Sartorial Taste and Judgment

iris apfel quote

My impression is that many highly-visible style experts – the ones with TV shows and books and magazine columns – either choose to or are forced to adopt an attitude of judgment. Since viewers and readers seem to find it endlessly amusing when a stylist chuckles under her breath at some garment, outfit, or sartorial choice, the stylists keep it up. They poke fun, they skewer, they judge.

That’s not how I roll.

Over the years, I have worked to refine my messages about style to be as open and accepting as possible. I want all to feel welcome here and none to feel excluded. And I truly, truly want anyone who reads this blog to come away with these messages: Style is for everyone, style is empowering, and there is no one right way to look good.

That said, I still have taste. I don’t like everything. And over the past few months I’ve struggled to understand the line that divides taste from judgment.

When I say I dislike something, it may sound like I am condemning that thing and all who enjoy, wear, or choose it. That’s never my intention, but I can understand how that might be a common interpretation given my vocation. I generally attempt to explain why I dislike things or provide background on any bias I may have accumulated due to personal experience, but it still often sounds judgy. And I hate that.

I can say quite honestly that even if you wear clothes that don’t please my own aesthetic sense, I don’t think you’re stupid. I don’t think you’re wrong. I think you’re making choices that are different from mine, and I may not like the physical garments you’ve chosen to wear, but I don’t presume to know why you’ve made those choices and I don’t wish you’d worn something else. I don’t feel the urge to “fix” your outfit, or guide you toward something that I consider to be better – not unless you specifically ask for my input. I acknowledge that my voice is merely one of many and that my opinions are based solely on my own experiences and preferences. Although I’m always honored to be asked for advice, I never consider my own word to be gospel. The world is diverse and people’s tastes are diverse. Even if I don’t understand or agree with your sartorial choices, I do my best to reserve judgment.

But I realize that voicing likes and dislikes related to style just feels like judgment – regardless of intent – since style is deeply personal and driven by personal, aesthetic choices. Aside from unexpressed thoughts, any commentary on the clothing choices of another person – positive or negative – carries the weight of approval or disapproval, regardless of the source of that commentary.

So how can an expression of taste be differentiated from a message of judgment? How can comments or observations about someone else’s sartorial choices NOT sound like wholesale approval or admonition? If they can’t, what do we do? Discourage all style-related expressions of taste and preference? That just doesn’t seem viable, nor does banning observation of clothing and style choices that others have made. While it’s certainly none of our concern why someone else dresses as they do – nothing we should try to “fix” or judge even privately – at the very least we may naturally think, “I probably would’ve worn something else myself,” or “Gosh, I love that.”

Of course, some of this comes down to the difference between private thoughts and expressed ideas. I mean, walking up to someone to say, “I hate your shoes,” or giggling and pointing are both deeply inappropriate behaviors. But walking up to someone to say, “I love your shoes,” is generally considered to be a fabulous thing to do. So while asking people to remain completely neutral about every other person’s sartorial choices seems like an unreasonable demand, it could just be a matter of keeping unsolicited criticism internal, but expressing praise.

Of course, the classic way to express taste is through personal choices, with a focus on the active and positive. Disliking things is natural and normal, but we’re going to avoid the things we dislike, right? In terms of fashion that means don’t buy them, don’t wear them, don’t worry about them.* The philosophy of promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate. We don’t have to love everything, and by wearing only what we love the rest becomes irrelevant by default.

And that includes virtually everything worn by other people.

*And in terms of writing, this means talking about things you love and recommend, and avoiding lists of “don’ts” and items you loathe. This is how I try to run my ship, overall.

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Originally posted 2012-03-14 06:09:55.

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49 Responses to “Sartorial Taste and Judgment”

  1. Peter

    I think of taste as what I like (or don’t like); I think of judgment as criticism (expressed or kept to oneself). I don’t think of them as opposites, one versus the other. But that’ s me — words mean different things to different people.

    Unless I think someone is going to make a fool of themselves in public (“The invitation says black tie!”) or potentially jeopardize their safety though their clothing choice (“You’re going to the frat party with no panties?”), I will never make a negative comment about someone’s style choices unless someone is soliciting my feedback. Except in the case of my partner, in which case I just roll my eyes or furrow my brow; the message is clear.

