When I was young there was one fact I knew; only old people and nerds wore tighty-whities.
It’s not surprising. Cartoons portrayed this stereotype. I wasn’t a huge cartoon kid, especially in comparison to my friends who had cable, but I still watched some. I continued with this belief about underwear choice for years. Eventually I became old enough to have some input in my own underwear selection. I told my mom I wanted to get boxers. I recall her asking me why and I believe I told her that everyone wore boxers. She was fine with it; my parents have always been supportive about random stuff like underwear choice.
My dad had a more interesting comment. When my mom mentioned that I had wanted to get boxers he also asked me why. Again I gave him the same rundown, tighty-whities were for nerds and old people. He told me that he found that funny, because for his generation boxers were for old people. I thought about it, and I supposed I pictured older people wearing boxers as well. Come to think about it I also pictured parents wearing tighty-whities.
This revelation made me consider why I believed a certain type of underwear was for certain types of people. More broadly, this made me consider why I believed anything was for a certain type of person. Eventually, as I began to travel, I became exposed to people who held different associations than me.
For example, on my first exchange to France. At one point I was going to the pool with my host and his family. Before we left I took out my swimming trunks. Offered to lend me a pair of Speedo trunks, but I didn’t want to wear them because I felt weird in them. In fact I didn’t really understand why he was asking me if I wanted them at first. He told me that I didn’t need to wear them, but that’s what everyone wore there and I might feel awkward without them. I decided to follow his suggestion. Though I felt a little odd in it at first, I did fit in with the others at the pool.
So let’s talk about men shaving their chest. For my generation at our age, it seems as if a lot of ladies prefer guys to shave. Many people picture a manly chest to look like this:
Fit, toned, and shaved. What is funny about this for me is that while I was traveling in the Middle East and on exchange in Russia their ideal manly chest has hair. In fact, having a shaved chest is somewhat girly or immature. (Think of the expression “it’ll put hair on your chest” about a stiff drink) What is also interesting is if you consider what a ‘man’ looks like from forty years ago. This guy is pretty manly with his full chest of hair:
Even if you Google image search ‘manly chest’ (which I did for this post) you get a variety of hair length. What thinking about all of this brought me to is re-pondering exactly how arbitrary style decisions can be. I mean what is ‘in’ now certainly won’t always be ‘in.’
This reminds me of a YouTube video I saw a couple weeks ago. It was a girl talking about how to convince your parents to let you get a piercing or dye your hair. I don’t particularly agree with her, but you can check it out here. She described herself going through different style phases such as Emo and Scene. Though the phase changed, she constantly identified her current style as a particular group of ‘alternative culture.’
It seems how you choose to style yourself tells people perhaps what type of person you are, but probably more accurately what type of person you want to be or see yourself as. But how do people decide what sort of person a style makes them? I suppose one large influence would be superstars, whom are often role models for people. James Mollison created a photo collection of fans emulating their idols at concerts.
So where does this thought stop for now? I guess what I believe is that yes, style is somewhat arbitrary, but can help people identify you as someone they would get along with. At the same time though, everyone perceives styles differently and holds different beliefs about it. So I guess just do whatever makes you feel comfortable?