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Fashion victims

An old fogey writes from the Barcalounger:


Not [no-glossary]serious[/no-glossary]:

(Via (via)).

And not [no-glossary]serious[/no-glossary]:

A few caveats:

1. This is not a moral, let alone a hygienic, critique. I regard even the most hirsute Occupiers as clean-shaven, compared to, say, me, back in the day;

2. This is not a generational critique; I took care to include several generations in the #NATGAT photo (photo two);

3. This is not about your precious autonomy; there seems to be a persistent confusion between "You are telling me what to do" and "You are telling me what I am doing is stupid." (Perhaps the Right to be Stupid should be enshrined constitutionally as a forceful anti-meritocratic* measure, given the damage the smartest guys in the room have systematically achieved over the last thirty years.)


1. The Civil Rights marchers (photo one) consistently dressed in a manner that conveyed to others that they took their movement very seriously -- more seriously than they took themselves. Can anyone imagine it was pleasant to walk in the summer heat of Alabama wearing dress clothing? They dressed for the occasion.

2. Most if not all of the the "movement left" (Greens shading through Occupiers and beyond) consistently dresses, in their public events, in a manner that conveys to others that their chosen set of class and cultural markers (dreads, those friggin Guy Fawkes masks, keffiyas, and what have you), or personal comfort (T-shirts, sandals) are more important than their movement.** They dress, in fact, in a manner almost perfectly calculated to frame themselves as "The Other," not only in the minds of readers and viewers, but also in their own minds. Obviously, that undercuts the "We are the 99%" message almost completely.

For those who want to make serious vs. unserious costuming a matter of personal integrity, resisting corporatization, the Spectacle, "The media will never be our friends," etc., I'd observe only that differentiation through "tribal" class and cultural markers is exactly the differentiation that consumerism permits and encourages, making the costuming I'm indicting here a Fun House mirror of the ruling culture rather than the prefiguration of anything fresh and new.

Since it would be churlish of me not to propose a concrete, positive alternative, here it is: I propose blue jeans and white shirts as a universal costume for "movement left" events, as marches, occupations, conferences, etc. (Not a T-shirt. A shirt.)

1. This is a serious costume, because it's a classic American style, recognized world-wide, in most cultures.

2. It's neutral by gender, generation, race, and class.

3. It's cheap enough for all to wear.

4. Symbols, e.g. a carré rouge, will show up very well against the white shirt.

5. Ditto blood.

Also too, "[s]he fits the description."

* * *

So, that is my proposal for what it's worth. Actually, I'd add:

6. No backpacks. They disturb the drape of the shirt. Anyhow, who wants to look like a tourist?

7. Choice of shoes. Obviously.

For another example beyond the Civil Rights movement, see "Clean for Gene" (took down a sitting President).

NOTE * Needs to be a better word than "meritocracy," which is, in fact, an intergenerational self-licking ice cream of class privilege. Perhaps Sociopathocracy would be more appropriate, given who has been sorted to the top by the testing procedures involved in "making merit" in the American context.

NOTE ** If you believe that the barriers for entry to the "movement" left should be as low as possible, and not confined to a fraction of the young and the able, then goggles and black clothing fall into exactly the same category.

No votes yet


Submitted by Lex on

Even taking into account significantly different modes of dress between now and the 50's/60's, you've got a very good point. Because even the most casual dressers found in pictures of the Civil Rights protests - including young white protesters - tend to show chinos and a collared, button-down shirt (perhaps short sleeved).

It's an interesting observation that the many vagaries of personal style are not a display of individual liberty but a "fun house mirror of the ruling culture". I've been wondering about this a fair amount lately. Why the fairly recent trend towards excessive amounts of tattooing and body modification, the ever-expanding set of precise tribal markers exhibited by relatively extreme and rigid rules of dress?

In any case, i agree with you. Having a protest look like a sideshow creates serious problems of perception.

mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

Back then, everyone owned "Sunday School" clothes. Not so today.

