My latest project is a study of dress codes. Dress codes may seem a bit old fashioned, but in fact we are constantly told who should wear what and when. Rules—written and implied—divide formal from casual attire and children’s clothing from that of adults. There are rules for what to wear in each season of the year and rules about the right attire for different times of the day. And, of course, there are rules about the types of clothing men may wear and about the clothing suitable for women. Adherence to such rules is considered by many to be an important signal of breeding and even character: accordingly, immediate social sanctions—and indirect professional consequences—can follow from breaking them. Some dress codes are job requirements or house rules of an organization or establishment—flouting them can get one fired, kicked out of school or barred from a restaurant. Finally, there are laws about clothing, enforced by police or government officials. Break these rules and you may find yourself facing a fine or even a jail sentence.
Why is attire so rule bound? Why and when is clothing important enough to become the subject of written treatises, rules and regulations, legislative proclamations and judicial edicts? This book will explore dress codes and discover what they can tell us about the significance of clothing—our most conspicuous medium of self-expression—and it’s relationship to individual identity, community cohesiveness and social order.