Fashion: Aesthetics and Ethics

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81 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    We have a diverse range of views on this site but that because we’re Extraordinary..

    Somebody whispers into Lee’s ear.

    We’re Ordinary, why doesn’t anybody tell me these things?Report

  2. Saul Degraw says:

    There is also debate about whether Urban Outfitters is lying about the “just vintage” claim or not. I think this could be true but it also could be part of the Internet’s annoying tendency to turn everything into a conspiracy theory:

  3. Burt Likko says:

    I wrote behind the scenes that I am aware of people in business doing some incredibly dumb things because of ignorance and lack of forethought. For instance, I once took a route to work that had me drive past a preschool named “Sendero Luminoso.” Here are the factors I can imagine are at play here:

    1. The people who are doing the picking of clothing and making fashion choices are likely in an age bracket to have been born after the terrible events of 1970.

    2. The people who are doing the picking of clothing and making fashion choices are unlikely to have majored in things like history or political science and may very well be uninterested in those subjects, given that they have chosen fashion as a career.

    3. Urban Outfitters sells pre-distressed shirts and sweatshirts that look a lot like this shirt without the collegiate logo. (Seriously, people actually pay money for things like that? When my shirts look like that I throw them away because they’re not even useful as rags.)

    4. Urban Outfitters seems to have no problem either getting the licensing for, or disregarding whatever copyright protection might apply to, the name and logos of any number of colleges and universities as part of its campaign to sell collegiate-looking clothing.

    So with all of that, it seems entirely plausible to me that a kid working as a buyer for Urban Outfitters was in good faith forgetful of history and saw the shirt and said, “Perfect!” blissfully unaware of the gaffe being made and the P.R. disaster to follow. The company’s apology seems genuine and appropriately-worded; perhaps a discreet donation to charities of the families’ choices would be in order.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      This is pretty similar to my take. Its hard to tell from the blogs people on Ordinary Times inhabit but many people do not like to think too deeply about things like history and politics. There is some scientific evidence that the ability to think historically beyond past, present, and future is psychologically unusual.

      Many people see the past as a place where people wore interesting clothing and did some weird things even if its very recent past that they lived through. Its worse if they didn’t live through it. Its why so many people glamorize Mad Men. Its why Ivanhoe struck a chord about the loss of chivalry even though the real Middle Ages was more gritty.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Re #3: When you are 20 and have zero or very little body fat, you can wear almost anything and make it look hot and attractive.

      I don’t think a shirt like that is everyday wear but something meant for going out at night and possibly to be kind of punk-rock sexy or something like that.

      But yeah distressing is one of those things that causes people to rage at the fashion industry. That shirt seems to be an extreme example though. I suppose a lot of this has to do with whether someone has a DIY ethos or not. People usually object to distressing with a cry of “do it yourself” and I question how many people could do it as effectively themselves or aesthetically.

      I have a general idea of rational ignorance/trust the experts and I guess many people object to that.Report

      • My theory is that a lot of fashion is purposely geared towards things only people young and/or attractive look good in. Because if a random Joan looks good in it, then it fails to differentiate.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t think this is completely true. Yes there are plenty of fashion companies and trends which are known for designing clothing with the young and skinny in mind and this can include companies that make very expensive clothing. There is plenty of fashion (expensive and not) geared towards all ages and body types though. You have to know your looks, self, and what you have the confidence to get away with.

        I think that a lot of people feel sheepish about trying things or being a bit bold:

        Something like this can be worn by a wide range of people but you need the confidence to pull it off. The shoe can be worn with jeans, chinos, cords, etc.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Another line that is classic and can be worn by a wide range of body types. It is a bit on the conservative side but still interesting and aesthetic.Report

      • Stuff in that price range differentiates on price rather than body type.Report

      • That being said the advent of down class vintage wear of the sort that spawned this post does count as a counterexampleReport

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        re: price.

        Point taken but eventually you need to pay for some kind of quality and this is true in clothing as it is in most things. It often seems like many people object to the idea that expensive clothing exists in the world. “Why pay 200 dollars for a pair of jeans? Or x for anything?” The answer is because it is good quality and looks good and often made of superior feeling textiles and fabrics.

