instead of clothes.

  24. Clothes are confining, which makes perfect sense, as they are statement and commitment. The only way clothes would not confining is if they were arbitrary, meaningless. The more meaningless clothes become, the less definitive, the less socially and individually useful they become.
    It’s not clear what this article “is for”. Alright, allow people do dress however they want. That doesn’t absolve them from criticism. Clearly, clothes are not meaningless. They stand for something. And others are free to object to whatever world-view, set of morals, and so forth these clothes stand for. They don’t have to indiscriminately like various characters, nor actions, nor the clothing that stands for character, symbolically, and empirically. (For starters, consider the emotional and personality-regarding valence of colors.) This doesn’t even mention beauty, where – again – the subjective evaluation of the wearer is not superior to that of the other/beholder.

    1. The other direction of confinement is in respect to other people. Clothes mean you restrict what the wearer bothers you with. (Defining oneself through clothing means confining oneself for one’s own direct benefit. Said other direction is about confining oneself for the benefit of others, and inderectly for one’s own benefit.) Just consider oscenity laws and its local community standards. As a facet of freedom of association and pluralism, that’s a good thing. I’m for dress codes in the widest sense.

      Take a look at Dressing Constitutionally, written by a woman (Cambridge UP?).

  25. Choosing the right type of girls clothing
    can be very difficult. Girls remain very possessive about their look and attire. So instead styling them in whatever manner you like, give them a freedom to choose clothes which are perfect in size and comfortable to wear anywhere, anytime.

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