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jeanna's avatar

Will we ever be able to move past labeling people based on the clothes they wear?

Asked by jeanna (2059points) July 13th, 2009

I was inspired by comments on a recent question regarding whether a Halloween costume was suitable for a teen. The responses labeling anyone who would wear such a thing as a slut were disappointing. Such cases of women getting raped because of the clothes they wore make me cringe. The idea that someone wants something based on what they wear is highly stereotypical.

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jbfletcherfan's avatar

Sadly, it’s always been that way & it always will be. But in reality, you CAN kind of tell what a person’s personality is by the clothes they wear. It’s just a fact.

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

@jbfletcherfan I don’t know about that. granted it often provides some indicator if you see them on a daily basis, but you can’t accurately make judgments if you’ve never met the person beforehand. perhaps an above average occurrence, but far far far from a fact.

JLeslie's avatar

I was dissapointed also with the slut remarks, expecially about a young teenager. I liked to look sexy when I was a teenager, I understand that.

I do, however, think clothes count and it is important to be aware of how you might be judged. Short story, I used to work for an underwear line and 12, 13, 14 year olds would come in with their moms and buy thong underwear for the young girl. They didn’t want panty lines. Well, typically then you have a thong line (you can get rid of lines with “big” underwear also). My husband likes me to wear thong underwear because in his mind girls who do want to get fucked. Nuff said.

Along with that I think proper attire at times are demanded for respectful purposes: church, weddings, school, etc.

whitenoise's avatar

I have said enough on this topic, in the thread you refer to. I fully agree.

My lurve to you for raising this question and being one of the few on the other thread to express this feeling there. :-)

Jeruba's avatar

Unlike skin color, features, hair texture, and mother tongue, clothing is a matter of culture and choice. It’s disingenuous to suppose a person could put on a highly revealing outfit with inherent symbolism of its own (Playboy bunny) free of all intent to be suggestive. No one should wear that outfit who doesn’t know what it signifies. And if she does know, she is responsible for the impression it creates.

However, looking like a sex object and being a slut are certainly not the same thing. I think those labels are unfair. (That question is here.)

Stereotyping is one thing; drawing conclusions from information a person exhibits about herself is something else entirely. The outfit is just as explicit as messages like these. Would you call it stereotyping if you formed an impression of a person wearing a message in words?

wenn's avatar

i already have stopped labeling people based on looks there is no point in doing it.

cwilbur's avatar

I don’t think we need or want to move past it. We can make some valid inferences about people based on what they choose to wear.

I do like @Jeruba‘s distinction between looking like you want to be a sex object and being a slut, though. Someone who wears a Halloween costume that exposes a lot of skin is choosing to come across as a sex object: if you have cleavage down to there, people who strike up conversations with you will not be likely to be most interested in your mind.

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 I look at it this way. If I see someone who dresses scantilly & has things showing & hanging out, I form an opinion of that person. They maybe don’t have much respect for themselves. They’re advertising. If I see someone who is well put together, has clean, neat clothes on, someone who looks like they respect themselves & how they look, I take that impression away, too. We’re each entitled to our own opinion. And that’s mine, right or wrong. As the saying goes, clothes make the man. Or the woman.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it is significant that this was for Halloween, it is a “dress up” day.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I don’t think so. What people wear has said something about them since time immemorial. It originated with status symbols, quality of clothing and certain styles of dress indicating poor vs. wealthy, and I doubt that it will ever end.

sap82's avatar

Sure, when you graduate high school. Also, lose those pants they make you look chunky. ; P I am totally kidding. lol.

wundayatta's avatar

Clothes are a tool that we use to present ourselves to the world. They speak a language, and like all languages, they are ambiguous. When you dress, you have to be cognizant of how the rest of the world interprets the symbols you are wearing.

Sometimes people are naive, and say things they don’t mean to say. Other times they do it deliberately. As with all flirtation, there are words that women use to tease but they don’t want it to go any further, and there are flirtations that are meant to go further.

The clothes in the other question are certainly designed to send a message about sex. They are most certainly flirtatious. They are designed to highlight a woman’s sexual attributes. You have to ask why a person would want to emphasize their sexual attributes, and depending on the answer you come up with, you might label the person a slut.

The idea that a woman wants to be raped is another issue altogether. I think we’ve discussed it before, but in general, I think that most women think that they can have a rape fantasy without really wanting to be raped. In any case, real rapists don’t care what a woman is wearing. They just want to rape, for whatever reason they are driven to do that. If clothes play a role in that, they only play a minimal role; perhaps in the process by which the rapist selects their victim.

