The Uniformed United States of America
As a young teenager, I resented the trendy Hollister and Abercrombie clothing students wore in school. To me they were boring: simple t-shirts and jeans that are obnoxiously overpriced, and the graphic qualities available included only the stores name plastered across your chest. Conforming to these popular clothing trends at my school was like being sucked into a vacuum of un-creative, un-imaginative, close-minded people. I wanted to believe that I was more original, that I could wear clothing that went against the grain and stand out from other students in my school.
Music was a large influence on me at this age. I idolized the rock stars in their dark makeup and pleather pants instead of the pop singers songs played on the radio and in the stores. To me then, the rockers were so different, so cool, even desirable. Every morning I would cake my eyeliner under my lids, pop on a band t-shirt, and some ripped jeans. I dyed my hair dark with fire-engine red bangs that covered the left side of my face. People noticed; some stared, and some would divert their attention quickly to something else after noticing me. A lot of people thought I was intimidating, whereas others would negatively converse behind my back. I was just that creepy girl that hung out with all the bad kids and social outcasts.
Like most high school cliques, there were particular lunch tables that groups of friends sat at. I was stationed at the “Goth” table with a few other similarly clothed friends. As the school year went by, more kids started sitting at the table with us. One girl in particular I had seen earlier in the year wearing Abercrombie shirts, and now she was at our table dressed the same way we were. What was happening here? By the end of the year our small group had grown; now spreading across about three lunch tables. At first I thought our growth was cool. It was like we formed our own little community of people who all felt like standing out against normalcy. While walking through the halls one day I noticed more students were dressing like me than like the Hollister and Abercrombie dressed people. Thats when it hit me: it was now more trendy and popular to dress alternatively than it was to wear the branded clothes. I was no longer standing out in the crowd, no longer making any statement of individuality. Hot Topic had become the new alternative to Abercrombie and Hollister.
So why do we continue to follow trends if no one is actually being unique? Desire and anxiety are at the heart of this. We’re drawn to the new and novel, to things that provide a feeling of change, and, perhaps, progress. We also want to belong – to be part of something recognizable – and there is no more obvious way to demonstrate this than through your clothes. A new outfit that fits with what magazines and advertisements are promoting can be really pleasurable to buy and wear, however, these trends fall out of style each season. Keeping up with them causes anxiety – about not fitting in, not being up-to-date, and being an outsider. The international fashion industry plays on these negative feelings, to make people feel they must keep up with new trends and keep shopping. No matter how creative one thinks they are being with dress, someone has inevitably worn the same shirt, rocked the same style, or followed the same trend. Specific clothing may cause an individual to get picked on, judged, and may even impose a negative image on a person resulting in gang violence, crime, or confrontation. Instead of constantly trying to keep up with clothing styles, our changing body types, and displaying originality, we should instead all be required to wear uniforms – eliminating all creativity and self-expression from our wardrobes.
Decades ago, clothes were built to last and styles were timeless, these days fabrics are cheap, fads are passing, and the realities of our disposable wardrobes are stark. The time, effort, and cost it takes to design and manufacture the constantly changing clothing is wasteful – and often is made from unconventional materials that are harmful to our environment. If the trendy clothing is only popular for a short amount of time, how long before we see those articles in thrift stores or Goodwill?
Many don’t realize how harmful some fabrics and textiles are to our environment. Today 22% of insecticides are used on cotton crops, and growing enough cotton for one single t-shirt required 260 gallons of water. To make leather, only a small portion of a cow is used, and cows generate methane – one of the worst greenhouse gases. Nylon and polyester are both petroleum-based fabrics, and both create highly toxic by-products. Many of these fabrics are also treated with toxic bleaches and dyes, or require lots of labor and chemicals. If our universal uniforms were constructed using eco-friendly materials such as hemp, we could guarantee the safety of our environment. Hemp has many excellent properties, being environmentally positive with no need of pesticides and insecticides, it actually improves the soil where it is grown. It’s drought resistant and can be grown in most climates. Textiles can also be processed from the fibrous stalks without the use of toxic chemicals and because it does not require high technology to process. It can easily be processed locally increasing local employment, saving transport costs, and pollution. Hemp can be treated with low-impact dyes, which do not contain any toxic chemicals. They also have a high absorption rate which requires less water, and are applied at low temperatures saving energy needed to heat the dyes (Fabrics International). We could save even more energy if we didn’t wash our uniforms. Think of how much water, time, and money we would save if no one needed to appear clean. The average top-loading washer uses up to 50-60 gallons of water per wash, and large amounts of energy are used to heat the water (Saving Electricity). If we all had dirt-covered uniforms we would save up to five-hundred dollars per year on non-washing alone!
Wearing uniforms would also reduce time spent on getting dressed. Instead of dwelling in front of your closet in the morning one may actually have the time to do other preparations for the day before rushing off to work or school. As many say, breakfast is the most important meal. Adults depend on that morning meal to sustain energy throughout the day, while children need it even more. Their growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food. In fact, not eating breakfast is considered semi starvation which creates a lot of physical, intellectual, and behavioral problems for young adults. According to research, skipping breakfast can even lead to weight gain, which of course wouldn’t matter if we all had one size uniforms.
