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Fashion is complicated, certainly all the reasons in the article play a role.

But it also serves as an advertisement for fitness, fitness in terms of energy and thought you can devote to staying in fashion.

If you're a bit hurried and busy or just lost in deep thought like programmers, you don't have the resources to be on the cutting edge of fashion, and you tend to look a bit dumpy.

If you're in real distress, you tend to look really like crap, what ever you're waring is strictly serving the function of protecting you from the elements, and nothing else.

Like the peacock's tail, fashion is advertising excess resources.

In some way it can also advertise genetic fitness, as in you have high social IQ and can read the crowd's mind.

And then there's the I'm so proud of being a hacker I walk around looking like homeless person crowd, that's advertising that you're kind of a dick.




He makes it clear throughout the article that he knows nothing about fashion, and even admits in the first paragraph that he has no interest in clothing or fashion: "I want simple, good-looking apparel that covers my nakedness and maybe even makes me look attractive."

Here's a partial list of reasons people wear what they do, which the author misses (though some are mentioned in the comments):

- To enhance one's body (appear more attractive, muscular, thin, etc)

- To indicate a lack of concern for fashion.

- Peer pressure to conform to what others are wearing.

- Self expression of any number of things.

- Aesthetic taste.

- A sense of moral obligation (modesty, patriotism, etc).

- Entertainment.

- Marketing.

- Safety.

It's interesting that the author fixates on the motivation of status signaling above all others.


"I want simple, good-looking apparel that covers my nakedness and maybe even makes me look attractive."

That's like saying "I want to read a simple, good-looking book that entertains me and even makes me look intelligent." You can't be that simplistic without appealing to the lowest common denominator. Past a certain point, you've got to make an effort or else it doesn't really matter to you.


One a larger scale, fashion is a reflection of the current cultural mentality - its a physical representation of reactions to current events, trends and ideas. In a very real way, it is a socially-conscious art that you can wear. Fashion forecasters look analyze things around them: "Green" inspires the color, current wars inspire military elements in clothing, and more currently, the recession inspires deconstructed black pieces.

There is a stigma which casts Fashion as vapid and illogical, but a serious look at avante-garde and haute-couture designers will show the opposite. Designs are highly intellectual and innovative, encompassing all variations of form and function, and the interactions between elements. Very commonly, a single stitch or element is given as much deliberation as a core feature in a programming language or a chip in a circuit due the angles which it must be analyzed.


Most of your list either use fashion for status signaling or are alternate means of status signaling. Specifically, the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th; and the 3rd, 7th, and 9th can though not always. I think Robin tends to overemphasize signaling in various issues, but not this time.


Maybe I'm not thinking about it in the right way, but I don't see how most of those things signal status (and some don't signal anything at all). Or perhaps I was just too terse in my list. Here are examples of what people might be thinking with some of them:

- To enhance one's body (appear more attractive, muscular, thin, etc): being thin is inherently better than not, so I want to appear more thin.

- Self expression of any number of things: it's important to me that people not kill animals, so I'll be conspicuous in the ways I don't wear leather.

- Aesthetic taste: I prefer the look of the color red, so I'll wear it for my own pleasure.

- Entertainment: keeping up with fashion is stimulating to me, so I'll do it for fun.

Could you expound on why you think these things signal status in some way?


Many of these are, I think, signaling of things other than status -- e.g. membership of a group.

I also think this thread is missing the point slightly: status signaling doesn't explain every clothing decision ever made by anybody, but it does explain why fashions change the way they do.


I'm not much into reading about signaling and similar issues, but from what Robin has written, especially over the last few months, I think most signaling, eg group membership, involves status signaling among its other issues.


But it also serves as an advertisement for fitness, fitness in terms of energy and thought you can devote to staying in fashion.

Ahh, but not entirely. One of the cardinal sins of fashion (at least for heterosexual men) is looking like you're trying too hard. Spending too much time trying to look good (or, say, buying a subscription to GQ) is actually an indicator of low status since only low-status men need to expend effort on looking like they're not low-status -- this is what my favourite fashion site magnificentbastard.com calls "The Principle of Artful Dishevelment". You want to indicate that you have naturally exquisite taste (and plenty of money) but that you're not sufficiently status-conscious to spend an hour on your hair before leaving the house.


