Social Question

DominicX's avatar

Why do people judge other people by the clothing they wear?

Asked by DominicX (28777points) March 18th, 2010

I’m sick of it. Like, I’m really sick of it.

I don’t understand it. At all. I really don’t do this, at least not overtly. I suppose I can’t control subconscious judgments, but they don’t seem to be showing themselves all that much for me.

People who wear preppy clothes are stuck-up assholes, people who wear Hot Topic-style clothes are emo losers, people who wear pajamas or sweat pants in public are lazy, people who sag are complete idiots…

Enough already. You don’t know squat about a person’s character based on the clothing they wear. As if there isn’t enough judging in this world already, now we have to make all kinds of assumptions about a person’s attitude, intelligence, and social status by their clothing.

I say wear and let wear.

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44 Answers

Disaster_Porn's avatar

I do look good in my man thongs…...thanks @DominicX for understanding! :) Great question I agree.

I bet people think I am strange or something but I just want to feel the breeze and a nice tan! hahaha

nikipedia's avatar

Did something happen? I can’t say I’ve had this experience in at least a decade.

Likeradar's avatar

The thing is, I think you can often tell something about a person by what they wear. Many people dress to express themselves…

DominicX's avatar


Yes, it probably is more common with the younger crowd. But based on questions about sagging, sweat pants, etc. have revealed that a lot of people believe it’s okay to make major assumptions about people based on their clothing.


Yes, sometimes your assumptions about the person would be right, but not always. That’s why I don’t like it. Not to mention I’m focusing on negative assumptions in this question. It’s the negative assumptions that stand out to me.

nikipedia's avatar

So do you think when people dress themselves, they are making any decisions (conscious or subconscious) about what message they’re trying to send about themselves? E.g., I’m professional, I’m approachable, I care about my appearance, I want to be attractive, etc?

DominicX's avatar


Probably, but that’s not what I’m hearing. I’m hearing “I’m stupid so I sag”, or “I’m a stuck-up jerk so I wear preppy clothing.” I doubt that goes through people’s heads when they put on their clothing.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

I think you’re putting too much effort into other peoples preconceptions. It should be enough to know they are incorrect in their judgments.

DominicX's avatar


I just don’t understand the value of judging based on clothes because I don’t seem to do it. But other people do, overtly. I want to understand why they do it and what benefit it gives them.

I can see many negatives. You might make such a strong assumption about someone based on their clothing that you would avoid being around them or being friends with them.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

And how is what other people think, your problem?

DominicX's avatar


So I’m not allowed to try and understand it? I’m not allowed to voice my opinion on the matter? I should just shut up and accept it?

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

Wear and let wear is an excellent ideology, but judging people on what they wear is deeply rooted in human culture. Even before the development of civilization people were using various forms of body adornment (jewelery, body painting, etc) to show social status. In every single culture there has been an “elite” who is allowed to wear the nicest things, whether it be the rarest shell in the area or the latest Ralph Lauren fashion line.

Even if there aren’t strict sumptuary laws in most modern, industrialized cultures, they are still kind of there in ways. Middle class people, because of their income, generally cannot wear the same things the movie stars wear, those $10,000 dresses with $5,000 sunglasses… It’s just out of the question unless you have some secret source of income that nobody should know about.

Similarly, people dress in certain ways to distinguish themselves. We acknowledge that people judge based on appearance and clothing choice, so we use that element of our culture to our advantage (sometimes). When people want to stand out from the norm, they wear crazy clothing; when they want to show how wealthy they are, they go for the most expensive and “in” clothing they can get. Or, they’ll dress in imitation-high-class clothing to give the impression that they are better off than they may actually be.

Self-adornment and its implications can’t be erased from human nature. It’s like telling someone not to eat McDonalds because others might think they’re a slob. I’m sure you show quite a bit of yourself in the way you dress, whether you want to (or are aware of it) or not. As long as people wear anything but their birthday suit, this will be true.

Edit: I’d give you a source for my information on the info in my first paragraph, but I’m remembering it from a History of Craft class I took last semester, and we didn’t use textbooks. Sorry!

