You Aren’t What You Wear: Fashion Stereotypes

Kate Krantz

This is what I generally wear: tattered jean shorts, skinny jeans, dresses, cardigans, leather jackets, sweatshirts, v-necks, ballet flats, sandals, boots and various long chained necklaces. My make-up has neutral shades and tones. My hair is parted to the right and is long, chestnut brown and free flowing because I don’t have enough time or patience to fix a bird’s nest in the morning.

Which type of fashion style would you say I possess?

At first glance, you might label me as a (insert stereotype here).

As an experiment to see how I fit into this, I posted a status on Facebook asking friends to give their brutally honest opinions of how they perceived me based on my style.

These are the answers I collected: valley girl, prep, nerd, goody-two-shoes, over-achiever, Ms. California, sorority girl and librarian. (Really?)

In today’s society, you can’t wear anything without being stereotyped.You might as well wear no more than your birthday suit. But then again, you may be identified as a nudist.

It’s wrong to judge others based on personal style. It’s a shame how clothing or a lack thereof can influence our perceptions of one another.

And why so quick to judge? Is it that painful to take the time to actually get to know someone?

A fashion stereotype develops when a person claims that a particular style is deviant and strays from the norm. According to Dalton Conley’s book, “You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist,” norms are how values are put into action.

For example, we value hygiene in our society, so it is a norm that you thoroughly wash your hands after using the restroom. As a child, you were reminded by your parents and teachers because it wasn’t engrained in your brain. Now that you’re an adult, you have full control over your actions so you can either wash up before munching down on that juicy burger or receive dirty looks from your date.

In another instance, stereotyping can also be referred to as the labeling theory. According to Conley, this is “the belief that individuals unconsciously notice how others see or label them and their reactions to those labels, over time, come to form the basis of their self-identity.”

The driving source of this internal perception is mass media such as television, internet, movies, newspapers, magazines and advertisements.

However, the most prominent source are the retail companies themselves, and each brand encourages and caters to the stereotypes.

Because people care so much about what’s “hot” and what’s not, the trends become fads and the fads become a way of life. In turn, people pattern their style to fit a certain brand, thus exploiting a false identity.

Perhaps, each person stamping on a stereotype adds variety. However, it results in assessing one another. As if we’re not already segregated enough by groups of friends and ways of thinking, marketing heightens this nature.

Try Abercrombie & Fitch on for size. Among many other brands, this particular company has the worst reputation by association. As an Abercrombie sales associate (“model”), I am dubbed, along with many others, as preppy with pretentious attitudes.

With no offense to the company, the loud techno music, high collared polos, plaid shirts and photos of half-naked men and women are the factors that reinforce the stereotype.
People lift up their noses as they pass by the store like it’s a plague. Or maybe it’s the pungent fumes of that scare them off.

Ed Hardy is another brand that receives a negative stereotype. Frequent shoppers tend to look like the cast members of “Jersey Shore.” With its exaggerated edgy, rock inspired graphic clothing, less people shop at the store, according to employees.

Other companies include Hot Topic, which is considered gothic and scene. And Urban Outfitters, well, it is what it is.

Regardless of where you shop, you will be scrutinized for what you walk out of the store with.

As a fulltime college student, which means I’m poor, stores like Gucci and Juicy Couture seem impractical to walk into. Why would I waste my money on a $228 pair of Coach python embossed leather pumps? I doubt that neither the snake nor I would be able to afford rent or eat for a week. I refuse to spread butter on my heel and devour it.

It seems to me that most people walk around with tags attached to their bodies, putting themselves on the market. The perfect pair of jeans does not mean the perfect life.

Maybe some people want to fit into a certain category, make a statement and there’s nothing wrong with that. You are allowed freedom of expression and to feel comfortable in your own skin.

So, what’s wrong with liking a style?

The separation of styles in clothing lines could be acceptable if we could be more accepting of each other’s tastes.

No one likes to be objectified. People like to categorize others based on styles they wear, which leads to misinterpretation.

You are like a canvas and you paint yourself. The outside reflects the inside. You are your own brand and not a single person can trademark it. You are not the creation of a marketing company’s sales message.

Your face is your face. Well, at least as long as you don’t have plastic surgery. Cough, cough, Joan Rivers.

The first step to not judging others is developing a personal style so don’t stereotype yourself, capisci?

I challenge you, the reader, to take a day to put aside upholding your image and shop in a store completely opposite of your usual look. You might discover at least one item to integrate into your wardrobe.

“Who you are is more important than what you wear,” said fashion designer Kenneth Cole.