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August 18, 2009


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And then there are the old men who wear shorts with socks and dress shoes.

I agree with the shorts, but I part ways on the sandals. If I never had to wear sneakers again, I'd be a happy man. The Romans were on to something.

You're gonna hafta explain that one to me. Here's my logic. You still gotta buckle or slip into sandals, just like shoes. Only they, like, don't cover your feet. Which translates into footwear both undignified and uncomfortable.

Now, back in high school I wore white leather high-tops with no logo (not counting Adidas, which brilliantly made its logo not look like a logo) that I cleaned and polished the way my brother did his Trans Am. I am somewhat lazier today, but the point holds: in the last two decades, I believe I have once worn running shoes with street clothes. (Leather Adidas are not running shoes, of course.)

Meaning I'm unrepresentative. But that's the point! So what is the attraction of sandals?

(My wife, she wears the flip-flops. But she won't explain.)

Do you distinguish between long and short shorts? (I favour the former.)

And why the sandal-hating? They're comfortable, and I've thought that a decent pair are as dignified as any other footwear. (Taking care of toenails beforehand, obviously, being a necessary requirement.)

I hate sandals because (a) I don't understand why they're more comfortable than real shoes, and (b) being barefoot is quite simply undignified. Most people do not have attractive feet, and it is not necessary that I see them.


Wearing sandals has its downside if your walking around a lot, but you know that feeling right after you take your socks off after a 14-hour workday? I feel like sandals are as close as you can get to that feeling on permanent basis. But yeah my feet are ugly, and sometimes smelly, so its selfish.

(OK, OK, just put the shotgun away ...)

For me, sandles let me feet breathe, something that I sorely miss during the workday or other times requiring footwear and socks. I'm lucky to have a decent pair, of course; bad pairs of sandals aren't nice to look at.

This brings me to the problematic aesthetics of feet. They might not be especially pleasant to look at, true, but there's a lot of things related to the appearances of different people that might not be necessarily attractive to look at. Feet aren't worse than any of them.

You're turning into a stodgy old timer, Noel! Lawn indeed.

Actually, no sandals here. blech.

Shorts on the other hand, no moral objection to whatsoever. My wife has been dragging me, kicking and screaming away from tshirts, jeans, shorts, and sneakers. Alas.

These days, its stuff straight out of Men's Warehouse and if we could afford it, she'd be dragging me to Neimann Marcus.

Right now, we're having a skirmish that erupts over the fscking elf shoes she wants me to wear...

First of all, what "looks ridiculous" and what doesn't is clearly a simple cultural bias. Men in shorts and t-shirts and men in 3-piece suits would look equally ludicrous to, say, Julius Caesar.

Formal clothes are a creation of the rich to externalize class distinctions. You can't dig a ditch in a suit - that's why people wear suits, to show off the fact that they don't have to dig ditches to make a living. The same is true for formalwear from the Far East as well - elaborate, uncomfortable, and delicate.

But to endorse such clothing is not simply to endorse a harmless cultural bias. By altering gait and posture and restricting freedom of movement formal clothing (from regular shoes to long pants to suits and/or dresses) negatively impacts human health. Think about this - who's more likely to take an impromptu jog or drop to the floor for a set of pushups, somebody in a suit or somebody in jeans and a t-shirt (wearing sneakers or, better yet, vibram fivefingers)? Should anybody be encouraging people to dress in a way that makes them likely to be less physically active than they already are? Shoes are an especially egregious example of this effect. Look at the feet of an elderly person - toes scrunched together, proprioception shot to hell, no sense of connection to the ground. Find someone in a third world country who's been active and barefoot their entire life and I bet you'll see a big difference.

We shouldn't endorse Will's lunacy, we should rail against any arbitray cultural bias that supports classism over human health or human comfort. Wear your fivefingers and shorts to work.

What else don't you see in the photos? WOMEN wearing shorts!!! Or dresses... I know this is a completely different point, but I couldn't help noticing. To me (and only based on my limited experience), this, more than a convention, is a reflection of a culture that sees harassing women as normal. I'm not a feminist, but that's my take on the issue. Would like to hear alternative opinions though.