To answer this question, we will never be able to move beyond labeling a person based on the clothes they wear because the whole point of clothes is to present who you are to the people who see you. Professionals wear suits so they can look serious and trustworthy. Women wear party dresses to parties, because they want to attract attention. Police wear uniforms, as do many other people in various jobs, because it tells us what kind of job they do.

Clothes tell us how the person wants to be perceived—whether they are rich, or whether they don’t want to look rich, or may actually be poor. They tell us how people care about clothes. Do they make an effort to look attractive, or do they really not care, and are just going for comfort.

Clothes can easily lie. A person who looks sexy may not really want to be perceived that way. A person can wear all kinds of knock-off stuff to look rich when they really aren’t. People can impersonate police officers in order to get others to comply with their orders. It goes on and on.

Clothes are also ambiguous. Does the woman wearing sexy clothes mean she wants to advertise her availability, or just that she’s a flirt or seeking attention and flattery? This is where labeling comes in. Some people want a symbol to stand for one thing, and one thing only. So they react as if revealing clothes are always about availability for sex. This is often wishful thinking. It can be the result of envy on the part of the person looking at the sexy one. Or disapproval of anything sexy.

Clothes are like words. They say what they mean. People wear clothes that are telling lies at their own peril.

Facade's avatar

I doubt it. A lot can be learned about a person by what they wear.

gailcalled's avatar

Around here, it is chic to be unchic. Much of the “country” look takes some work; we also take pride in supporting the consignment shop, which monies are used to help fund our local Performing Arts Center.

What does that tell you about me? I’m in jeans, a nice black T covered with cat hairs, and burgundy Clark sandals.

Jeruba's avatar

Oh, noooo! A black T with blue jeans! But wait, elijah says it’s okay. So—it tells us that you are timeless and classy, @Gail, just as we suspected all along.

Facade's avatar

@gailcalled I’d say you have cats and like to be comfortable

jeanna's avatar

Why does it have to be that way? A person wearing jeans and a tank may be the richest person in your city, or they may be the poorest; who cares what they wear? In certain situations, yes, clothing is important. With job interviews, at work, etc. However, labeling someone immediately based on what they’re wearing should be something we all strive to not do. Does it happen? Yes. Does it need to happen? No. Of course you can get a sense of style from the clothing, but you know nothing else about them.

As such, keep in mind clothing isn’t the only thing people can pass judgment on. With some responses on fluther, my judgment of you could be that you’re an asshole, jackass, bitch, judgmental, hypocrite, stupid, uneducated, lacking social skills, etc.

Whatever judgments you pass, remember the same can be passed back.

As with most things I say/do, I’m just trying to hold that mirror in hopes someone might actually see who they really are or (gasp!) see who someone else actually is…

DominicX's avatar

Well, at first I thought we were talking about the whole “I wear Hot Topic, therefore I’m depressed” or “I wear Abercrombie, therefore I’m stuck up”. Even those labels are unfair. I wear preppy clothing and I don’t want anyone assuming anything about my personality. It’s simply what I think looks best on me.

As for the whole “slut” thing, we can’t make any inferences about their personality. To us, she may look “slutty”, but that doesn’t mean that she is a slut. Those are two different things. You can’t assume someone is a slut for wearing certain clothing, especially for a fucking Halloween party where the point is to wear a costume.

Jayne's avatar

As people have argued above, clothes are an effective and usually deliberate means of conveying information about oneself, and help us to learn about and characterize one another, which of course we must do. It should never be used as the sole or the definitive source of information, unless it is the only on you have, but it is nonetheless useful. However, there is a difference between labeling and passing judgment. It is fine to characterize someone by their clothes, but one should always avoid judging that character; it is fine to say that you are trying to look sexy, but not to say that you are a slut, assuming derogatory usage. But of course this distinction applies to all observations we make of one another, not just those based on clothes.

CMaz's avatar

No and you are ugly and your mother dresses you funny.

jeanna's avatar

@ChazMaz I’ll assume that’s a joke. :)

CMaz's avatar

Yes, it is/was….——-> :-)

The point is people will always want to be better or one up another.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’ve been proven wrong way too many times to make any assumptions based on the way people dress. I do still think that people who dress in labels and expensive clothes are overly concerned with money and status, but that’s only because it’s usually true.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

I think that’s an individual decision. It’s not one I make.
That goes for people who decide to wear $150 jeans too. They might be very nice people who spend a lot of money on clothes.

