Tag Archives: Clothing

Scantily Clad Heroes

Wonder Woman 2017cFeminists have long been critical of how female superheroes are presented in comics. In terms of appearance, they have expressed concerns about the body types of female heroes, the way they are posed, and the skimpy costumes most wear. One interesting visual response is the Hawkeye Initiative in which Hawkeye (or another male superhero) is drawn in the same pose and costume type as a female superhero. As would be imagined, the male hero looks absurd when so posed and costumed, which is exactly the point.

While the presentation of female superheroes in comics is certainly a first world problem, it does raise some important concerns. These concerns normally focus on such matters as the impact on body image, but my interest here is with considering the superhero costume from a practical standpoint. That is, what such costumes should be like when considered from a realistic perspective. While I am no expert on fashion, I will draw on my experiences as an athlete, martial artist and gamer to guide the discussion.

In the realm of fiction, being a superhero generally means being very physically active (running, swimming or flying after villains) and engaging in combat. This means that a sensible superhero would have a costume designed to take these into account.

While I am not a superhero, decades of competitive running have given me considerable insight into what sort of clothes are best to wear. One important factor is mobility—you need to be able to move properly in athletic clothing. One approach is looser fitting clothing that allows a lot of motion (such as running shorts) while another is the tight-fitting spandex (such as running tights) that also allow free motion. As such, the idea of heroes wearing tights makes sense—for the same reason that it makes sense for runners to wear them. Another important factor is temperature management. If a hero is like a normal human, they will generate body heat and sweat when they are active. As such, they will need to be able to stay cool while active but also remain warm when they are just patrolling or engaging in dramatic dialogue.

As a runner, I wear as little as possible when I am running in warm weather (for me, “warm” is anything over 55 degrees). This typically means just shorts, socks and shoes.  Many other runners are the same, with women generally adding at least the legally necessary coverage. Presumably a superhero that runs about would also want to wear as little as possible. As such, in warm weather superheroes dressed in super versions of running clothes would make sense—skin tight clothing with lots of skin exposed.  This, of course, assumes that the super heroes have the human need to stay cool when being active. A superhero that had no need to sweat could wear whatever they wished—the concerns of mere sweaty mortals would matter not to them.

Considering this, it would make sense for female superheroes to wear the same amount of clothing as competitive runners—that is, not much. However, the same would also apply to male superheroes.

While wearing minimal clothing is a good idea when active under warm conditions, like runners facing cooler weather, superheroes would need to cover up more to remain comfortable and perhaps avoid hypothermia. Practical and sensible superheroes should also consider following a standard practice of runners: wearing more clothing to warm up or when waiting to compete, then shedding clothing when it is time to get down to business. Since hanging out all day in sweat-soaked clothes is uncomfortable, sensible heroes would also change costumes when they can. And shower.

Unlike runners, superheroes spend much of their time in combat and this would impose another set of practical considerations in regards to clothing. Since superheroes tend to fight hand to hand, it would be unwise to have costumes that provide a foe with easy handholds. As such, tight costumes without extraneous material would be the best choice. Capes would, as always, be a poor choice.

When engaging in combat, it has always been a good idea to have protective gear. Some of this protection is intended to deal with the incidentals of combat, such as ending up in contact with rough surfaces (like being knocked down in the street) but most of it is supposed to provide protection against attacks. This protection usually takes the form of armor, ranging from ballistic clothing to powered armor (like Iron Man wears).

Armor does have the usual trade-offs: it tends to restrict movement, tire out the wearer quicker, and create overheating problems. As such, heroes that rely on speed and freedom of movement might be inclined to avoid armor or at least keep it to a minimum. The classic Batman, for example, did not wear any armor. However, as anyone who plays games like D&D knows or faces combat in the real world, armor is generally a good idea for those who are going to end up in combat. Otherwise all those knifes, bullets and ray blasts will be hitting your skin.

To be effective armor must at least cover the important parts (usually the head and torso) and that means that exposing a lot of skin (especially cleavage or the abdomen) is a bad idea when you are counting on your armor. As such, the typical fantasy drawings of heroines in armor are absurd. Or, as a veteran D&D player put it, “if the enemy can see your cleavage, they can cut your boobs.” And no one wants their boobs cut.

Superheroes who have powers that make them invulnerable or otherwise grant great defensive powers do not need to rely on armor and they can safely wear whatever they like; such as Power Girl’s famous cleavage window costume. While the classic Wonder Woman relied on her magical bracelets, the updated version seems to be close to Superman in her ability to withstand damage—as such, she would not need to rely on armor for protection. Superman, of course, does not need armor—his skin is almost certainly stronger than anything he could wear. As such, a superhero who still had to deal with the sweating problem but did not need armor would want to wear as little as possible, be they male or female. Perhaps this explains why Wonder Woman still dresses the way she does.

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University Dress Code

Dress code as seen at a London Club in the Soh...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My university, Florida A&M University (FAMU), recently adopted a dress code (or, to be more technical the trustees approved new dress standards). This code allows professors to prevent students from attending classes (or other functions) if the students are not dress appropriately. Previously only the school of business had a dress code.