        I think J.Crew looks pretty good but that is still considered an expensive price point even though it is more mass market than Billy Reid.Report

      • James K in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        The technical term for this is countersignalling.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        ““Why pay 200 dollars for a pair of jeans? Or x for anything?” The answer is because it is good quality and looks good and often made of superior feeling textiles and fabrics.”

        Quality can, more or less, be measured objectively. But “looking good” is purely subjective.Report

      • @james-k Yeah, I thought of mentioning that and black and white togas, but in the end it’s still different from the sort of exclusivity I refer to, and I would argue is actually to some extent a social good. At least, compared to the alternatives.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Kazzy, I disagree. Each society, time period, or subgroup tends to have broad understanding on what a good looking people should look like. There will always be individual dissenters within all of the broad categories but you can find enough common agreement that its easy to objetively define good looking. Globalization actually makes good looks more objetive than ever before because an increasingly shared culture is converging on the definition of physically attractive.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        There is a lot of fashion that countersignals and a lot that doesn’t and it can often be a sign of “knowing.”

        I am probably somewhat guilty of a bit of countersignaling or at least liking more obscure brands that don’t have easily recognizable features except to people in the know.Report

      • scott the mediocre in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Aargh! – slatestarcodex, about which I have been until now ignorant, is the Lucretian ideal of a blog of which I will only ever complete reading half of the remaining interesting unread part 🙂Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        “Each society, time period, or subgroup tends to have broad understanding on what a good looking people should look like. There will always be individual dissenters within all of the broad categories but you can find enough common agreement that its easy to objetively define good looking. ”

        The fact that it changes from society to society, time period to time period, or subgroup to subgroup tells me it is inherently not objective but relative.Report

      • Scott, SSC is a challenging read, though I’m rarely sorry for having slogged my way through. The Last Psychiatrist is also like that.Report

      • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        read some psych. some of it’s relatively invariant. Don’t be excessively smelly. Put some effort into your clothing. Have a symmetric face. Don’t look obviously sick.

        The best design makes the clothes for the person.
        Bear in mind that in games, the clothing is a vital part of characterization.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The company’s apology seems genuine and appropriately-worded;

      I was thinking the opposite. It seems like a classic not-pology blame-the-critic statement to me.

      Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused.
      It was the shirt, not us!

      It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.
      You made us cry with your mean interpretation of this shirt.

      Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively
      Again, the problem is the perception, not anything Urban Outfitters did.

      Not that there’s any point in getting outraged or feigning shock that a business offered up yet another pseudo-apology. But I would push back against the judgement of sincerity, which I think gives them too much credit.Report

  4. Jim Heffman says:

    We’re all talking about it, so it wasn’t dumb.

    “But it was offensive!”

    So stop talking about it.

    “But I’m offended by it and I want them to know!”

    Oh, they know.

    “But I’ll never buy anything there and I’ll tell all my friends to never buy anything there!”

    Why would they care? If you were ever going to buy anything there you’d already be buying things there.

    The shirt seems weird and dumb to you because it’s not for you. Advertising has evolved beyond the goal of customer capture; now it’s about loyalty reinforcement. Customers will capture themselves, mostly through random chance or economic dictates; advertising exists to convince them that they made the proper choice and should continue making it. It does not actually matter whether enough people buy that sweatshirt for UO to make money, or even if anyone buys that sweatshirt at all. It matters that everyone agrees that UO is a company that will totally pull crazy stunts like this, so that people who shop at UO can imagine that UO stuff is worn by a cool crowd that totally pulls crazy stunts. Not that you’re a crazy stunt-puller yourself; advertisers are too smart to go for that because it’s obviously not true. But those guys think you’re cool enough to care what you think, as evinced by your UO sweatshirt. You don’t think they give these to just anyone, do you? It doesn’t matter what anyone says about you, because they all also say that UO is cool, and UO hangs with you.

    Brands don’t die because customers stop thinking that the brand is cool; brands die because customers stop thinking that non-customers think that the brand is cool.Report

  5. trizzlor says:

    I’ve long hypothesized about a clothing store that sells distressed clothing which has actually been worn by people in third-world countries or with little access to new clothing. It would work sort of like Tom’s Shoes (where your purchase sends a pair of shoes to a needy community), but when you purchased a distressed item, a brand-new version of that item would be sent to an under-served person. The person would distress the item in a realistic way by, you know, wearing it out. And after a certain point the distressed item would go up for sale and the cycle would start over. This way, one group of people gets to wear new clothes, while another group of people gets to subsidize them and wear “authentically” distressed clothes. As with Tom’s Shoes, there would be philanthropic overtones (for example, the article of clothing would come with a little note about the person who wore it). In a sense it’s like a Goodwill, but the clothes are all hip, modern fashions and available in the full range of sizes (so … nothing like a Goodwill).