Back then, blacks were trying to demonstrate that they were just as smart and just as classy whites, that blacks were not genetically inferior. Black intellectuals like MLK and Barbara Jordan spoke very proper English without a Southern accent to emphasize their intelligence.

Occupiers do not feel the need to prove that they are not genetically inferior to the 1%. That's not the point of Occupy.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer wears blue jeans, a cowboy shirt, and brings his border collie to work. He doesn't have a problem with being taken seriously. The cultural expectations for dress and manners are different in the American West compared to the East coast.

Nonetheless, there is something to be said for wearing a uniform, to give the appearance of solidarity. I'll go along with the blue jeans, but I don't own a white shirt. In any event, the shirt will be covered up by a jacket in the winter. I could go along with either a white or a red t-shirt in warm weather, though honestly, I don't own either at the moment.

Backpacks are necessary to carry water, lunch, camera gear, etc..

If nothing else, your civil rights photo reminds us that the civil rights movement was well organized and planned. Someone decided that they'd all wear suits, and knocked heads together to make it happen. Look at the signs -- they're not homemade signs. Someone chose the messages and had the signs made professionally, so the group would have a consistent, clear message. They didn't need to carry backpacks because they had arranged for support along their route march -- again requiring planning, organization, and leadership.

Submitted by lambert on

Like black clothes, for example. Cameras can go around the neck. Plan something collective for the rest.

Yes, hidden agenda!!!!

And if you don't own a white shirt, you can get one at the thrift store. Mine would charge a dollar (and it's better made than shirts today).

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

One of the differences between blacks and whites is that blacks have no illusions about getting the benefit of the doubt. It was not just the civil rights movement, the free South Africa movement was conducted in a disciplined and dignified way. White demonstrators have a sense of entitlement.

However, in spite of the clown show quality of the wardrope the Occupy movement caught on not just in this country, but around the world. It was not just the people who showed up, it was all the people who could not go to demonstrations, but sent money. Clearly it captured the imagination of a large swath of the American people. So the key is to remain non-violent in the face of provocation. If you can do that, how you dress is less important. Occupy began to unwind when there started to be incidents of violence.

For people who came of age in the 80's or later, backpacks are simply a fact of life. Everyone walked to school wearing a backpack, that is who you carried your books. I think for everyone under forty, backpacks have a very different connotation. I see them at business meetings all the time, that is, at tech business meetings.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

and we need to get rid of the masks, not just the hideous Guy Fawkes mask. People are properly distrustful of anyone wearing a mask.

I just came from Church by the way. There were less than a dozen people there who were wearing "Sunday Best." 3 men wearing suits, 1 man wearing a short sleeve shirt with a tie, and three ladies clad in what could be described as Sunday best. The rest of us were in short sleeve shirts (mostly t shirts) and casual slacks. The point I am making that dress has become so casual that demonstrators in suits might be mistaken for Mormons.

A significant part of the DC occupations were homeless. They literally did not have even a dollar. I think this is what frightened the kleptocracy about Occupy, what if all those homeless people started or organize rather than going thru life literally begging. A homeless person occupying space as a political statement, collecting donations from political supporters, organizing their own kitchens, and taking charge of their life. This is a very different person than the one who wanders the city, organizing their day around which soup kitchen they depend upon and where they are going to shower and do laundry. The first are their own masters, the latter can easily be controlled.

mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

"the key is to remain non-violent in the face of provocation. If you can do that, how you dress is less important. Occupy began to unwind when there started to be incidents of violence."

Yet in Birmingham, "violent uprisings followed, as poor blacks who had little commitment to nonviolence ravaged nine blocks of Birmingham. Rocks and bottles rained on Alabama state troopers who attacked black citizens in the streets. The violence threatened to mar SCLC’s victory but also helped cement White House support for civil rights. President Kennedy feared that black Southerners might become "uncontrollable" if reforms were not negotiated. It was one of the enduring ironies of the civil fights movement that the threat of violence was so critical to the success of nonviolence."