    I certainly have an opinion (call it judgment if you will) about others’ style but I keep it to myself. If style is important to you it’s only natural that you’re going to have an opinion and there’s no reason to suppress the thought. Saying it is something totally different!

    It might even be helpful to challenge ourselves about WHY we dislike something on somebody — it could give us insights into ourselves (“Look at the Selma flashing her X, I was taught that a “lady” never flashes her X.”). But you’re still entitled to think it. I say, judge away, but be open to the fact that you’re judgment reflects who you are, how you were raised, class prejudices, etc., and use that to further your own self-awareness, compassion for yourself and for others.

  2. Cynthia

    I generally don’t say anything negative about individuals’ specific fashion/style choices. I will be critical of things I find ridiculous if someone posts, for instance, a general “drop crotch pants, what do you think” discussion, and I always feel a little weird about it, because what if someone who reads it really LOVES drop crotch pants and just bought a pair and was going to wear them tomorrow?

    On the other hand, no one else seems to have any compunctions about telling me wearing heels makes women’s legs look “their best” (thereby implying that my legs will never look “their best”). I just try to ignore all that chatter and wear what I want/need to.

    I think the whole world of style and fashion is inherently about judgment and maybe we can’t avoid it, but we can avoid getting personal.

  3. Lucy

    It’s a tough one. I mean… for example, leggings are not trousers. I will openly state this, in say online discussions, and don’t really care what the women who are wearing them as pants think because I feel like anyone who does wear them as such needs to know that we can all see their underwear and it’s the same visual effect as wearing tights with no skirt. I also don’t think it’s polite or acceptable to wear pyjamas to university lectures. That said… I’m disappointed in those women who have paid out £70 for American Apparel “disco” pants which are just shiny leggings, because I personally think that they’re being taken advantage of by a fairly ruthless company and the fashion industry at large which is marketing expensive lycra leggings, more expensive that designer denim, as a “trend”. I would never say this to anyone wearing them though as it’s not my business where they spend their cash. So I think it comes down, for me, to not liking an item of clothing, which is my taste, or someone dressing inappropriately for an occasion which is likely to mean the world at large judges them along with myself.

  4. Patience

    Taste and judgement have been tightly bound for a long time. I’m thinking of the many references in literature in which “bad taste” and “vulgar” are synonyms for low class. I’m not supporting that belief, just pointing out that it exists and that taste and class will probably never be separate in the minds of some people.

    I agree with you that everybody should be free to express their personal style without judgement. This is what makes life interesting! I don’t think that all public commentary about taste should cease, as I’m sure there are ways to comment that are not hurtful.

  5. Anne

    “Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.” YES. And that’s the attitude that shines through here.

    Reading these words juxtaposed under THAT picture made me giggle through the whole post 🙂

    • Sal

      I know, right? Bless those two, they do lots of great stuff … but ouch. SO harsh sometimes.

  6. jcb

    It’s difficult to suppress private judgment and comparison re: clothing and body type when these things are based on prejudices that are so heavily influenced both by the beauty and fashion industries, and by one’s own personal circumstances. I do think we owe people the respect of refraining from offering advice when it’s unsolicited, and of offering it tactfully when it is. But personal tastes are so bound up in race, class, gender, and origins, that it is neither surprising that they crop up in the form of judgments nor that people feel the need to express them. I think it’s unreasonable to ask people not to think such thoughts. What we can do is make them realize that their word is not final or “the truth,” that they could just as easily have been born in a different city, to parents of different race, and with entirely different beliefs, and thus feel entirely differently about clothing.

    I also think the use of the word “judge” should be clarified. Is “judge” only synonymous with “condemn?” Or can it also mean to draw conclusions and make assumptions about who a person is based on some piece of information? If the latter, things get more complicated, since we not only inevitably express ourselves and who we are through clothing, but we are encouraged to do so by many professed authorities (including this blog.) We can always be guarded about the sorts of conclusions we draw from these outward things, and how far we take them. But the fact that clothing preferences exist, at least in part, to allow others to infer certain desired assumptions about the wearer makes the argument for fighting the impulse to draw such conclusions somewhat antithetical to the whole idea of clothing.