    I would love to do the market research on something like this. Would people who typically shop for distressed clothing be attracted by the philanthropic aspects, or turned-off? Would people who typically donate to charities see this is make-work or exploitation?Report

    • trizzlor in reply to trizzlor says:

      Oh and to tie it into the OP. It would not be uncommon to purchase a shirt with blood-stains or bullet holes. The retailer would not “censor” any items.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to trizzlor says:

      I won’t pretend to be able to answer you questions in the last paragraph, but it seems like not only a sexy idea (isn’t that what attracts venture capital?) but a practical one, too.

      (Can we agree that I get .5% profit for giving you encouragement?)Report

    • zic in reply to trizzlor says:

      This reminds me of David Brin’s novel, The Practice Effect, in which things needed to be used to be made nice and beautiful.

      I think one of the problems with the current fashion industry is over-production, particularly over-production of low-quality items. They flood 1st-world markets with ever cheaper prices, but a lot never sells, and ends up flooding 3rd world markets, too. There, the quality might have some significance; fewer pennies to be spent being spent on clothing that’s shiny but will fall apart within a few wash/wear cycles is not a good thing. There is a huge industry involved producing that cheap clothing and with taking the unsold new (and used) clothing that results to markets in the developing world; the the ethics of this are my fashion concerns.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:


        This is basic capitalism. Things generally become cheaper when you find ways to produce them quickly and cheaply. I am not a complete libertarian but there is a strong and almost absolutely right argument that wealth increased and the middle class was created when former luxury products of the wealthy became available to the masses from new clothing to chocolate to soap to cars, and almost anything else.

        This does not mean that there are not ecological problems to overproduction as you mentioned above but I often find the overproduce argument to be problematic because it does not have a solution that does not seem to equal reverting back to a pastoral-rural lifestyle where people made their own clothing. The word for this is sustenance living and it is not attractive or desirable. It will result in lots of misery and death.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @saul-degraw I actually do think there’s a solution to overproduction, though I wouldn’t call it over-production, I’d call it inferior production — and that’s holding producers and retailers responsible for the externalities; in the particular case I’m talking about, the externalities of clothing that does not meet some minimum use standard and the costs that are shifted to the commons (air and water pollution, employee abuse among them).

        My diatribe isn’t against cheap production, it’s against production that is totally senseless because the costs of production are shifted and the product does not perform to minimum standards.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        To put it another way, a shirt that will not withstand six washings is outright theft of the end-consumer’s money.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:


        I don’t disagree. The problem is that quality items often cost more. I’ve seen lawschool classmates buy a cheap suit at H and M and have it be busting at the seams in a year but they also don’t necessarily have the money to spend on a well-made suit.*

        I also have enough anecdotal evidence that makes me think Americans prefer quality over quantity. A lot of people said that they don’t mind the cheapness of places like Zara and H&M because it lets them replace their wardrobes fairly frequently like annually or more quickly. From what I hear Europeans prefer the buy less but higher quality stuff standard so you are also potentially going against something in the American psyche.

        *A well-made suit usually costs at least 1200-1400 USD in my experience so even if you get them on super-sale they are going to be in the 600-800 range. A friend from college said her husband doesn’t spend more than 80 or so dollars on suiting and that was kind of shocking to me because I thought getting a Belvest suit on a 800 dollar super-sale was quite a deal (the original price was around 2000 dollars). Good tailoring probably costs about 80 dollars to alter a suit at least. Yes I am showing that I grew up in upper-middle class NYC with these attitudes probably.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @saul-degraw things that would last a year would be a pretty wonderful, actually. That’s a whole level of improvement over the streams of production I’m talking about. Unless you shop at WalMart or the Dollar Store, you may not be familiar with these sorts of trash productions.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

        I’ve never had a shirt disintegrate that fast, but even so I think it depends on the cost of the shirt and what it’s used for.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        Hmm, we buy our kids clothes at Wal Mart sometimes. I can’t remember anything that didn’t last a year.

