Against tyrannical clothing

Let me start by saying that I have no problem with gear needed for health and safety reasons, because health, and also safety. I have no problem with anything a person chooses to wear, or with people not wearing clothes – your body, your business. I am willing to accept that uniforms are helpful in some circumstances, both for practical reasons and for ease of being able to see at a glance who is doing the things. These are not tyrannical clothing issues.

Tyrannical clothing is about imposing unreasonable clothing on people so as to emphasise the power difference. There’s no practical aspect to it – in fact it is often profoundly impractical and designed to make the wearer uncomfortable so as to keep them constantly aware that they have no power. Using the power imbalance to force clothes onto people that are unsuitable, uncomfortable, humiliating, is all about disempowering the victim, and it has to stop.

I’m thinking primarily of two items here in conventional western use – the neck tie and the high heeled shoe. I was obliged to wear a neck tie as part of a school uniform, and many people – especially men – are required to wear them at work. In hot weather, they are a source of misery and discomfort. They serve no purpose. We perceive them as smart because we’re told that’s what they are, but they are just a dangly bit of fabric. Woolly neck scarves, and tying lace around your neck is not considered smart, because there is no inherent ‘smartness’ in the bit of fabric. It’s just a tool of social conditioning.

The high heel is far worse because they can and do cause harm to the feet, the hip joints and in women who are still growing, you can get bone deformity. In old age you can have bunions. Most of us can’t walk any distance in a high heel, we certainly can’t run apart from some very talented exceptions. High heels make you feel precarious and vulnerable if they aren’t your thing, and yet some ‘uniforms’ require them of female workers.

We could also afford to look at double standards – work and educational spaces that allow women to wear cool, lightweight clothes in the summer while the men have to sweat it out in shirt, trousers and tie. Workspaces and educational places that let men be warm in the winter but require women to freeze in short skirts, tights and impractical shoes. There is no practical gain here, only those in power ignoring the needs of the people who have less power.

If a uniform item serves no practical purpose, and instead causes discomfort, it should not be legal to enforce the wearing of it.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Against tyrannical clothing

  • Rick

    Except for two or three parties at embassies downtown in recent years, I haven’t worn a necktie in years. Hurray!

  • A. Ravenson

    I wear them regularly at work and I’ll probably go back to a formal jacket next school year as well. Its about image and messaging for me; I cannot expect my students to take me (or more importantly the topic) seriously if don’t present myself appropriately. I’ve noticed a substantial difference in student attitude and expectations depending on how I dress and how they are dressed.

    It is actually one of the reasons my state is having a serious debate about requiring school uniforms state wide next year. I also suspect there are substantial cultural issues involved in this discussion.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s fascinating stuff, isn’t it? And like so many things, it only works because we believe in it, there is nothing in the jacket or the tie to give them magical powers, but we imagine authority into them, and there it is…

  • Martin

    Prior to my retirement I earned my living as a ‘Land-use Consultant’ and as such was often required to appear before boards of commissioners and hearings officers (who were all tie-wearing attorneys) to plead my clients’ cases. I abhor neckties and so I took to wearing a turtle-neck shirt under a sport coat or blazer instead of wearing a regular shirt and tie. What I quickly discovered, however, is that this attire garnered less respect for what I was saying from those I was addressing simply because I appeared to them to be ‘less than’ since I was sans necktie and my ‘loss-rate’ began to climb. I returned to wearing a tie on these occasions and my ‘win-rate’ went up accordingly.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Clothes, to be of any value, need to be comfortable, moderately durable and should enhance your appearance somewhat.
    Each of those things depend on what is most important to the people who are wearing them.

  • Karon A. Hartshorn

    To extend the line of conversation, clothing tyranny is rampant outside of neckties and high heels. Coming of age in the 80’s, dressing outrageously was not out of the norm. I personally dressed kinda punk, kinda Deco, with a little Edwardian thrown in for good measure. Now at the age of 54, I see that everyone is dressed in what I call “uniforms”, a numbing sameness of style and quality of dress. Every once in a great while now, I see someone who stands out with their dress and I get such a thrill; while others around me sneer or stare impolitely. I don’t dress as sartorially as I did in my youth, mostly due to time constraints for shopping and sewing, but I still manage to get a few funky things on before getting out the door!

  • paulaacton

    I work in a supermarket so therefore have to wear a uniform, you know it comes with the job when you accept it so you have a choice take it or don’t, but what I will say is it does help to differentiate between work mode and personal, while I have the uniform on I represent the company I work for, I am required to act a certain way (such as not telling some of the customers what I really think about them) but it also means I have a much more definite sense of self when I remove the uniform and dress in my own clothes. It is also interesting to note that on days when we do non uniform or fancy dress at work customers treat you differently though in our case rather than the unifrom giving us power it seems it gives the public license to be rude to us and they are far nicer if we are dressed as witches or zombies at Halloween

    • Nimue Brown

      I’ve done supermarket work, freezing in an inadequate nylon uniform… that was some time ago. really interesting this change in behaviour you identify, perhaps it is that the uniform makes you the face of the company as intended, the absence of uniform makes you seem more individual, and thus hardly to blame for the shortcomings of the company as a whole…

  • Angela

    My school uniform failed to keep me warm and was deeply uncomfortable

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