DominicX's avatar

I’m not saying they don’t show anything in their clothing, I’m saying that people don’t intend to show something negative and the fact that we assume that they do it because of their negative traits comes off as ridiculous to me. I know clothing is important and people use it to express themselves, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a person is “stuck up”, “lazy”, “slutty”, etc. based on the kind of clothing they wear. That’s something that you’ll find out once you know the person and the danger in this is that you might not even bother getting to know the person because of your assumptions about their clothing.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

Nevermind then.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

To better suit your question, then…

Let’s see. An example would be the lady in the grocery store wearing basically her jammies.

PJ’s are sleeping clothing, which are mainly meant to be worn at night or in the privacy of your own home. They can sometimes also be a bit on the indecent side occasionally, as they sometimes show the kind of skin that generally people don’t want to see from a total stranger.

An acceptable way of thinking is this: ”I took the time and effort to put on some decent clothes for a shopping trip. It’s not terribly difficult to do. Why didn’t this person feel they could just walk out of bed and into the store? If they don’t care what they look like in front of others, they must not care much about themself in general.” Thus, sloppiness or laziness is assumed. It doesn’t help that many of the people you see dressed this way may be overweight or look otherwise disheveled.

Maybe the PJ lady in the grocery store was just busy that morning, but really… Most of us are pretty busy, and most of us take the time to make ourselves look decent. It’s common courtesey in my opinion.

shadling21's avatar

We judge people on everything they tell us visually and audibly. Clothing counts. Some stereotypes suck, but at least clothing is something that you can change.

If you don’t want to be viewed as stuck up, don’t dress “preppy”. Or, if you’d rather challenge these stereotypes, make sure people realize that you aren’t stuck up. Or, if you’d rather just wear what you want without explaining yourself, then do so, but don’t be surprised when people make judgments based on your clothing.

DominicX's avatar

I don’t get why people have a problem with me asking this question, to be honest. If you don’t want to answer it, don’t.


I dress preppy and I am not going to stop to appease judgmental people. If they assume I am stuck up, that is their loss. I’ve always had that view, though, about any stereotype.

DominicX's avatar


Again, it’s one of those things where you might be right or you might not be.

The thing that bothers me about it is not that you might be right, so be it if the person actually is a lazy person in general and their wearing of pajamas is a reflection of this. What bothers me is that people take the time to make these assumptions about people. I don’t even notice people wearing pajamas in public. Again I know I’m in the minority that I’m oblivious to people’s clothing much of the time and I’m not saying everyone needs to be that way, they don’t. I just want people to give someone a fair chance before they make a harsh judgment about their character.

But as others have said, if they’re wrong, they’ll find out sooner or later.

Fenris's avatar

Because the brain is designed to respond to everything ASAP, be it people or situations, and that requires judgment. It takes known and accepted social norms, known and recognised social and behavioral patterns, matches them up with whatever current variables it knows, and arrives at an assumption based on what has come before. It’s just how we’re wired. that’s why I hate economists who unceasingly rag on people who are just reacting to and acting upon the world in a manner consistent with the way the brain works.

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

@DominicX I’m glad you don’t notice the pajama people in the store. It’s probably better for your mental health not to be constantly judging others by their clothing.

Most of us are raised in a society where looks matter, people of the older generations especially. Dressing against the norms had many more social consequences back then.

Really, it takes only a second or less to make judgments and assumptions, as @Fenris said. We see something out of the norm and we are drawn to it. I’m guilty of it myself. Once I saw a girl walking through a mall with a shirt that pretty much covered her breasts and that’s it, and the first thing I thought was, “Wow, she’s trying to get some attention.” And I don’t consider myself an overly judgmental person. So when you say people “take the time to make assumptions,” it’s not really accurate. It often just happens automatically.

DominicX's avatar


Yeah, I realized that. There really isn’t much time taken, it does happen automatically. But you know, like I said, you can’t really help the subconscious quick silent judgments you make. It’s more when people actually voice those judgments like they are some kind of accurate statement about the person (such as someone on this site saying that they will assume anyone who sags is of low intelligence. Doesn’t seem fair to me). In that case, you’re planning out your judgments. That’s kind of the opposite of a quick subconscious one.