        But what do I know? I’m sure the anti-Wal Mart crowd that would never shop there actually know the products better than those who do.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        the externalities of clothing that does not meet some minimum use standard

        That’s not an externality. It’s built right into the market price. And if it’s not, it’s fraud. But an (negative) externality is an uncompensated cost imposed on a third party who’s not a party to the transaction. So by definition, a product I buy not meeting my standards cannot be an example of an externality.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

        Aitch, I figured that the externalities referred to were with regard to the social/ecological costs of production. If making a t-shirt results in pollution of the amount of X, we should insist on that pollution being devoted to shirts that are going to last.

        There’s a certain logic to that, though the way to attack that is to attack the externalities, rather than using the externalities as a justification for quality standards.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to zic says:

        ” If making a t-shirt results in pollution of the amount of X, we should insist on that pollution being devoted to shirts that are going to last.”

        Or maybe it already does, and making a shirt that lasts twice as long results in pollution in the amount of 2X, and making a shirt that lasts ten times as long results in 10X pollution.

        It’s also funny to see people who say “rich people exploit the poor by selling them cheap shoddy goods” turn around and say “those cheap goods should cost more to reflect the externalities involved in making them!” As though a shirt of triple quality would cost half as much and be made with no pollution except for greedy businessmen who screw everything up.Report

      • morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Or maybe it already does, and making a shirt that lasts twice as long results in pollution in the amount of 2X, and making a shirt that lasts ten times as long results in 10X pollution.
        Hard to tell. We shouldn’t assume either way. We should slap a tax that scales with emissions on everything, and let the market sort it out.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:


        Of course if we dig into the textile industry and its appurtenances in detail, the story gets really damned messy, denying us any easy and satisfying answers. Cotton is an environmentally damaging crop, so maybe we ought to just limit its production. Of course then we have the problems of 1) some broke cotton farmers, 2) some cotton farmers getting a windfall through increased prices for their suddenly scarcer good, 3) poor people having a harder time affording clothing because prices went up, and 4) a further shift to artificial fibers and the environmental problems they cause.

        There’s also the fact that many used clothes make it into the rag trade and have value in less developed countries. When people drop stuff off at good will, or in one of those donation boxes, the charitable organization often sells it to redistributors and it makes its way to developing countries where it all gets picked through by different buyers looking for different price-point goods. Diminishing that by having fewer used clothes will be a cost on the poorest people in the world. It may be argued that low quality clothing doesn’t make it into the rag trade because it’s worn out, but that’s a western perspective, based on western standards of usable clothing, and not-necessarily reflective of other cultures.

        Ultimately this issue pisses me off because it is the poorest people in the world, and the poorer people in the U.S., who are being asked to bear the brunt of our middle-class preferences, and every reiteration of “they’d be better off if they paid for better quality” just reinforces how patronizing the whole approach is. There’s a particular type of liberalism that feeds on infantalizing others–I’d say that’s doing liberalism wrong.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:


        I’ve heard an argument against donating used countries to 3rd world countries is that it destroys the chances of local textile industries to develop. Why make your own clothing when you can get it via donations? I’ve heard the same argument made about donating things like rice and other food stuffs to countries like Haiti, it destroys the native agriculture industry.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to zic says:


        To be clear, I wasn’t making an argument about whether people should buy less but noting that there do seem to be cultural differences in European and American spending and consumer habits.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:


        I know you weren’t saying that.

        What makes the clothes donation different is that it’s not really giveaways in-country, but an in-country market.

        What sometimes (not always) happens with food donations is that large amounts of food are brought in shortly before harvest, which destroys the value of the harvest, and may drive the farmers off the land to seek employment in the cities.

        The rag trade is a steady part of the market, and mostly it’s not free to people in-country. The bundling, shipping, and sorting is ultimately paid for by in-country consumers. It won’t necessarily eliminate opportunities for in-country textile manufacturers, but if it does that’s because it’s providing more value to consumers, so local industry ought to develop in other niches.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        After the last walmart I entered, I won’t be purchasing a damn thing from another. I am literally afraid to enter another walmart, due to the potential of a carwreck afterwards. (no, I’m not bitching about the parking lot. it was a rather distinctive odor).Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    I’m 31… probably slightly older than UO’s target demographic and I haven’t really shopped there in about half a decade. I will say that if I saw someone wearing that shirt, I would not make the connection. If I started at it long enough, I might. But it wouldn’t pop to mind if I passed it by on the street. I think there is a real possibility that a collective cluelessness was involved.Report

  7. Doctor Jay says:

    Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. I think I’m there.

