Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Emperor’s Clothes

Assume AE wasn't talking about flavoured contraceptives.
Image sources - KL, AE
Once upon a time, at a historic worldwide convention, all ancient civilisations unanimously agreed that mating dances are lame and prone to misunderstanding. Imagine a situation where, let’s say, a Persian traveller (P) is proposing mating to a South Indian (S). S asks whether P is of the right caste. P misinterprets S’ question as a positive response, even finds it a little sassy, (which is how P likes it) and swoops in. Melee ensues, all because none of parties knew that the South Indian questioning gesture is the same as what most parts of the world use to wish good luck.

Visual representation of gesture confusion
Image source

A heated discussion was also underway about the role that the species’ celebrated frontal lobe should play in choosing mates. Attention spans are usually low at such events, and this led to some of the parties going off course into another argument that only frontal lobe was acceptable, and any other sort of lobing should be declared as the act of a pagan. Someone started a vote on accent neutralisation. Not enough care was given to the naming of the motion and the absence of paper balloting had most people verbally voting against what sounded like nonsense. The Blab Lobe Law [inspiration for joke] died a bill. Everyone forgot about frontal lobes.

After all this, and the dinner parties, there was hardly enough time for more discussion. Somebody proposed that clothes could indicate socio-economic status and show the right amount of skin needed to reach an agreement between two consenting parties. Thus on the last evening, it was quickly ratified that apart from nobly serving as protection from some of the harsher elements of nature and lifestyle, clothes would also bear the burden of mating indicators. Hands were shook, stone tablets were etched, history was made, and everyone went home.

Did you hear about the eighteenth century
maid who allegedly murdered her mistress?
An accessory was the prime accused.
Image source

Over time people concocted monarchy, inheritance, and other such loopholes to incentivise their progeny to take care of their old age needs instead of packing them off to nursing castles. This caused distortions in the socio-economic appeal which prospective mates gradually grew wary of. Some of the rich, spoilt brats, who couldn’t be trusted to remain rich, gradually found themselves to be lonely, so lonely, Mr. Lonely, with nobody to call their own except for their slaves which was legal back then. Being kids of royalty, or other members of the local snobberati, they modified the earlier mandate. The new mandate dictated that the more primitive strategy of ornamentation and embellishments would be the way to go.This act set a precedent for allowing rich, sex-starved idiots to make decisions affecting millions for their own gains. Clothes would never be practical again.

My problem is not as much with ornamentation as it is with the inconvenience of it all. Many have observed how our specie grows a little dumber with every subsequent generation. My theory is that this is not because our brainpower is on the decline and more technology exists to do our brainwork for us, but instead it’s because people now tend to subdue their capable frontal lobes to fit in just to have a chance at getting laid, an essential requirement to produce progeny. In the time it took you get till this point of this post, five capable frontal lobe types have been bullied in high school and made fun of in college instead of being chick magnets at the receiving end of thrown panties.

The earlier the generation you belong to, the wiser you are.
Graph source

They named their daughter North, being cognitively
incapable of realising all the “went up north”
jokes she’s going to be the butt of later in life.

Creating a human being to harvest organs is unethical
but creating one half Kanye, half Kim is not?

This image took more searching that I would want my
search history to have of Kim and Kanye. In my
hurry to close the tabs I forgot to copy the source.
So no source.

Amongst unnecessary and inconvenient items of clothing, ties reign supreme. For a long time I tried to think of the functional utility of a tie. The earlier hypotheses included:
  • They were invented by folks living near the Arctic Circle to keep the wind out
  • They were invented in the South American rainforests to keep insects from surreptitiously crawling down one’s back
  • They were invented in some part of the world to serve as some sort of a bib
  • They were invented in some part of the world to prevent people from getting a glimpse of one’s chest hair and/or breasts
I liked how these hypotheses were gender neutral but their undoing lay in the fact that ties are usually worn with shirts, and not clothes with elastic over their wrists and ankles. Winds, bugs, fluids, and photons usually operate at high velocities and the gaps between the buttons and sleeve holes present ample opportunity for any one of them to sneak in.

As I grew in age and wisdom, I narrowed the possibilities down to the following two:
  • They were intended as some sort of phallic imagery, considering the importance given to the knots and the length. If you stretch your imagination a little more, it's also like an arrow pointing downwards.This directly connects back to the mating strategy and would also explain why bowties went out of fashion.
  • They were leashes. Employees and students have to wear one, which psychologically chains them to their desks, while bosses roam around on golf courses and teachers laze around in staff rooms
I’m still not sure which one it is though.

It's the small things that matter.

The leash hypothesis is the segment in which the notorious appropriately-dressed-for-the-occasion faction operates. These folk are the high priests of the Temple of Preset Norms and primarily comprise of teachers, mid-level managers, and relatives. They actively preach and convert, oftentimes succeeding in brainwashing even the most oppressed and ostracised – naïve schools kids who think they will do something great with their lives, innocent subordinates with office internet restrictions, hippies without their acoustic guitar, and such. Did you know that the northernmost point of India is south of the southernmost point of Europe? One would think the difference in temperature and humidity would have been an easy catch for a people credited with inventing zero. Despite that, we have mostly shed the comfortable native wear of loose fitting garments made of breathable fabric and sandals, and have instead opted for shoes, thick trousers, suits and ties. Once upon a time, our ego couldn’t take being identified with the downtrodden millions and made the switch to an Englishman's attire. Now it’s one of this group’s sacred rules, held in high revere behind the temple doors, and imposed on anyone who cannot think for themselves. In that temple’s R&D department, research continues on changing our skin colour to the European shades too.