And I’m not saying I never make quick assumptions about people, of course I do. Everyone does. It’s just that clothing…I don’t know, I feel differently about it for some reason. The only thing I really notice about clothing is if someone is wearing clothing that makes them look more attractive and I think “wow, that clothing looks excellent on them, I wish they wore it more often” or “maybe I should get me some of that same clothing.”

Thanks to everyone who actually answered the question. Seems a rarity these days. :)

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

I understand what you mean. I don’t think it’s just clothing, though, in the sense of what you’re talking about. It’s also accompanied by apparent behavior, hair style, make-up (or lack thereof) and other visual cues.

For example, the belly-shirt lady I talked about in my last post happened to be fairly heavily made up, hair dyed blonde, and had a rather blank look on her face.

I understand your aggravation with this, but… it’s part of human nature. We can improve things with awareness and communication, but it’ll never really go away.

By the way, from looking at your photo the only thing I assume is that you look like a normal, nicely dressed guy.

DominicX's avatar

Yeah, I know it will probably never go away because it is part of human nature. I just hope that we can maybe do it less and less and to the people who don’t do it so often, I applaud them. All we can do about false stereotypes and assumptions is prove them wrong again and again.

This question also might be a little misleading because I haven’t exactly experienced judging based on my clothing. It’s not really a problem for me. I do dress preppy a lot, but I’ve never heard any judgments based on it. Mostly this just comes from things I hear about this topic in general because I know it does happen.

neverawake's avatar

because they’re stupid that’s why

ParaParaYukiko's avatar

No, it totally happens. In middle school I went through a little “goth” phase where I wore a lot of black and Hot Topic. In 8th grade, one of my classmates came up to me after school and asked, “Do you worship the devil?”

I also kind of got denied the superlative title of “Most Likely to Succeed” in my high school yearbook because of my goth phase. Apparently the bitch in charge of the yearbook committee had the idea that since I’m goth, I shouldn’t get the title. I was wearing a pink polo shirt the day I heard about this.

I look back at this and laugh because it seems so stupid, but it was a bit hurtful at the time. My clothing style is more “normal” these days, because I want people to judge me on my personality, not my crazy clothing.

Thus, I save my hat with the cat ears on it to wear when I’m at home, not at school. Kinda sucks cuz it’s soooo comfyyy… Er, I’ve gotten off topic.

thriftymaid's avatar

We don’t all do that. However, when you first meet someone you are going to get a first impression and what they are wearing will be part of that.

Facade's avatar

How else am I supposed to judge poeple? lol
Clothes are usually an expression of a person. Example: A conservative, shy woman would not wear a low-cut top and a mini skirt, but an outgoing/ friendly/ sexual woman would. Like it or not, what you wear says a lot about you to the world, just as all of our actions do. If you don’t want people to make certain judgements about you, don’t give them any reason to do so.

Silhouette's avatar

I judge people by their actions.

DominicX's avatar


But in many cases, wearing the clothes is reason enough for them to make a false judgment about you.

The most I can do is just later prove their assumption incorrect.

citizenearth's avatar

Well, it is the easiest way to ‘make judgement’ about people based on what they wear or their outward appearance. Cause they have nothing else to base on.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Say NO! to the malls, and shop Goodwill.

wundayatta's avatar

What do you mean by “judge?” When someone opens their mouth, do you judge them by their accent? Their vocabulary? The way they put words together?

When someone acts, do you judge them by their consideration of others? By the way they move in space? By the expressions on their face?

Clothes are not just coverings to keep the weather away. They are another means of communication, and we all judge each other based on whatever criteria we have. But we do it because we don’t think we can be friends with everyone, and we want to limit the people we talk to to those we think are most interesting.

Tone of voice and accent and physical presence can all be misleading, just as any generalization based on a meme. We judge…. you judge because it makes sense in discriminating between those people you want to spend time with and those you don’t.

People say “judge” like it’s anathema, but we do it all day every day. No reason to feel guilty about it. It’s how we survive and how we have fun. There are good reasons for judging people by the clothes they wear, just as there are good reasons for judging people by the way they speak or the words they use or the work they do.

citizenearth's avatar

@ wundayatta
You are entitled to your own opinion. But be alert that what you ‘judge’ may not be what it really is.