    But damn. I missed exactly two days of classes during my entire undergraduate education. One of them was for the flu, and the other was for the 5-year anniversary of the shootings. That was a “never forget” kind of thing for us.Report

  8. Chris says:

    “Anti-ethical” is interesting.Report

  9. Mike Schilling says:

    Gotta get down to it
    Soldiers are cutting us down
    Should have been done long ago.
    What if you knew her
    And found her dead on the ground
    How can you run when you know?

    Though Jerry Casale of Devo, who was present at the shootings and knew two of the deceased, thought CSN&Y were opportunists “making money off of something horrible”.Report

  10. Damon says:

    The urban outfitter’s kerfuffle? Don’t give a damn. Don’t give a damn if it’s intentional or not. If it was, it was a nice piece of PR. I can totally see how it could happen if it wasn’t planned too.

    I’d rather speak to Saul’s other comments:

    1) “Rather then expose people to a diversity of opinions and ways of viewing issues and the world, the Internet seems to further cement Bill Bishop’s idea of the Big Sort and that people are just entrenching themselves among like-minded people instead of having a diverse view of friends.” That’s because people don’t want to think for themselves, don’t like “diversity of ideas”, and are openly hostile to “the other side”.

    2) “The Internet often seems filled with people who are shocked, shocked to discover that not everyone agrees with them on every issue.” This is true. People ASSUME that everyone thinks like them. Since people are tribal and self-select to associate with people of the same class, ethnicity, religion, etc., when they are confronted with people who think differently, have different opinions, they ARE shocked. I see this all the time. It’s one reason I don’t get on facebook often. I’ve been involved in a shitstorm there where people assumed they were speaking to the choir. It’s the wrath of god when they find there’s a “dissenter” in their ranks–or a “traitor”-someone who they thought was like and agreed on some things with them but disagreed on something major.Report

    • Jim Heffman in reply to Damon says:

      “People ASSUME that everyone thinks like them.”

      Well, any *reasonable* person who was in full possession of the facts would *obviously* agree with me on this issue, if they could manage to free themselves of unconscious privilege and societally-ingrained biases.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Damon says:

      It’s the wrath of god when they find there’s a “dissenter” in their ranks–or a “traitor”-someone who they thought was like and agreed on some things with them but disagreed on something major.

      One nice thing about being a libertarian is that I always start out assuming that other people disagree with me. When I’m surprised, it’s almost always for the better.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I like David Friedman’s quote (paraphrased): “You might find two libertarians who agree on something but *I* won’t be one of them.”Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I agree.Report

      • Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:


        Yep, I’m the same way. As I have told many people, I can get along with almost everyone. One reason is my outlook doesn’t require them to agree with me. I can disagree with someone’s outlook and still value them as a friend / etc. Others have much more difficulty. One of my friends, who’s a borderline socialist, refuses to talk to me about certain subjects and is SHOCKED SHOCKED I could think the way I do about certain topics. So we don’t mention those topics and we have a pleasant time together. When some new topic comes up where we discover we have differing opinions, she says “I can’t believe you think that” and that subject is banned from future discussion.Report

  11. Brandon Berg says:

    My first thought, on seeing the picture, was that it must have been intended as a (somewhat oblique) protest in relation to recent police shootings. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the mental model of society one would have to have to jump to the conclusion that a major corporation, with people whose full-time job is to manage PR, must obivously be selling this shirt with the intention of making light of an incident like the Kent State shootings.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Brandon Berg says:


      Urban Outfitters has a reputation for being “edgy” and this is not the first time they have had a controversy over a product they sold:

      If this were one off, I’d agree with you. Thirteen times raises suspicions and the potential that they are not thinking or doing this on purpose.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Huh. I guess I need to update my priors. That said, the ADL was really reaching with this one.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m willing to maybe buy that UO bought the design innocently.

        I am less inclined to think that the shirt’s designer was ignorant of the context. I mean, the shootings are like the ONE THING that everyone knows about Kent State. All the colleges in the US and they chose that one for the design? Seems unlikely.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        To expand on my prior comment, I guess I can see someone buying the shirt thinking “faded generic college sweatshirt” without really “reading” it.