    • Sal

      Good point, jcb. “Judge” doesn’t technically mean “condemn” in all instances, but we’ve come to conflate judgment with condemnation. Or negative connotations, anyway, since judging someone else does typically include some assumption of superior knowledge on the part of the judge. (Judger? Person doing the judging.)

  7. Katharine T

    I think there are two problems here. There is the fact that people tend to express taste as judgment – i.e. “Jeggings are so stupid!” – and then there’s the fact that people tend to HEAR genuine expressions of taste as judgment – i.e. I only said “I dislike the look of jeggings on me” and you HEARD “jeggings are so stupid!” While it’s important not to be judgy, I also think that most people (self included) need to work on accepting disagreement as not the end of the world. Which is easier to do if you feel confident in yourself, your identity, and your opinions.

    Personally, style is not one of the areas I feel most vulnerable, maybe because I never considered myself a stylish person and even now I tend to express myself without following the latest trends. So when another style blogger proclaimed that corduroy is always dowdy and awful, I went right on wearing corduroy without a second thought. But I can understand how people might feel judged by style bloggers – there are other areas of my life in which I’m way more vulnerable.

  8. LinB

    Oh, so difficult to know how to respond when someone asks my opinion about what he/she is wearing! I try to suppress my initial impulse to say something catty, and consider why a person has chosen to dress that way: was it the color he/she liked? Is he/she trying to fit into a social group to which I do not belong? Has he/she lost weight, but not so much weight as he/she thinks? Usually I just say a little prayer that I don’t unintentionally insult the questioner.

  9. Anne @ The Frump Factor

    Huh. You’ve articulated this dilemma so beautifully. Like anything else, it’s probably just a matter of finding the right balance. Promoting what you love and keeping quiet about what you don’t is perhaps as good a rule of thumb as any. But Katharine T’s comment is right on point — in blogland, people can hear judgment where it’s not intended because it’s so easy to personalize disagreement (I’ve caught myself doing this.) In general, I hate when online forums or comment sections devolve into everybody venting about their pet peeves — it’s cathartic for the posters but comes across as mean and judgy, overall. (But then, I kind of love Stacey & Clinton. Go figure! Maybe it’s because they are ULTIMATELY all about empowerment and affirmation, but they do take some unfortunate detours along the way).

  10. 1000Oysters

    This is a very interesting topic- thanks, Sal.

    I think it’s nearly impossible to keep from judging others sartorial choices, just as it would be impossible to keep from being judged on our own. However, I think what we do with that judgement is the sticking point. Whether we like it or not, how we dress is a statement to the rest of the world and it is one of the only ways we can control what other people think of us.

  11. Rebecca - we are large people

    This is so great! I work as a stylist, and I often have to explain to clients and potential clients that it will NOT be like “what not to wear”. I think there are lots of ways to embrace style and explore fashion and what feels good on one’s body, and I love to celebrate that. I call it “fashion with compassion” :).

  12. jii

    Important discussion.I am offended when I read about how to dress for my age, how to look younger, how to look taller,how to make my butt look smaller, how to make my bustline look bigger, how to look hotter (that one really burns my shorts), how to look less NYC, how to look less rez, how I look like this person or that person because we share an ethnicity, how I should wear heels or red or wool…etc.
    I am short and old. That is just how I want to look. I am healthy. That is just how I want to look.

    • Chelsea

      Amen to that. Screw the media trying to tell us we all need to look the same (like a very young mannequin) to be happy, sucessful or have meaningful relationships. It is not attainable and it will never lead to happiness.