This was a huge issue. Bear in mind that in many Southern communities, blacks outnumbered whites. Whites were scared. Whites didn't make concessions because of brotherly love, they made concessions in order to survive.

MLK preached non-violence, but his speeches sometimes contained thinly veiled threats that he would not be able to stop angry young blacks from rioting unless the problems of inequality were addressed. I.e., ". . . if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. " It comes across as a good-cop-bad-cop tactic.

I'm a non-violent kind of guy myself. I disapprove of the random, unprovoked vandalism that has occasionally been associated with Occupy -- it makes Occupy look bad, yet is not nearly violent enough to scare the elites into making concessions. However, to say all violence is counter-productive is to ignore history.

Getting back to the original topic, Lambert makes a good point about the need to look respectable, and I personally like the idea of having some sort of "uniform" to give the appearance of group solidarity, though I'm content to let the march organizers work out the details. The question is, does Occupy have any organizers ?

Submitted by lambert on

I'm not saying that fashion or costume is the key, the be all and end all; had I wished to riff on "Dress for Success" instead of "Clean for Gene" I would have done so. But it is a useful tactic that, so far as I know, Occupy in this country has never applied.

You will also notice elsewhere on the post that at least Black Bloc violence involves a costume change and access to backpacks. I'm trying to make that tactic harder, too.

Submitted by hipparchia on

you don't look like david brooks....

ot1h, i agree with you about it being more difficult to sympathize with (and possibly even scary to join with) a group of people who "dress funny."

otoh, speaking of spectacles, i think your "they dressed for the occasion" is something of a misreading...

Wyatt Tee Walker, who planned the crusade, said that before Birmingham "we had been trying to win the hearts of white Southerners, and that was a mistake, a misjudgement. We realized that you have to hit them in the pocket." Birmingham offered the perfect adversary in Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor, who provided dramatic brutality for an international audience. SCLC’s [Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization founded in 1957] goal was to create a political morality play so compelling that the Kennedv administration would be forced to intervene: "The key to everything," King observed, "is federal commitment."

The spectacle recorded by newspaper, magazine and television photographers and cameramen – of women in their Sunday dresses knocked off their feet by high-pressure water jets and well-dressed men peacefully standing their ground while mauled by dogs – brought the movement precisely the publicity it desired.

Submitted by lambert on

... and I don't think like him either. Last I checked, Brooks didn't see neutrality with respect to gender, generation, race, and class as a postive thing, unless I didn't get the memo.

Your quote:

of women in their Sunday dresses knocked off their feet by high-pressure water jets and well-dressed men peacefully standing their ground while mauled by dogs – brought the movement precisely the publicity it desired.

is exactly the point I'm making. Although, as DCB points out, "Sunday best" is more informal now than years ago, Sunday best it still is.

Submitted by hipparchia on

"the movement is going to die if the kids don't dress more conservatively!" is EPIC david-brooks-style concern trolling. you were a lot closer to the mark here, a mere 300 days ago [give or take]. how soon they cross over to the dark side...

as mtngun has pointed out, there was a lot more going on in the civil rights fight tahn some marchers dressed in their sunday best.

Submitted by lambert on

Who said there wasn't more going on? Not me. Last I checked, I'm the one covering Occupy and its associated movements on a daily basis. Unlike... Well, a lot of people, let's just say. I don't do that for my health. I do it because they're one of the very few political movements that's of interest to me and in whose success I have some investment.

So, I point out and advocate a proven an appropriate tactic -- which you agree works -- and suddenly I'm David Brooks?! Joined the "dark side"?

Give me a fucking break. If there's "epic" concern trolling on this thread, it's not coming from me. ::eyeroll:: for pity's sake.

NOTE Looking at the 300 days old, I'm advocating "bold persistent experimentation" using, again, a proven tactic. I can't imagine the problem you've got with it, unless looking at experience and trying to learn from it is your issue.