        But making one seems more unlikely somehow. I dunno.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I think there is lots of speculation about how much design went into this t-shirt.

        UO’s story seems to be that they purchased the sweatshirt as is from somewhere and marked it up for their vintage finds section. This would be a forgivable “cool vintage sweatshirt” blunder.

        People are seemingly disagreeing with this and think UO added to the distressing somehow or they are not fully believing the official story.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The giveaway for me is that Kent State’s colors are Navy Blue and Gold.

        I’m willing to bet that the creator, at least, knew that he wanted to work with red. (For what it’s worth, my first thought was that it was a pretty decent criticism of police power rather than a tacky “offensive” shirt but I’m me.)

        If you wanted to argue that somewhere along the chain you start dealing with people who never heard of the Vietnam War, let alone the Kent State shooting, I’d probably agree.

        But the guy who created it? He was down.Report

      • Citizen in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        paint it red to fit right inReport

      • If you look through the 13 incidents in the link, notice how almost all of them are almost stupidly in your face and a couple are really subtle and require the person looking at the shirt to have somewhat obscure background knowledge. It seems implausible that the same company that came out with things as unsubtle as “Ghettopoly” and t-shirts reading “I Vote for Vodka,” “Misery Loves Alcohol,” “I Drink You’re Cute,” “USA Drinking Team” would then come out with a shirt making an oblique reference to a shooting 44 years ago. I don’t think they respect their customer base enough to have believed they would get it.

        If you read the list one by one, some of them belong and others don’t.Report

  12. zic says:

    I find it incredibly odd that the critique here is of tact and speech — is this clothing offensive? So what if it is? What does that matter? That seems to me to be a complete issue of free speech. Kent’s Hill Bookstore sells a variety of similar shirts, though not weathered, including sweatshirts in hot pink. And someone might wear it to be macabre, just like some people would wear a swastika or like Grover Norquist took a Soviet Army Jacket to Burning Man. My response to this, as to all things fashion, is people should be able to wear what they want. I sometimes wear a head scarf, when it’s cold, and it generates some interesting reactions. I don’t mind when people tell me they don’t like it; but I’d mind greatly if they told me I couldn’t dress that way.

    I do think the fashion industry due substantial criticism, however. Our fast fashion contributes to enormous problems, even as it creates opportunities for others to improve their standard of living the world over. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

    Censoring is never a good thing; something conservatives recognize in their critique of political correctness. We see it in Europe — the UK and Germany, where there is trouble dealing with anti semitism within Muslim populations.

    These are flip sides of the same coin, however. One is that you have the right to say what you want to say. The other is that you have the right to limit someone else’s behavior. If the rights here are individual — you have a right to say something; to dress a certain way, that’s appropriate. Even if someone else doesn’t like it. But if the right is to limit someone else’s dress or speech because you don’t like it, that’s a violation. Within the fashion industry, there are very real concerns about actual human rights; from environmental to labor to minimum product standards.The water involved in fashion, alone, should bring it under strict scrutiny. The fertilizers, pesticides, solvents, detergents, and scouring agents are potentially harmful to humans, water sheds, and habitats. We’ve seen, throughout history, vast labor abuse in the textile industry; everything from slavery to burning to death to being crushed by a collapsing building. Retail workers, here in the US, are amongst the populations floating at the poverty line, and many depend on public assistance. Products that don’t withstand normal use, and only last a few wearings are outright theft from end consumers. Rag supplies, a global trade, often require fiber without oil products, and they are rarer no than they’ve ever been, despite the explosion of fiber production the world over. Without artificial fibers to extend the supply, and many of them are oil-based, there would not be enough fiber for the amount of disposable clothing produced at current levels.

    So there’s a lot to talk about in fashion; some good, some bad. But what people wear seems like it should be up to the individual — what message they want to communicate is a free speech issue. When the market, using the convenience of doing business with strangers — obscures a host of externalities that have not been factored into the market — seems to me that’s something to talk about.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

      I don’t know that anybody is talking about censor so much as censure. I agree that it’s protected by the First Amendment, though obviously not immune from criticism.

      I could see Kent State University potentially having a case for trademark infringement. Unless UO got the rights. Or, ironically, it was all intentional and therefore Fair Use.Report