  13. alice

    I think judging is unavoidable as long as you have any opinion at all about style. Expressing it is another matter though, and that’s where good manners come into play. My internal judging falls into three camps: 1) Style that is in line with my own style garners the most interest because I can easily see how pieces will fit into my own life. 2) Style that looks great on others but is clearly not my style is fun because I like diversity and fashion in general and on occasion I find useful elements for myself. 3) “Bad” style or non-style is where my negative judging comes in, but honestly I think if you can separate the woman from her “bad” fashion choices, it’s not wrong to internally have an opinion about what she’s wearing. For example, while I might find it tacky that someone is wearing a super tight shirt with the word ‘naughty’ (or something else) written across it, I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about her personally, because maybe she just finds it a fun silly shirt and it cheers her up to wear it. If she was about to walk into an interview for a paralegal position wearing that though, I would most definitely say something. Otherwise, to each her own!

  14. Katelyn

    “In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” – Andre Maurois

    This line could just as easily start “in fashion as in love.” I think we should internalize the ideas that we are not the ultimate arbiters of style and that sartorial choices we do not care for are liked by others. With that knowledge firmly grounded in the mind, it’s hard to be judgy.

    That said, a person uses their dress to communicate to the world something of who they are, and I don’t think it’s inappropriate to judge the traits an outfit communicates; quietly to yourself or in the context of legitimate social commentary among friends. Just as one wouldn’t walk up to a girl and call her ugly, one shouldn’t walk up to her and tell her her outfit is hideous (or slutty or prim or mannish or inappropriate or antisocial).

  15. Aziraphale

    Thanks for this post, Sally. I appreciate that you try very hard to be inclusive and positive at all times, and it’s one of the reasons I read your blog.

    To answer your question in boldface type: hoo boy. Yes, I do judge. I try not to, and I keep it inside my head, of course, because I’m not a bitch, but it’s really hard not to make judgments on people based on how they’re dressed. After all, your sartorial choices broadcast messages to the world about who you are, and we get those messages, whether they are intentional or not. I’m sure my own personal taste has some influence on my assessment of a person based on how that person is dressed, because total objectivity is impossible — we don’t live in a vacuum — but chances are my judgments are not wildly different from the judgments others would pass on that same person. It’s natural to try to fit people into categories.

    OK. After having admitted all that, I don’t think being judgmental is a GOOD thing. While I can’t help forming a first impression of a person based on how they’re dressed, their posture, eye contact, all that stuff, I realize that first impressions may not be totally accurate. I try very hard not to be inflexible in my opinions.

  16. Lorena

    I love your take on this subject.
    Because most of the time we see style as an EXCLUDER (if that is even a word!) and it should not be. We all have it and should be able to express it freely.
    Answering your question, when I dislike something someone else wears I am usually expressing my own personal taste. I tend to think, “I would never wear that” or “I would wear that with…” – another thing: I never say it to the person in question. Unless they ask and I have a close relationship with them. It’s not about me, it’s about them and their style.

  17. Candice

    I agree that we shouldn’t judge others’ style but having an opinion and expressing it in a general way seems fine to me. You have a very popular blog so I can understand needing to be careful about it because just like I wouldn’t tell someone I hate their shoes, you wouldn’t want to be indirectly telling a reader that you hate what they love style-wise. I think you’re doing a fabulous job of that and I really respect the way you deal with these issues on your blog.

    The one thing that I don’t know how to deal with is when a person wears clothing a certain way that makes them look trashy and gives others a bad impression of them… What is the right thing to do? Let them be? Inform them of how they’re being perceived? Sometimes it can affect them (not giving a good first impression at a job interview, making men think they’re easy to get in bed and so they attract disrespect for example)

    How should we deal with this type of “bad style”?

    • jii

      Trashy? Maybe the woman is looking for a partner for some recreational sex, so she is advertising. She is not trashy, just provocative. We really need to stop equating people and their style with trash and garbage. What does that say about us?

  18. Megan

    One of the reasons I love your blog is your attitude of empowerment and encouragement. I’ve noticed in myself that the more I read/watch the harsh judgement of the fashion of others, I too become more of a harsh judge. In some ways it relates to the quote by Marie Wilson, Founder and President Emeritus of The White House Project, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” She wasn’t talking about fashion, she was talking about women in powerful positions of leadership, but it relates. If all we see and hear about fashion is judgement then we can’t see a different way of interpreting fashion. Thanks for providing a different way to see and interpret fashion.

