The Discourse of Clothing and the Myth of the uniform Uniform
Instead of my usual placement this week I was treated to a special morning. This week, the middle schoolers get to choose to participate in a three-day enriching seminar-style learning experience. The topics vary but I was able to observe the basketball option (“Hoops and Dreams”) as that’s what my supervising teacher was assisting with. The girls (all in different grades) were able to come to school in out of uniform, athletic clothes since they would be playing basketball every afternoon in addition to watching basketball films and documentaries and games every morning. When we got down to the court and the girls began to take off their heavier sweatshirts and sweatpants (in favor of their tank-top style shirts and shorter shorts) I was immediately blown away by how there seemed to be three distinct discourses of clothing. One group of girls who congregated together all wore Lululemon shorts, headbands, and tanks. They weren’t all the same style, but they were all the same brand, and the girls, even though they weren’t all friends and were in different grades, automatically congregated together as the coach divided them up into teams. Another group of girls that congregated together were the girls that were all on the middle school varsity basketball team. These girls (from diverse backgrounds, some of whom were students of color) wore basketball-specific athletica clothing (longer, mesh shorts and tanks). A third group of girls that congregated together wore miscellaneous “athletic” outfits. By this I mean that they were simple, mall-like outfits that were neither particularly “brand conscious” nor “sport-driven.”
I had to maintain a distance and was only at the court for a short while, but I found it interesting that these girls didn’t realize it, but they seemed to travel in packs according to their accidental outward appearance. Even on days when the girls are allowed to wear “out of uniform” clothes, there are still unwritten uniforms that they follow, identify with, and relate to each other via.
I know this example may seem superficial or trivial, but it has me wondering: can clothing be a kind of discourse? Or subgroup? Furthermore, and more importantly, if people do not seem to be consciously aware of how a decision they make positions them in a certain discourse rather than another, is it valid to say they are part of that discourse? Can you be a part of a discourse without your own knowledge, decision-making, or even consent?