You're right about the photo, but I'd say Mexican women in general wear skirts and dresses far more often than Americans. That may be different where I am (in the North) than in DF, I remember when I lived there for a brief spell thinking that women were more likely to go out wearing pants than elsewhere in Mexico.

Rose wrote:

What else don't you see in the photos? WOMEN wearing shorts!!! Or dresses... To me (and only based on my limited experience), this, more than a convention, is a reflection of a culture that sees harassing women as normal.

Okay. So, I take it that vice versa, a culture where women actually do like to wear shorts and dresses in public would be the kind of a culture where harassing women is not considered normal?

Based on my own observations, knee-length shorts and dresses are very popular among young Polish women in the summertime. When it comes to the local sexual harassment, you can read about it here.

Key words: "Women in Poland encounter sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. The Polish government, labor unions and employers frequently ignore these abuses. Poland has not taken adequate steps to eliminate sex discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace."

Meanwhile, Finnish women have more or less stopped wearing dresses and skirts, except for special occasions. This is basically the Promised Land of Feminism, but in spite of that - or perhaps because of it - domestic violence is still a serious problem.

Tentative conclusion: these days, clothing is hardly ever an accurate reflection of the actually existing social norms.


J. J.

I’ve been thinking about Joe’s post. (Well, when I’m not thinking about equity oil, that is.) It seems to me that Joe makes two separate-but-related arguments.

The first is that a formal-informal distinction in clothes is classist. The second is that formal clothes, as they currently exist, discourage exercise.

I’ll take issue with the first. Judging from newsreels and photos, the Great Sloppification accelerated in the late 1960s and came into its own in 1990s; times during which class distinctions grew more salient in America as the income distribution grew wide. Business casual is a good thing, but its spread is not related to a narrowing of the income gap or a convergence in tastes between the wealthy and those with median incomes. To take a more concrete example, the 2004 election was the first in which the major candidates spent a lot of time campaigning in casual clothing, a phenomenon even more pronounced in the 2008 campaign, yet it would be hard to argue that America suffered fewer income and class disparities in 2008 than it did in, say, 1964 or 1972 or even 1980. (As opposed to racial and gender disparities, which were incomparably worse in the past.)

In that sense, I would have to take issue with Joe’s basic model. I am not sure that the empirical evidence of the last half-century is consistent with the idea that a societal reduction in the amount of care an individual needs to place in their clothing choices indicates a decline in class disparities, or vice versa.

(FWIW, while I am rather fond of well-cut suits, I think that the tie is an abomination that I really wish would disappear. Plus, as you all know, I like wearing jeans and leather jackets. In short, I am not arguing from personal taste.)

The second issue, about clothes and exercise, is a bit more complicated. On an individual level, I agree with it. I find it annoying that I need to change my clothes in order to go work out when I am wearing a suit, and I have been seen at the gym wearing jeans or khakis, at least during the winter months.

That said, if you look at old photos of construction sites, you’ll notice the workers wearing what we would call khakis and collared shirts. In addition, I’ve done heavy labor in such outfits; except in extreme heat, they are not noticeably less comfortable than T-shirts and jeans.

In addition, two pieces of evidence from modern American society make me doubt the notion that sartorial standards play a significant role in the prevalence of exercise. The first is, once again, that the Great Sloppification and the Great Obesification of American society are concurrent. Joe’s model would, if I understand it correctly, predict the opposite.

The second is that obesity and social class are negatively correlated in modern America, yet formal businesswear is now pretty much exclusive to a few high-income professions. Pre-1960, male office drones and teachers and most factory workers and executives wore variations on the same theme, as did most men during their free time; in 2009, that is no longer true. Yet the groups most freed from sartorial standards in the workplace are not the groups most likely to engage in physical activity.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Joe is wrong; just that I’m not sure that the evidence supports the conclusion. I may easily be misinterpreting the evidence, or suggesting that certain stylized facts are true when they are not, or making a logical error.

And so, over to you, Mr. Berne!

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