Blue jeans. Running shoes. A little black dress.
An impeccably dressed man. An elderly lady in a housecoat. A woman in a business suit. A twenty-something college student dressed in charity-shop threads.
A half-naked child with a bloated belly stares out from your television screen. A half-naked woman pouts for the camera, hoping you'll run right out and buy that Racing Red lipstick she’s donning. African children sport faded Nike t-shirts and bare feet. An overweight teenager wears a midriff and low-riders. A six year old girl dresses like a beauty-queen.
Whoever we are, our relationship with our clothes is, at the very least, an intimate one. As the only species on earth that both needs and desires additional covering for our hides, what we wear and how we wear it is a basic part of human life on earth. Some protection from the elements is necessary for our survival. But for all of human history, we have treated the making or purchasing of our attire as something more like an art form, involving careful craftsmanship and aesthetically pleasing design. Today, the ease and economy of manufacturing has put innumerable styles and fabrics at our fingertips. We all need a coat, but do we need a closet full of them? We need a solid pair of shoes, but ten or twenty pair? Clearly, we are trying to say something about ourselves, with the clothes we wear. What do your clothes say about you, anyway?
For ages, clothes have served as social signifiers, denoting such things as class, wealth, marital status or age. In today’s western society, these distinctions are fading. Is that woman twenty-five or thirty-five? It’s sometimes hard to tell. Are we losing something by blurring the lines? Gaining something?
One of the most obvious uses of clothing is to hide our nakedness. Stripping of the clothes is often synonymous with the stripping of pride. It is a form of intimidation and torture. The Seattle Times covered the story of an anthrax scare which required everyone within the potentially toxic zone to strip and be washed down. Even in the face of so grave a threat, a reluctant few refused to undress. The article was titled, “We’d Rather Die than Take Our Clothes Off”.
At the opposite extreme, Naturists advocate nudity as the natural and therefore, best clothing. They say it’s all about erasing the barriers between people of different social classes and about accepting yourself for who you really are. Are those of us who prefer wearing clothes, unenlightened—or worse—vain? Naturism reacts against the gnostic idea still prevalent in parts of our society, that the body is inherently shameful. Are they right? Is wearing clothes always a sign of shame? Or is there a certain metaphorical protecting and reserving or even—in direct contrast to the idea of Naturism—a reverencing of ourselves that takes place each time we pull on our clothes?