  19. Nebraskim

    I agree that we should not conflate “judgment” with “negative criticism” or condemnation. There are many items that are not my taste or my personal style that make someone else look and feel fabulous just as there are items others love that are not my personal taste or style. I think Stacy and Clinton can be a bit caustic, but it’s part of the show; it is what makes for “good TV.” Most of their clients dress inappropriately and out of context for their lives, or they dress wildly out of style. Their goal is to find for the client a style and wardrobe that will work with their lives (although if they were dealing with me, their insistence on high heels and a lovely “date night dress” would be wastes of money as I don’t do date nights or have events in my life that require a dressy outfit. Ever.) They are looking for clothing that will flatter someone’s figure and accentuate their clients’ best attributes. They can be judgey, but in a good way because they are seeking a decent end goal. I often see beautiful items of clothing on people, but the item just does not flatter them…it doesn’t fit, it’s the wrong color or out of context. People’s sense of taste is personal to them; I try not to condemn someone’s taste for differing from mine. I often feel I have bad taste in music, but people say “how can you have bad taste in music? If we all have the same taste, wouldn’t it be boring?” I guess that is true for clothing and style as well.

  20. Terri

    I know when I teach “argument” in my writing classes, I demonstrate that There is a difference between personal taste and a reasoned judgment. No amount of reasoning tends to change one’s taste (eg., I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla). Why we like what we like is sometimes inexplicable and it is not influenced by other’s opinions. But, judgment is based upon reasoned thinking and has a logic behind it. This is critical thinking. It is important to exercise critical thinking in many aspects of our lives–politics is one. It is important to be able to sort through the variety of messages one receives in any given day and sort out the the dross from what is valuable.

    If you are a blogger who values ethical clothing, based on a number of reasons, there is a way to share your values without condemning others who believe differently.

    I know that when some outfit catches my eye for something that seems “wrong” about it, I sort of go into a Zen mode, much like you describe, in which I ask myself why I am thinking this way. Too often in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that the personal style choices I’m observing are limited by finances. My judgment does nothing to affect that.

    • Sal

      Ah! Of course – taste is the more emotional of the two, in some ways. No one is swaying me away from chocolate with logic. 😉

  21. Marsha Calhoun

    As always, very interesting! But as for judging, we should probably just admit that we judge all the time, beginning when we decide whether or not we like something (like it on her, would like to wear it ourselves, or just like the color), and inevitably there are things we don’t like, and often we don’t like them because we think they are ugly. Can you have beauty without its opposite? Thinking something is ugly does not mean that the person wearing it is ugly (although he or she might be – some folks are not aesthetically pleasing to me, a fact that I can’t seem to override by my desire to see beauty in everything – I can usually find something that is beautiful, but that doesn’t eliminate ugliness completely, and I’m not sure it should). My judgment is not cosmic judgment, it’s just mine, and if it would harm someone else I should keep it to myself. I follow a blog (not yours) in which the writer dresses in a manner I consider appalling (i.e., I would never ever dress that way, since it would make me look like she looks), but she has such a good time that I enjoy her experiences. So ugly (what I judge to be ugly) has its place too, but for the sake of honesty I think I should cop to finding it ugly rather than struggling to reinterpret it as “beautiful in a different way.” Your thoughts on this topic would be fascinating.

    • Sal

      I struggle with that one, Marsha. I am all for honesty, believe me, but have found myself SO much happier and more peaceful when I can look at things/people/choices I would once have deemed “ugly” and just think, “I’d have done it differently.” I don’t think either route is wrong or better, it’s just a personal choice about how you want to delineate likes and dislikes.

  22. Lauren Elizabeth

    That is precisely I refuse to watch “What Not to Wear”. Stacy and Clinton are cool, but they don’t allow for ANY individuality in the clothing they pick out for their clients. They say, “Dressing like us is the only way to go. Don’t try to just wear whatever the heck you like, dress like us.” It’s stupid and judgmental.

  23. sarah

    Hm. Well, for those of us not running a style blog, there’s considerably less pressure to monitor ourselves, isn’t there? For me, it’s a simple rule of thumb: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

    That said, my husband and I will rehash fashion choices we disagree with – but alone, and in private. AND one of us will inevitably point out the differences in age/class/ethnicity/lifestyle/etc. which might cause us to disagree with said sartorial choice.