DominicX's avatar


I think people who assume that people who wear nice clothes are obsessed with money and status are the ones obsessed with money and status, since they automatically think of money and status when they see someone else’s nice clothing.

tinyfaery's avatar

Well, let me be your counter point. I have no interest in money or status.

DominicX's avatar



I once saw a really nice $86 Lacoste polo shirt at Macy’s, which is way more than what I usually pay for clothing. But, it’s like it had been made just for me; it was totally my style and it was everything I liked, so I got it. I get clothing that looks good, regardless of labels, whether it’s Target or Macy’s.

tinyfaery's avatar

I live in L.A. Most people are concerned with money and status. I admit my view could be a bit skewed.

galileogirl's avatar

I was about to respond that I never judged people by the way they dress but as I started reading I thought maybe I do a little.

First of all, I am no fashion plate. I dress appropriately for comfort at work. I am the queen of Lands End with matching cardigans/skirts/pants and coordinating polos/T’s. in many dark colors (yawn). As a high school teacher, I see lots of silly and questionable outfits every day. I don’t judge kids because I know they are just working things out like they are doing in all aspects of their lives. We have a fair dress code so that if anyone goes too far, they are usually dealt with quickly and quietly.

On the other hand, when I see 40+ adults making those same silly choices all that comes to mind is “What are you thinking?” Bristly men in droopy cargo shorts, skateboard graphic T’s and sandals, Women in tight spaghetti strap tanks, tight shorts and underwear hanging out anywhere should be smart enough to stay home. I wouldn’t judge them on their morals, though, just on whether they are too distracted to be out in traffic.

I do know a lot of women judge others because they don’t have a large, expensive, fashionable wardrobe. Of course what those women are not aware of is that when they open their mouths in criticism, the rest of us judge them as shallow, vain and overly materialistic.

DominicX's avatar


So…it’s almost like the judging balances itself out. :)

galileogirl's avatar

@DominicX I admit judging people by what they say or try to impose on others, but not by the way they speak, the color of their complexion, their religious or political beliefs, how they dress, where they live or who they love. I don’t even judge you for thinking those all balance out.

Blondesjon's avatar

Labels only work if you let them work. If someone refers to what you are wearing as slutty you are the only person that can decide how you are going to react to that.

Life is much easier to deal with when you truly don’t care what others think of you.

buster's avatar

No way. Fashion defines who you are or a stereotype you fit in. Sports fans get decked out in team colors for games. Punk rockers get decked in wild fashions for punk shows. Rockabilly guys rock big sideburns, greased hair ,and leather jackets. Gangsters usually wear big pants and a shirt or coat and hat repping their gang colors. Doctors and nurses wear scrubs and lab coats. When you see a cop in a uniform you know thats a cop. Cowboys are easily recognized. I have Amish neighbors. They were long sleeve black and navy blue all year round and the men don’t shave. I can look at them and tell they are Amish. Clothes can tell a lot about you. People can also draw the wrong opinion of you for your style of clothing. All and all i say fuck it i wear what I want. I have wore dresses on a few occasions. Clothes are just costumes. Are bodies are just biological robots.

rooeytoo's avatar

One of my favorite things about Australia is that once you are out of the cities such as Melbourne or Sydney, most people just don’t give a damn about fashion. They just wear what is comfy. And since everybody does it, no one gives you a second glance. I love it.

Aethelwine's avatar

@rooeytoo That is what I love about living in the country. There is less need to “conform”. I would rather be comfortable than worry about what others thought of me.

rooeytoo's avatar

@jonsblond – yes I say as I sit here in my baggy surfie shorts, flannel shirt (it’s a bad winter here, I have had to wear a long sleeved shirt 3 times so far! but I d0 switch back to a tank top when the sun comes up) and funny looking but ohhhhh so comfy Dunlop Volleys.

wundayatta's avatar

@rooeytoo You call that winter?!!!!! I call that positively balmy! I think I’d hate your summers.

rooeytoo's avatar

@daloon – yep, and this is probably a first in the 5 years I have been here, I am wearing jeans today, well only to work because the A/C is freezing! Outside we are in the “dry” which is that time of the year when the weather is boringly perfect every single day until about October or November when we get into the “build-up” to the “wet.” Then the temps are in the 90’s and the humidity matches. You don’t even want to move and break a sweat just breathing.

I always wanted to live in the tropics but I am sick of it now! Can’t wait to move back to civilization and a different climate!

ohmyword's avatar


sad but true. short & sweet.

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