UPDATE Adding, I just reread the post looking for ""the movement is going to die if the kids don't dress more conservatively," but I don't see it. Or anything like it. Can you give me a link to where I actually said that? Closest I can come is "that undercuts the 'We are the 99%" message almost completely' but of course the two statements aren't at all equivalent. Of course, caricaturing the position of an adversary is all in good fun, but that really is what's going on.

Submitted by hipparchia on

Of course, caricaturing the position of an adversary is all in good fun,

no. i'm caricaturing your position because this is deadly serious.

i am firmly of the opinion that you need to build your slightly less radical, slightly better dressed, slightly more genteel non-violence movement by drawing people from the center and convincing them to become slightly more radical than they are now. what you do NOT need to be doing is building your movement by trying to convince some of the more radical radicals to become somewhat less radical and join you in your vision.

Submitted by lambert on

It's clear, once again, that you're responding to material that's not in the post.

Why you're doing that, I don't know, but it's not a problem I created.

Why don't you just write your own post?

Then I can insult your life's body of work and personal integrity by calling you Mr. Brooks. That should be fun for both of us, and keep the discourse on a "serious" level as well!


Submitted by hipparchia on

Why don't you just write your own post?

because it would be construed as advocating for violence. believe it or not, i do agree wholeheartedly with you that corrente should remain purely a forum for nonviolence.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I have no idea what you are saying here regarding "trying to convince some of the more radical radicals to become somewhat less radical".

How is pointing out that symbolism, which includes the uniform/clothes you wear is powerful and sends a message, either of inclusiveness or exclusiveness, or of what your intention is? Of how serious you are?

I would submit that "radical radicals" would be more "radical" if they protested in McDonald's uniforms than hipster/rasta/Black Bloc garb, which is the ultimate in exclusivivity and exclusive framing. "Look at me. I came dressed to protest! Oh, dear, blue jeans and white shirts just aren't done! Tres bourgeois!".

Lambert's proposal is every bit as "radical" as the "radical radicals", maybe more so.

"Slightly better dressed, slightly more genteel" Wow, you have 99% of the 99% fitted for penny loafers?

jest's picture
Submitted by jest on

Wow, Alan (the guy in the rasta hat pronounced ah-lahn) got in the paper! I met him and he was pretty stoked about getting in the Bmore Sun. I didn't think that he'd get in!

But yes, wearing clothing in solidarity is a great idea!

That was one of the great things to see in the Iranian protests awhile back. Everyone was wearing green, either a shirt, or tieing a green ribbon around their brow, green armbands, head bands, etc.

Black + green was a pretty cool visual:

Submitted by lambert on

I knew somebody would know the rasta guy ;-) Plus, he was carrying an iPad, which makes him cool by definition!

That said, as you point out, if we want to send a visual message of solidarity, that works from close up for the individual and from far away in a huge (hopefully huge) crowd, then costuming is important. I think the case for blue and white is very strong (not least because those two colors go so well with red) but what I really care about is getting the analytical point out there, so I hope this is read and out there in the mental compost....

Submitted by lambert on

VT Digger:

Stember expected 300 to 400 people to turn up for the Burlington tar sands action alone, where participants are being asked to dress in black and mimic a “human oil spill.” So far, 112 people have said they’ll join the Burlington demonstration on the event’s Facebook page, while 19 people have indicated they’ll take part in the walk.

Oh, wait. That's not Mr. Brooks. That's anti-resource extraction activists deciding to wear clothing in common to make an effective media statement and show solidarity. My bad. So sorry.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

This is a very worhwhile topic. And I see Lambert's point and it is a good one, but I have a related view that is slightly different.

Do 99% of the people, who you want to have join you, who you pretend solidarity with and represent, wear Guy Fawkes masks and tight designer T's? Do they wear kilts, man-skirts, Doc Martin's, ironic eyewear, skinny jeans, ripped hoodies, plugs, tribal piercings, multi-colored tights, mini-sundresses with cowboy boots, purple or green hair? Do they wear black hoodies, black pants and red kerchiefs?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you are full of shit.