    Personally, I like hearing what others dislike, when respectfully phrased. I wear some pretty crazy things. On more than one occasion, friends have told me – I would never wear this, but you totally pull it off. To me, that is a perfectly acceptable boundary; there are so many reasons that such a boundary might be drawn, and this kind of statement opens up a conversation about personal style and identity that can be very fun and engaging for both parties. It doesn’t shut things down.

    I also find it interesting to voice dislikes as well as likes because one can use them to chart an evolving style. For example, before you cut your hair, you were not a pants-wearing girl, as I recall! And it wasn’t a judgment on PANTS as a garment, but they just weren’t for Sal. If I hadn’t read those statements, I might actually not have paid so much attention to the sudden introduction of pants into the daily style shots post-crop. So, by knowing your previous dislike of pants, I was able to appreciate the evolution that a single haircut has brought on in a new way. For me, it’s interesting – and so I actually prefer to see the whole picture (not just the stuff that you love, but also knowing what you don’t love).

    • Sal

      Hahaha. You know, I should really revisit my pants hatred. It really has been strange to gravitate toward them after so many years of hatred. Glad to hear that it never seemed like I was condemning all pants and all pants-wearers in my rants, though, since that was never my intent!

      And good point: For those not running advice blogs, there’s less risk of seeming judgy if you express dislike for items or styles.

  24. allena

    My favorite example of non judgement style in fashion is Bill Cunningham. I was not fond of the documentary on him (currently on Netflix streaming) for entertainment reasons, but if you watch it you get a good sense of his love of fashion of all kinds. its kind of amazing and I would totally recommend it for a refreshing look at non0judgemental fashion. The fellow, a NYC style institution now, once quit a job at marie claire (i think?) because they were using his pictures to do a ‘hot or not’ column, and making fun of the people. He did not like that, left, and has gone on to an amazing career in fashion photography and trend spotting/setting. Worth a watch just to catch his philosophy.

    • Sal

      Oh yes. Bill is the BEST. I had no idea he quit a magazine for moral reasons. What a star.

    • amanda

      I loved the documentary and I loved that about him. what a wonderful and inspiring person. I came out of the theatre with even more love for fashion and photography 🙂

  25. AnnR

    Many times when I see something I don’t care for it’s not long before I remember something that I own/wear that’s similar. At that point I either give the person a break or resolve never to make that mistake again.

    Stacy and Clinton are pretty caustic. However the cases they get are pretty tough. I figure someone who gets nominated for WNTW has usually persisted in an unflattering/attractive style or appearance beyond friends or family making subtle hints. It’s an intervention and they are not always happy events.

    Sometimes the gals are open and willing, but many times they need a jolt to let go of items of clothing that are holding them back from life success, whatever that might be.

    How many times have we seen a woman embarking on a new course in life who is dressed in a way that will almost guarantee that she won’t be taken seriously?

  26. T.

    Great post! I hate it if people look down upon others just because they happen to have a different taste in fashion, music or whatever. However I find that sometimes I “judge” people because of what they wear in a different sense: I would for instance assume that a woman who always wears sneakers has different priorities from a woman who always wears heels.

  27. Anne

    Before I decided I wanted a life of my own with actual time to myself and went back to school, fashion was my thing. Yes, my first degree was even in fashion merchandising. I spent a lot of years making stores look good, windows, ads, and yes people. I mentally redress people the way some folks mentally rearrange the furniture or Orthodontists look at teeth. However 98% of the time my thoughts about clothes and their wearers are pretty impersonal (much as you might respond to art:how does this speak to you or relate to you?) I would never venture forth an opinion about what someone is wearing unless they asked (and they never do) Furthermore, on the extremely rare occasion that some one does ask I usually answer in a very generic way- referring to the clothes not the person.

    But, in total honesty, I do form internal thoughts about what I’d like to see people wear sometimes. I try very hard not to ever form judgments about people themselves based on their clothes or grooming choices. I might be looking at you from across the room wondering how you’d look in red instead of gray, but I’m not thinking any less of you because that’s what you chose.