There seem to be three main reasons for this code. The first is that it is taken as educational. That is, it is supposed to teach students what sort of dress will serve them best professionally and socially. The second relates to classroom order, namely it is intended to deter students from wearing clothing to class that could disrupt the class. The third is a matter of image, specifically that it is aimed at preventing students from wearing clothing that will make FAMU look bad.

While I have not (as of  this writing) been supplied with a list of banned attire, it does include “do-rags”, hoods, and the infamous underwear revealing “saggy pants.” Rumor also has it that tube tops and t-shirts with inflammatory language will also be banned.

As might be imagined, I am somewhat divided on this matter. However, I will endeavor to sort through the matter from a philosophical and professorial perspective. I will do so by looking at the reasons behind the code.

The first reason nicely matches Aristotle’s views of education. When discussing moral education, Aristotle notes that young people do not find a temperate life to be particularly appealing, so it is necessary to condition them to such a life. Doing so, he argues, will make it less irksome and hence it will be all the easier to ensure that they follow the right path throughout life. As might be imagined, many college students would prefer to not dress like professionals and prefer to be rather more casual. Also, some college students clearly prefer the now forbidden styles. As might be imagined, the job creators who will hire the students when the graduate will expect their employees to dress in appropriate ways. As such, the university would merely be extending its mission of conditioning students for the workplace by adding in control over their modes of dress. After all, the American education system has been training students to follow schedules, do boring work at the behest of others, obey petty authorities, stand in lines, and so on. What, it might be asked, is the problem with adding a conformity of costume to the curriculum of conditioning?

The obvious problem is, of course, that such an imposition seems to violate the liberty of the students. Since they are adults, there is a presumption in favor of their right to dress as they choose. Naturally, this should match the laws regarding public indecency (although those could be challenged as well). However, provided the students are not violating such laws, it would seem reasonable to not impose on their liberty. Unless, of course, the harm done by specific attire would morally warrant imposing on the liberty of the students. This takes me to the second reason.

The second reason does have some appeal. While I have never had a class actually disrupted by someone’s choice of attire, it does seem possible for this to happen-provided that the clothing was such that it would create a significant and lasting impact on the class. In all my years of teaching, about the most extreme reactions I have seen is having some students stare briefly at another student because of his/her choice of clothing. This has sometimes been followed by some whispering. However, this sort of “disruption” is nothing compared with the disruptive influence of personal electronics and people talking to each other in class. Naturally, students coming to class partially or fully naked would probably have a significant impact-but that is already covered, I think, by existing laws regarding public nudity. Because of this, I have never really considered improper attire a threat to my classroom-but my experience might be unusual. There is also the possibility that I am blind to the damage it has been doing in my classes.  If other professors’ classes (and mine) are, in fact, being disrupted by improper attire, then the code would make sense on this ground. After all, the disruption of class would harm the other students and thus warrant imposing on the liberty of the student whose attire is causing the disruption.

Of course, it could be countered that there are cases in which the student cannot be reasonably held accountable for the reaction of others. To use the obvious analogy to free speech, if a student says something that annoys, offends or otherwise bothers other students, this does not automatically entail that the student should be compelled to be silent. For example, if a student presents an argument in favor of God’s existence that really annoys some atheists in a religion class, it would hardly be right to silence the student because of this.

The obvious counter to this is to argue that the clothing being banned is not the clothing equivalent of a rational argument that bothers those who disagree. Rather, the clothing is on par with someone shouting vulgarities in class. If this is so, the code would seem sensible.

The third reason also has some appeal. While philosophers are supposed to be concerned with wisdom rather than with the “sights and sounds”, I recognize the importance of appearances when it comes to matters such as recruitment and reputation. For example, if prospective students and their parents see FAMU students dressed inappropriately for higher education, this might impact their decision to attend FAMU (although our enrollment has been at record levels). As another example, photos of the university that feature inappropriately attired students could also do damage to the school’s reputation. After all, reputation is often more about appearance than substance. Naturally, it might be countered that people should be more concerned with the substance than with the appearance, but that idea seems quaintly out of touch in a time when people assert that “perception is reality.”  In any case, if the damage done to the university by the inappropriate attire exceeded the damage done to the students by imposing on their liberty, then the imposition of the code would thus seem morally warranted.

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Philosophy in the Short

Ernest Hemingway

Image via Wikipedia

Ernest Hemingway claimed that his best story was only six words long: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Twitter challenges the Twits to tweet profoundly in 146 characters or less. Naturally, this raises the obvious question: can philosophy be done in such tiny packages? After all, we philosophers are known for being rather long winded (or long fingered…if that is how one would change this to a key board metaphor). To make this challenge more interesting, let us see if philosophers can do more with less. As such, I introduce the Philosophy in Three words or 73 Characters (or less) Challenge. Spelling, as always, does not count. Winners will receive the 3 seconds of fame it takes to read and puzzle over their phits (philosophy bits).

Happy Holidays to all.

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