DominicX's avatar

I never said judging was always bad and I never said no on should ever judge ever. You can’t help some judging that is done, subconscious automatic judgments are not something you can really help. But you can help others. You can make a conscious effort to not make large [negative] assumptions about a person based on their clothing. I never thought people would get so defensive in their right to judge people by their clothing. You’re telling me it’s alright to assume someone is an idiot because they wear backwards caps and polo shirts?

It’s this idea that we can make huge statements about someone’s character based on the clothing they wear that I don’t understand. No one wants to “express themselves” as a moron, so no one wears clothing with the intent that people will see them as stupid (I would think) so it doesn’t make any sense to say that you can determine someone is of low intelligence based on the clothing they wear. I do not think this is a “good reason” at all.

Aethelwine's avatar

@DominicX I’m with you 100%. GQ! that’s all I’ve got. just wanted to let you know :)

wundayatta's avatar

@DominicX You’re telling me it’s alright to assume someone is an idiot because they wear backwards caps and polo shirts?

If that’s what you think, then yes, it’s all right to think that. I mean, what else can you do? Either your assumption will be confirmed or it won’t. You’ll learn.

I’m not defending my right to judge based on clothing. I’m defending your right.

@citizenearth But be alert that what you ‘judge’ may not be what it really is.

Perhaps I didn’t say it very clearly, but I thought that’s the point I was making. You make interpretations of the data (judgments) and they aren’t always right. Sometimes your mistakes can get you hurt. Sometimes they can make you miss out on something really good. But that’s the way life is.

I think we all use whatever data we deem relevant to make our assessments about other people. I think clothing provides important data. As do many other things. To say it shouldn’t be considered when you are trying to figure someone out is ridiculous. Of course, like always, you should check out any conclusions you draw. The same clothing doesn’t always say the same thing.

stevenelliottjr's avatar

Would you rather everyone wear uniforms?

phillis's avatar

Clothing can tell you a lot about a person. It can tell you if a friend can afford to split the lunch bill with you, whether laundry is a top priority for the person, or whether a person’s self-image comes primarily from how others view them. I cannot avoid making judgements, because it’s human. To deny it is like denying that I need to breathe.

What I can do is figure out a way to use it as a shared advantage between myself and the person I judged. So, that’s what I did. Have you ever seen a person barely able to afford clothing, trying to scrounge in thier pockets to pay for gas that they HAD to have, in order to get to work? Pay part of thier gas bill. The teller isn’t going to tell you no.

Likeradar's avatar

I see no problem with making assumptions based on how people present themselves. In my opinion, the problem comes when someone is unwilling to learn if their assumption is incorrect.

Palindrome's avatar

@DominicX I so understand you in what your saying because I share the exact same feeling towards this subject. I have one word for you though. STEREOTYPES. People are going to stereotype whether anyone likes it or not. I mean I absolutely hate this practice of idiocy and the people who actually live up to the stereotypes. Judging someone by what they wear is the same concept. It’s basically where the person who is stereotyping/judging is too damn lazy to actually get to know the person they’re judging so they come up with these labels that could be the total opposite of who the person really is.
I mean but also what @ParaParaYukiko said, this thought process could just be rooted to traditions of the past. I too think it’s wrong to think negatively about a person just by what they wear, but it’s nothing new and I know there’s nothing you and I can do to change people’s opinions based on this practice.

lonelydragon's avatar

Because people are attuned to social status, and clothing is one indicator of social class (i.e. rich people tend to wear dressy clothes, or casual but expensive preppy items). Making fun of people who are dressed differently is a way to articially inflate one’s own self-esteem and deflect attention form one’s own insecurities.

mattbrowne's avatar

Because there seem to be certain correlations between choice of clothes character strengths and virtues. But there are plenty of exceptions, so we should be very careful. It’s best to really know the person.

meagan's avatar

Well youre 18. And still in school… so this is probably why this seems like more of an issue to you.
Believe me, once youre out in the “real world” it’s not that big of a deal.


All I know is that men who wear shiny dress shoes are superior to guys who wear ugly brown loafers or tattered sneakers. Lol!

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