Then there’s this practice of ironing clothes. The socialist in you would be happy that this has spawned an industry and created thousands of jobs but the anti-conformist in you should wince at the fact that the contribution of all these people to society consists of smoothening garments and folding them neatly. Is a clean, odour-free shirt not good enough, that it needs all this unnecessary make up? As soon as a freshly ironed shirt get put on, it gets sweat on it, the collar keeps getting tugged at, the sleeves wipe beads of sweat and food remnants, and apart from a wash, now the shirt also needs to be re-starched and re-ironed. All the unnecessary fuel consumed in this process then contributes to global warming which worsens the heat. The cycle intensifies, eventually polar bears go extinct, and now there’s one less animal to post pictures of on the internet. All this would not have happened but for the appropriate dressing faction which deems wrinkles on clothes to be unacceptable. Their R&D department has successfully extended this to the skin already.

The irony of an inconvenient suit.
Maybe that's why activists are usually in hippy clothes.

In fact, we have now come to a point where clothes don’t just affect our perception of others, but even our perception of ourselves. A study showed that if people were given a white coat and told that it was a doctor’s coat then they behaved more along the lines of a doctor, and if they were given the same coat and told that it’s an artist’s coat then no doctor-ish characteristics were observed. If the inanity doesn’t strike you instantly, imagine a situation where a woman appearing for a job interview asks the interviewer to turn her down and hire the other man sitting outside. After all, she says, she must be inferior since she is just a woman. If you still don’t get the inanity then continue with the same situation - the interviewer, who is not sexist and genuinely feels the man was a better candidate, agrees. They both step out to congratulate the guy, who hears the door opening and stops scratching his balls before anyone sees. He then wipes his hands against the side of his trousers before shaking the interviewer’s hands and accepting the position. As he steps back into his car, off comes the wig, accompanied by the standard head shaking to emphasise the long, flowing hair to reveal that the guy was actually a woman (needless to say, all along). She only dressed as a man for the interview because it helped her self-esteem. Back in the building, the interviewer is in a different room, shaking the hands of some guy, and saying he accepts the position. The interviewer was actually an interviewee but was pretending to be the interviewer because it made him feel more confident. For a much more extreme example of how such things can affect you, check out the Standford Prison Experiment.

A valuable ally to this conspiracy is the media. Until a few hundred years back, most of the public never got to know about the gladiator’s wardrobe malfunction at the Coliseum, chic was only a type of a kebab and it didn’t matter that most people didn’t know the right pronunciation of that word, nor was there any detailed coverage of who wore what to the Olympics medal ceremony. In fact, the male athletes figured that the loincloth interfered with their performance and chose to compete naked. This led to married women being barred from the events making it a double whammy for the fashion faction. The newspapyrii probably had a page III but they used like any other page and so there wasn’t any way for people to even get to know about this stuff even if they wanted to. Moreover, most people didn’t have the time to flip through the latest Fall Collection and the hairstyles that matches their face type because they had more critical daily concerns - whether their neighbours had small pox, was there an impending famine, or if they were about to get burnt at the stake.

Nobody would expect the Spanish Inquisition.
GIF source

All these constraints had us doing fine until the potent combination of religion and rich people came along. What began with the slightly uncomfortable animal skins had moved on to the very functional loincloths and togas. It now slowly approached the era when European women spent considerable effort and endured significant discomfort trying to look like colourful ostriches with a big hat which was probably the only thing that could raise some interest out of the men who went around in really tight three-fourths. The rich folk did this mainly to distinguish themselves from the peasantry, the length of fabric one could afford seems to have been a strong status symbol of that period. The Crusades spotted a market and enabled this hysteria with the import of silks and, you know, other new kinds of fabric from the rest of the world. The age when clothes were a luxury was moving on to the age of the industrial revolution and Vasco de Gama’s discovery of a short cut.

Image sources - reptile, Elizabeth

Fast forward to the present, from a fig leaf to Lady Gaga’s meat dress, and from horse messengers to twitter, we’ve come a long way. On the whole we might look less stupid than what people looked like a couple of hundred years ago but we’re still far away from a rational dressing sense. We have replaced blatantly ridiculous with a much more intense kind of a herd mentality which tries to tap trends and fads, all we need to ensure now is that these trends and fads are not blatantly ridiculous, or even slightly so. However, if The Hunger Games movie is anything to go by, it isn’t headed towards a happy ending.

"Now tell your great great grandparents that you're
dressed like that because you're poor. "
Image source

Gender neutrality: I have zero personal experience wearing women's items, which is why you may find the article mostly male-centric. However, as a courtesy to one of the superstars of dysfunctional wear, amongst all the other uncomfortable looking things I've seen women wearing, and again, in my limited familiarity with women's apparel, I must mention heels. Irrespective of how short one might be, standing on tiptoe and delicately balancing oneself for hours on end, just to give the impression that one is taller than one actually is, even though everyone can see the motorcycle stunt ramps attached to the end of one's legs, cannot be worth it.


  1. Brilliantly written! My sentiments exactly, although women do have more pressure to conform to these standards.

  2. One typo in the last but one para - "On the whole we might look less stupid *than* what people..."

  3. And these ramblings from the bored blogger who has nothing in his wardrobe to wear?

  4. Anonymous - Haha, thank you.
    HandsUp, Belladona - True apparently.