According to a study on Telegraph News, women will spend over 8 years of their lives shopping. The average woman will shop for an astonishing 25,184 hours and 53 minutes over a period of 63 years. GE Money conducted a poll on 3,000 women, revealing that 301 shopping trips are taken per year, lasting a total of 399 hours and 46 minutes (Telegraph). While plenty of this time spent could arguably be for essentials such as food, studies show that at least 90 of those trips are spent keeping up with appearance – shopping for clothes 30 times, shoes 15 times, accessories 18 times and toiletries 27 times. A total of 100 hours and 48 minutes is spent hunting for the latest clothing bargains and fashion statements. A further 40 hours and 30 minutes is spent shopping for footwear, and 29 hours and 31 minutes looking for accessories such as handbags, jewelry, and scarves (Telegraph). By wearing a uniform all that time spent shopping for clothing could be put to a better use, and money would be saved by not purchasing fashion related items. Instead of shopping people could spend their time and money potentially helping other people less fortunate. In an article on ABC news, studies revealed that the typical American spends around $1,700 annually on clothes and services. There are over three-hundred million US citizens – guaranteed some may not choose to spend that much on clothing, and some may spend more. Regardless, it’s still a lot of dough being spent on materialistic clothing and ideals. I too have felt shameful of my expenditures after walking out of a store or mall with multiple bags in hand – only to observe the homeless on city streets holding up signs, desperately trying to provide for themselves and their families.
Many of the trendy clothing styles simply don’t look good on each body. Fashion is a fickle beast that changes quickly and never stays the same. What was hip and trendy this year could be the laughing stock of the magazine world today. So how is one supposed to know what looks flattering on your body at that specific era in time? There are so many options of clothing to wear – so many “fashion no-no’s” – that you could easily end up on TLC’s What Not To Wear, a fashion consultation show that verbally tears apart your wardrobe and takes the unfashionable victim on a shopping spree for new duds. Trendy clothing today often is displayed on teeny-tiny dress size 0-2 models that weigh less than 110 pounds and are over 6 feet tall. They look great, however would an average woman on the street be able to pull off the same look? The average woman is about 5’3-4, weighs 140-150 pounds, and runs a dress size of 14 (Peeke). More than one-third (37.5%) of adults are obese (CDCP), and trendy clothing styles completely unwearable for that body type. Why not avoid all the fashion confusion and opt for a simple uniform that one size fits all? The uniform a simple and safe route for each body to wear, avoiding any embarrassing fashion mistakes or unflattering looks. Not to mention all the fashion designers would finally have reason to find more important jobs instead of designing unwearable garments for stick sized humans.
Some clothing can even bear negative connotations to the wearer, causing them to be judged in a particular way, made fun of, or even physically hurt. I was ridiculed in high school for wearing all black attire, and dying my hair odd sorts of colors. It’s truly effected the way I am today, as I am more fashion conscious and worried about how I appear to others. Being bullied can lead to low self-esteem, lack of confidence, reclusiveness, and these effects stay with a person even after high school is over. There are certain iconic images that we see in our society, and when placed on a graphic t-shirt it says something about the person wearing it. Say if you saw a woman with a play boy bunny, or hooters tee on, you would assume that individual is sexual, and possibly trashy. If someone was wearing a Jack Daniels or Coors Light shirt, you may see them as more of a partier, which may give the connotation that they are not quite as intelligent. Even more indirectly than a graphic tee, specific ways of wearing clothing can “define” a person. If a male tucks his shirt in a wears a belt, he looks more professional. If he has his shirt untucked, and sags his jeans, he could be perceived as part of hip-hop culture: glamorizing violence and belittling women. If a young male walked around the southern outskirts of Los Angeles wearing mostly blue, baggy jeans, and a bandana they could inevitably be shot or mugged, as the colors blue and red can be traced to gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods. If we all wore the same uniform, no one would be able to draw conclusions of people based on the first look – possibly saving them from being bullied, or hurt.
Uniforms are already worn in the workplace, as well as on sports teams. They’re worn simply because it signals that they are part of a working team, cooperating together in unison. If the entire world were to wear uniforms, quite possibly there would be less fighting and more working together as a community. As a result social status and attention to appearance would not be a factor to how people are approached or viewed, and perhaps this would eliminate the various boundaries or stereotypes we have set ourselves in. If people that are financially strong helped those less fortunate using the time and money that used to be spent on clothing, it would even out the extremes: the exceedingly rich, and those in poverty. By eliminating the creative wardrobe, we would be an entirely equal community – where everyone is genuinely accepting of one another, working together in unity.
- “Fabrics International.” Eco-friendly Fabrics –. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. <http://fabricsinternational.wetpaint.com/page/Eco-friendly Fabrics>.
- “Choose Textiles and Upholstery with Eco-Friendly Dyes.” TLC. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. <http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/home/choose-eco-friendly-low-impact-textile-dyes.htm>.
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- “Women Spend Over 8 Years Shopping.” The Telegraph. 8 Apr. 2010. Web. 3 Apr. 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7565638/Women-spend-more-than-eight-years-of-their-life-shopping.html>.
- “How Much Do You Think the Average American Spends on Clothing in a Year?”Yahoo! ABC News. Web. 08 Apr. 2012. <http://gma.yahoo.com/how-much-do-you-think-the-average-american-spends-on-clothing-in-a-year-.html>.
- Peeke, Pamela. “Everyday Fitness.” WebMD. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. <http://blogs.webmd.com/pamela-peeke-md/2010/01/just-what-is-an-average-womans-size-anymore.html>.
7. CDCP “U.S. Obesity Trends.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 03 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html>.