Clothing as choice

People often comment on the way I dress. I dress more formally than most, especially compared to other people in the Bay Area. Partly it’s because I’m a lawyer, although public interest lawyers generally have a more relaxed dress code. But it’s also because that’s how I like to dress. I like slacks, button ups, and blazers. I like how versatile they are, and I feel comfortable in them. My choice of clothing reflects how I choose to present myself to the world.
People also ask whether I judge or look down on people who “don’t dress as nice as you do”. I guess they assume that because of the way I dress, I would sneer at the vulgar masses with their cargo shorts and t-shirts.
But that’s wrong. Clothing is part of how people choose to present themselves. And each person is entitled to make their own choices. I know that other people hold different values. I know that some prefer physical comfort, or flashiness, or subtlety. I know that some will go for the Adidas basketball shorts, or the Superdry jacket, or the pink feather boa. Their choice of clothing reflects how they choose to present themselves to the world. And it’s not for me to decide how they should dress, because I don’t dictate their values.
Now, if someone asked for my opinion, or would like advice on how to dress a certain way, I’m certainly open to share. I know that the world of men’s clothing (particularly on the formal side) can be daunting. I’ve had people ask me “what kind of suit should I buy?”, and I’m happy to answer those questions.
I also understand that not everyone has as much choice as I do.
One of my clients came to the GLIDE legal clinic in the Tenderloin. He was wearing a worn out sweatshirt and jeans, and was carrying multiple bags. His first words were, “I’m sorry for how I look. I’m homeless.” Think about that. His poverty put him in a position in which he had little choice in what to wear, and he was apologizing that he was too poor to regularly wash his clothes. In effect, he was apologizing for being poor, which is absurd. I told him, “No apology needed. I’m here for you. How can I help?” Yet I reflected on why he felt the need to apologize. How many times has he been in places in which his presence was considered offensive to others, just because he’s homeless and doesn’t have a place to take showers regularly or to do his laundry? How many people saw him and saw a nuisance, a stench, an eyesore, rather than a person?
So no, I don’t judge people based on what they wear. Because each person is free to make their own choice. And some people don’t have much choice at all.
That said, if you ask, I can tell you why cargo shorts don’t look good for most people and would gladly provide alternative recommendations.

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