  28. Kookoo

    I find this so appropriate as I have students that make way different choices but look great for who they are. I usually liken it to my own dissatisfaction with my own weight, but never feel the need to call someone much bigger than I the same fat cow (damaged goods from being a valet dancer) that I call myself. The style a person can pull off is such a delight when style is the focus and not fashion or trend. I know for a fact that I pull off way more than I simply wear. That is why I so appreciate all of the choices others make.. Hit or miss.

    • alice

      : ( I hope you can come to a better place about your body and not call yourself names…

  29. Elizabeth

    Taste is preference; bashing is judgment.

    I usually feel like a weirdo with my own taste, because it’s largely divergent from trends. For instance, I won’t wear the current trends of neon, pastels, floral prints, sleeveless jackets, lace, or leopard. As for mainstays, I refuse to wear bootcut anything. Everyone loves bootcut, while I am the only girl in America who doesn’t. I hand-sewed and wore pegged (now called skinny) jeans even when they were considered completely naff. Clothes can be an extension of a person’s personality. So I can understand why people want to wear what they like. But even if I won’t wear all that stuff I listed above, and even if I continue to wear skinny jeans into fashion oblivion, I honor everyone’s right to do the same, and I enjoy when other people adopt trends and wear them well. I respect everyone’s right to wear what they want.

    If I don’t care for something, I might say “I don’t prefer it for myself,” or “I love that look—for someone else.” Just because it isn’t my taste doesn’t mean it isn’t any good.

  30. M

    Honestly, I only think it’s appropriate to make comments of any sort about someone’s looks or clothing choices once you know them very well and depending on who else is around at the time. As someone who has a body type that was badly judged by others while growing up (“you’re face is so pretty, if only you lost weight…”) and having close family member that have dealt with severe eating disorders, I know it could be very harmful in some ways to make certain comments, even if the individual making the comment thinks they are positive.

  31. BrokeElizabeth

    I’m very opinionated about clothes (I literally have a yes/no list of different styles and trends that I like and dislike…. I like lists) but I don’t think I judge people for their choices when they wear something that is on my ‘no’ list. At least, I try really really hard not to.

  32. the gold digger

    Everything you wrote could be applied to politics! I would be very happy to be in a world where people who disagree with me would keep their opinions to themselves and not tell me I think what I think because I am stupid or ill informed. I would do the same for them. What a nice, peaceful place this would be.

  33. Danielle

    As something of a libertine, I’m not a fan of the word “should”. I like that fashion has the power to offend – all the interesting things about fashion happen at those edges. I’m also a believer in hierarchical nature of fashion – nothing is equal and everyone’s got the right to judge, even if it does risk offense – but nothing is absolute either, because it’s a constantly shifting spectrum and what’s “better” today will be “over” tomorrow.

    The strange thing is, because I enjoy “offensive” things in a sort of detached way, that I seem to be almost immune to being offended myself – it’s like I have major cultural insensitivity – and it’s something I’ve been considering a lot lately.

  34. Bastette

    To me, the distinction between taste and judgement is pretty straightforward and simple. Taste can be expressed as “I like this” or “I don’t like that”. This opinion may be expressed with varying levels of analysis, complexity or passion, but ultimately it comes down to what I do or don’t like. It’s a subjective opinion and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

    Judgement is when I express the opinion that someone should or should not wear an article of clothing. I rarely do this, not because I’m especially pious, but because I can’t be bothered. I have too many other things on my mind to care about whether someone “should” or “shouldn’t” wear something. I have no opinion on that. (Barring obvious things such as wearing a bikini to a funeral. Well, to most funerals… :)) Just because I personally don’t like what someone’s wearing, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t wear it.

    I’ve gotten into (mostly online) arguments with people who say things like, “How can she go out like that? Doesn’t she realize how {ridiculous | sad | slutty | ignorant | disgusting} she looks?” As though the wearer has some obligation to “look good”, according to the speaker’s standards. I usually reply that if someone doesn’t like how I look, they can look elsewhere. Their distaste isn’t my problem.

    One of my favorite bumper-sticker slogans is: “I’m not here to decorate your world.”