> One of the cardinal sins of fashion (at least for heterosexual men) is looking like you're trying too hard.

Yes but that's a case of sprezzatura: to stay in fashion (or create trends), you'll need to work hard. But you must make it appear completely natural and done without trying.


Don't think of it like it's judgmental. Think of it more as an indicator. If I'm reviewing a student's essay, and he's writing in a five-paragraph thesis model, then I know his effort is based largely on somebody else's idea of what makes a good essay. I don't think it's a sin to do that, but I also think that somebody writing like that hasn't found his own style.


I agree 100%. Like the peacock's tail, if it was easy, it wouldn't be worth doing. It has to be hard to look good while not trying too hard to look good. It's all part of advertising exactly how high your social IQ is.


Being fashionable also advertises that you are something of a worthless shit who doesn't have any better use for his time; see PG's essay "Why Nerds Are Unpopular" http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html


Funny that you call fashionable people worthless shits while citing the essay that's used most to point out that lots of nerds are worthless shits.

I don't see the point in denigrating people's passions, Bill. Paul Graham likes programming and making money. Not everybody does. Other people like to write music. Others, buying attractive clothing and learning how to look good. These things aren't inherently better than one another unless you want to buy into a specific social idea, and then we aren't required to go along with you.

The one thing I do detest are people with persecution complexes. Nerds are frequently unpopular because they insist so passionately how unpopular they are. That's unpleasant and leads to people not liking them. As I've discovered, if you talk to people about designing web sites and programming innovations, they'll still like you. You've got to understand going in what other people will be interested in and what nobody gives a fuck about, and that some people will never care, but if you know that going in, you can make delightful friends even with non-nerds.

The other problem is that some nerds know nothing but one specific thing, and they look down on everything else, so nobody likes them. There are people who know nothing but fashion, too, though they're rare and they're just as unpopular as nerds.


Praising or even respecting "passion" is a stupid pop-psych thing to do. Passion is worthless except to the extent that it motivates you to provide value to society. Or do you and the ??s that voted you up somehow think that passion excuses or justifies serial killers and Adolf Hitler and other historical and real world excesses.


Your tone isn't doing you any favours but you actually make a good point.

I was tempted to argue that providing "value to society" is always good but what you really mean to say is not that passion leads to "value" (there's no guarantee of that) but that passion leads to the motivation to act and the desire to have an effect somehow. Whether that will be good or bad is unknown, often irrespective of intentions, and can only be evaluated through value-judgement.

If that's your belief, currently, I can't fault it.


Being fashionable gets you places. I used to be a shorts and t-shirt - stereotypical software engineer look. I just didn't really care enough to wear anything except whatever was comfy.

Then I was given a really nice dinner jacket for Christmas, tailored and fitted and all. I felt like a new man wearing it. Since then I've spent considerably more time (though honestly not that much) thinking about what I wear, and I'm still in the process of replacing my disgusting t-shirt-and-shorts wardrobe with something better.

News flash: it fucking works. I feel more confident, the clothes no longer hang off me like rags, they ARE more comfortable, and for the first time in my life women are hitting on me.

If you don't care how you look, don't come crying when people judge you based on how you look. After all, you don't care right?


Out of curiosity: What places have you been going now that you're looking for clothes? I'm where you were last year, and am a bit clueless as to where to purchase things. (Hopefully this isn't too much of a conversational tangent.)


The same places everyone else goes, actually. Macy's, the Gap, Nordstrom, AE, etc etc. Many of these mass manufacturers make great stuff - but the effect of their products can be greatly enhanced by getting it fitted by a tailor.

Since my route home after work passes through the transit hub under the downtown shopping core, I've taken the habit of just randomly perusing clothing stores on my way home. I do this about once a week - it keeps your eyes sharp for particularly interesting pieces of clothing that isn't just "yet another collared shirt".


There is nothing wrong with dressing and grooming well. The essay talks about people who spend substantial time and energy at fashion, at projecting an image. there are only two things really worth spending time on: 1) family and friends, and 2) your work, that is what you contribute to society. The second is helped by good grooming, neither is helped by being "fashionable" (unless your work is mostly image, like acting or other entertaining).

And the essay by PG is relevant because it points out that nerds are unpopular because they have more valuable things to do with their time than suck up. The "in crowd" spends effectively all its time sucking up to each other, and shutting out everybody worthwhile.




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