Threads of Identity

Take away a human being’s clothes, and what have you got? Don’t answer that! Clothing tells us much about people. Our threads of identity can indicate our occupation, our economic status, our ethnicity, our style (or lack thereof), our religious affiliation, our gender, our creativity, our regional home, our societal conformity, our personal hygiene, our patriotism, and our penchant for natural fiber versus powder-blue polyester. Did you ever think your clothing could be so gossipy? Add accessories and a hairdo, and what you wear makes you a walking billboard of personality.

When it comes to history, our clothing can place us in a particular era. It’s easy to visualize clothing from the Victorian Era, the Flapper Era, the World War II Era of Hollywood glamour, the Hippie Era, the Disco Era, and the Yuppie Era. In fact, clothing helps to define each time period as much as events and mass thought patterns do.

The current styles of fashion (1990s-2002) seem to be blends of earlier eras. Bell-bottoms from the Hippie Era and Disco Era polyester jogging suits with the stripe down the side are now popular with children and teenagers. Teens also flock to subcultural styles of clothing. According to the website Fashion-Era.com, these are styles formulated on the streets that don’t match mainstream styles. Some subcultural styles include Beatnik, Cowboy, Cyberpunk, Eco, Funk, Gay style, Glam rock, Goth, Head-Bangers, New Age, Old Skool, Preppy, Punk, Rasta, Rave, Skater, Techno, Two Tones, Yardies, and Zoots. Each of these colorful styles places the wearer into a clique.

Over time the American consciousness has steadily shifted to a preference for comfortable clothing. Toss aside those girdles and neckties, ladies and gentlemen! People want to move and breathe. The laborers in American society have generally preferred more practical clothing, which allowed for ease of movement, over dress clothing. They would save their “good” clothing for church and other special functions. White-collar workers, professionals, and those of a higher economic class have spent most of their waking hours dressed formally so that they can project an image of authority. Lately, though, the lines of style have blurred between working-class and these other groups of people. Casualness of dress has seeped into the administrative class. High-powered, cubicled offices in the “Big City” have adopted Casual Fridays. (So have smaller offices in rural cities.) People no longer feel a need to dress up for special occasions, such as religious services or weddings. T-shirts and jeans have become the most common uniform of the day. If the T-shirt is clean and doesn’t have a logo and the jeans aren’t ripped, that’s considered dressy. Now, what does that fashion billboard say about us?

Mary Warner
Copyright 2002, Morrison County Historical Society

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