Recently in the UK a Facebook post recounting an exchange on between a young woman, and older man and an even older woman went viral. In a crowded carriage, the middle-aged man told a young woman in a revealing party dress that she should have some self-respect when she dressed. The girl was understandably mortified, red faced, and tongue-tied when one hell of an OG pensioner lady leapt to her defense, telling the man that “it was none of his business” and “she could wear a sign pointing to her vagina saying party city all night long and it would still be none of your business, so go back to your bored wife” (I’ve paraphrased slightly since this warrior lady was way more colorful).
While most of me enjoys an inner whoop of delight when I think about this story, there’s another part of me that wonders if it is always okay to wear whatever the heck you like. I was speaking to a gym teacher friend of mine a few weeks ago who prefers that women who attend her classes (and indeed, men) stick to a vest and leggings (or shorts) rather than shorty-short-shorts and crops.
When I dug a bit deeper with this, she mentioned that it can be intimidating for those who aren’t ready to rock a crop to come into a class like that and puts them off to exercising by thinking it’s only for a certain body type. “That’s their deal,” you may say. Maybe, maybe not. But if we can avoid making someone feel uncomfortable or excluded through what we wear, why wouldn’t we?
Every day we choose not to do things we might want because of their impact on others. Is this any different? Here are a few situations you might want to consider first before you unleash the spandex.
1. When It’s Utterly Impractical
Hiking in speedos or bikinis: We’ve seen it. It’s not pretty (or it is, depending on what you like). But mostly, dude, what if you fall over? Seriously, just don’t hurt yourself.
Ditto going out in a light-colored shirt with no coat when it’s forecast rain. I’ve done it. Shivery. If you’re doing Bikram yoga though, I’d suggest this class can definitely handle you in shorty-shorts and a crop if you want.
2. When You’re Visiting a Religious or Culturally Conservative Place
In her recent book Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham talks about the time as a teenager she went to the Vatican in a banana crop and pink spandex and attracted a load of gawking. The Vatican goers were ultimately quite used to Western teen fashion, but if you did a similar thing in somewhere else, you might get a different reaction.
While you wouldn’t be expected to wear traditional dress, you could be expected to cover your shoulders your legs past your knees. A man would also be expected to wear full trousers and cover his shoulders. You’ll have a far nicer time in the places you travel if you get to know the people – so why alienate them at first sight? And you know what they say about walking a mile in someone’s (covered-toe) shoes…
3. When You Have an Interview
In life, we should absolutely try to find the right work environment for us, and that place is likely to be completely accepting of our character and personal style. Sometimes though, that perfect environment doesn’t fall at our feet straight away, and we just need a job.
In these cases we could bend a little to the interviewer’s standards. Ring ahead in advance to see what they expect (for example, some creative employers are more into jeans than a dress suit) and tailor. Often, once you’re in, people get more open minded about clothing as they get to know you—the Swedish clogs reign again.
4. When It Might Get You Arrested
Most often applied to people who show up in public places wearing nothing at all. That said though, there’s a certain double standard where men can go topless in a park on a summer’s day but a woman would be arrested. You can find out more about the quest for equality on this issue at the Free the Nipple film and campaign site. And remember, even if you want to free the nip, politically speaking, that doesn’t mean you have to free your own unless you want to.
Like with anything to do with style (or more generally, life) there are times when you get it wrong. I laugh when remembering the time a small group of friends and I were the only people dressed in Halloween clothes at a university club night near Halloween. Or another time we were the only people at the Madonna and Michael Jackson themed party dressed as either 80s icon (how could we have still got it so wrong?!).
When it comes down to it, you can mostly always wear whatever the heck you like and in most cases won’t and shouldn’t need to think too much about it. Often, people have unfair reactions to other people’s behavior in all sorts of ways, and clothing is no different.
If you do think twice about something, there’s probably a reason for that—you could think about why you want to wear that item so much, why it might not be cool with others and if you feel comfortable with any challenge that might come with it. And with all that consideration done, go be you!
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.