99% of the people wear everyday working cloths. They wear Dockers or blue jeans or Carhartts or a work uniform of some kind. They wear nice slacks or a modest, well-fitting dress or (heavens!) a pant suit. They groom themselves and try to make a good impression, because if they don't, they worry they could be fired and their family might lose everything, including their health care, if they are lucky enough to have it. No matter what kind of job they are doing, most people try to put on a good impression most of the time. Probably also, most of the people who decide to put on their freak clothes or "be fashionable" for a protest, wear exactly the type of work casual I describe, 99% of the time.

So why not also when they are "protesting"? Maybe because they are sick of it. Sick of being a number, or a cog, plugged in a machine, interchangeable like all the other shlubs out there, and I understand that. But really, isn't that the point? YOU ARE THE OTHER SHLUBS OUT THERE! You want to represent the masses, represent yourself? Then wear khakis, a brown belt and shoes, and a blue button down from JC Penney! Instant cultural marker of solidarity with the vanishing middle and working class.

A protest is not a party, it's a protest, it is symbolic, and you are protesting in your role as the everyday person that you are. Not the devil-may-care, fun-loving free-thinker you wish you could be, but the everyday working person who is fed up with all the bullshit and fedup with getting fucked. Fucked by the banks, fucked by your job, fucked by the government that cares about everybody but you and makes you take your goddamn shoes off the one time a year you may be able to afford to take a plane somewhere. Fucked by a fucked-up health care system that will probably cost everything you own if someone in your family gets sick. Fucked by a society that screwed your parents/grandparents* out of their pensions and life-savings over the last ten years and Social Security can't support them so they have to live in some shithole nursing home or in your/your parents house. Fucked by showing you a future where everything is fucked, there is no future, the water will be toxic and filled with invasive species and disease and the climate is changing so rapidly nobody can do anything except shit themselves.

Conservatives love to sneer about smelly hippies, the implication is that hippies (Occupiers) are too lazy to get a job, or to take a bath. Well you know who else smells? People who fucking work for a living, that's who. They come home stinking each day from work. Maybe they smell like food, or axle grease, or sweat, or cleaning products, or maybe they smell like cubicle.

So yeah, if you are going to protest as "anonymous", as one of the 99%, then wear your work clothes. Wear your Dockers, or your McDonald's uniform, or your dental hygenist outfit. Because that is who you are representing. You are representing yourself.

* Probably the biggest crock of shit out there is this whole "Greatest Generation" bullshit. The media loves them and gets all weepy about what they went through, and how hard they worked and how much they collectively suffered, then doesn't give a shit as their life-savings have been destroyed by banksters and laughs as the social safety network that the Greatest Generation itself established is torn apart (based on more media bullshit, like the Welfare Queen), just in time for them to get their final benefit from it. Thanks for World War II and growing up in the Depression and all, but all that welfare and Social Security stuff you worked so hard to create sucked so get a job lazy old person and/or die!

Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

Was going to write a comment with exactly hipparchia's point, but saw that she had already made it. Yes, I see the issue as less about the dress of people left in Occupy and more about welcoming the sort of people who would dress nicely or at least in a mainstream way to protests. There are some very loud, dominating people in Occupy with a strong attitude of "This movement isn't for everybody. It's only for the funky people." Just a few days ago someone wrote "Just shut up and go away. Occupy obviously isn't for you!" to me. Other people are attacked like that too and many do go away. Wish more mainstream people would have more attitude that Occupy belongs to them just as much as it belongs to the funky people. It would be a good warm up for getting a serious attitude that this world is not just for the 1%, it is for everyone.

Submitted by lambert on

... for twenty years would see an inevitable pattern here, as it looks like the same sort of pyramidal structure being fought in large has reproduced itself in little.

Originally, though -- I'm thinking of the Port march in Oakland or a lot of the Zucotti Park events -- Occupy did this. Montreal surely did.

If something "went wrong," what was it?