I work at home, which means I no longer need a career wardrobe. In fact, when I’m writing, I usually stick to yoga pants or exercise shorts with T-shirts or tanks, depending on the season. Now here’s the thing—this is not what you’d call my “public” wardrobe. I wear it around the house and for doing very minor tasks like walking to the mailbox. I don’t wear it when I go out on errands. On the other hand, occasionally people come to the door while I’m working, so occasionally somebody from outside my immediate family sees me in my grubbies.
Recently, it was the guy from the lawn service, and his look told me immediately that he found my wardrobe choices a little…questionable. However, short of sitting around in my best togs on the assumption that I might have a gentleman caller, I don’t know what I could have done to make him any happier. This fact, in turn, led me to consider the whole question of judging other people’s appearance.
You may be familiar with the People Of Walmart web site. It’s a collection of snapshots of actual Walmart customers who are dressed in somewhat “colorful” ways. In fact, a lot of these people give rise to an automatic “What were they thinking?” Few of us, I assume, would show up in public with several inches of buttcrack on view.
On the other hand, I’ve seen pictures of older women in bathing suits with snarky comments that made me want to grab the photographer by the throat. The idea that only babelicious young things should be able to go swimming is at best annoying and at worst an assault both on the elderly and, in many cases, on women in general.
So here’s the thing I’m wrestling with—who gets to make this judgment? Is it fair to snicker at people in the Walmart pictures? Why should some of us become arbiters for the rest of us? Yeah, in reality, I try to at least look decent when I venture into polite society. I don’t wear anything that’s going to offend the sensibilities of most viewers. But do those viewers actually have any right to demand that I dress in a fashion that meets their standards? And what if those standards include putting every woman over forty-five into a Mother Hubbard so that younger people don’t have to be offended by reminders that bodies change as you age?
I don’t have any answers here. I guess I’m arguing for tolerance of differences, but that doesn’t mean I want to see people stuffed into clothes that are several sizes too small and that reveal generous sections of their anatomy that nobody wants to see. But the thing is, you can’t make people not do this, and to some extent it’s not your job to try.
And so we blunder on, trying to hit some kind of sweet spot between looking like you’re dressed for a royal wedding and looking like you’re living in a cardboard box. Just don’t get me started on Jersey Shore (look away, please, just look away).