What do bad clothes signal about you?

post by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-13T17:48:22.219Z · score: 18 (21 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 82 comments

Yesterday I attended a meetup where the discussion turned to fashion for a time (because apparently the mini-camp participants were given some instructions on fashion as a useful part of instrumental rationality). (Unfortunately none of us knew much about the topic so the discussion turned into "how can we find an expert to advise us for minimal cost?") It was mentioned that dressing "badly" can be a useful signalling device, and some examples were given. Here's an attempt at a more complete list of possible signals one might be sending by dressing "badly".

The idea here is, if you do decide to start dressing "well", know what you're giving up first. (Of course you're also giving up possibly implying that nobody taught you how to dress and you're not sufficiently strategic to have thought of learning it yourself. Or implying that you don't have the mental, financial, and/or social resources to keep up with fashion. A lot of signaling depends on what your audience already knows about you, or can infer from your other signals.) See also Yvain's related post, Why Real Men Wear Pink and comments there.

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comment by lukeprog · 2011-06-14T18:58:16.573Z · score: 30 (30 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To those who read Wei Dai's post:

Keep in mind that what you are signaling to others is not what you intended to signal, but the message that others receive. Perhaps you want to signal that "costly signaling is mostly a zero-sum game and I like to opt out of zero-sum games", but that's almost certainly not the signal that anybody else is actually receiving.

More likely, by wearing clothes that don't fit and don't match, the signal that most people are receiving is:

I don't care enough about social skills to invest energy into fashion, and so you can raise your probability that I haven't invested energy into other social skills, either. If you talk to me, there is a greater probability that I will create an awkward situation than if you talk to somebody who is clearly fashionable. I am also more likely to exhibit other effects of lack of investment into social skills.

And remember, most of this isn't conscious. If you haven't studied this stuff explicitly, most likely what happens when somebody walks into the room who is badly dressed and walks with a hunch is a visceral feeling inside of you that you don't have much desire to talk to that person and they make you a little bit uncomfortable. In contrast, if somebody walks into the room with open body language and good fashion and a big smile and a straight back, you're more likely to feel like you want to be around that person and will have fun as a result of interacting with them. (I'm using 'you' in an arbitrary sense to talk about any particular person in a social situation.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-06-15T03:08:16.826Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What impression would you say is apt to be given by positive body language combined with moderately bad clothes?

comment by Zvi · 2011-06-13T22:43:13.152Z · score: 23 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are signaling benefits to dressing poorly, but if you're reading Less Wrong's discussion forums I'd set a very high prior on your error being on the side of undervaluing fashion rather than overvaluing it. This is coming from a person whose wardrobe is in large part things handed out for free at tournaments.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-13T19:40:49.520Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those attempting to ignore fashion might say "function over form", yet the form of clothes have quite a bit of function: social affiliation, likeability, attractiveness, and other important aspects of dealing with humans are directly affected by fashion. My recent research on the topic suggests that it's a highly specialized field, requiring a great deal of continuing research and effort to understand in depth.

The issues of concern are:

  • Fit. How well does the item conform to your body shape? This is critically important and yet very difficult to assess in a quantifiable or repeatable way, and is therefore the area where an expert would make the most difference. Of note, tailoring an existing item can be very cheap, as little as $5 to $15 for shirt alterations (of course there are many that charge more), with much to learn from the tailor's advice.

  • Quality / Cost. The fabric used, the location and process of manufacture, the conformity to accepted standards, and the dollar cost. Most purchases by the fashion conscious are done using sales, and the "retail price" is the sucker price. ("Nobody pays retail.") Bespoke (custom, or personally made for you) items are generally at the top, though also high cost.

  • Currency. A "modern" fit, meaning conformity to current style decisions regarding lengths, widths, color matching, and type matching. (Note that there are several mentions of conforming, and none of comfort.) Individual items are often referred to as S/S 11 (Spring/Summer 2011) or F/W 10 (Fall/Winter 2010), indicating a two season per year refresh rate on the exact meaning of "modern". This is the primary reason it requires continuing research; avoiding this and remaining stylish requires use of "classics".

  • Details. Once the basics are covered, the details make a big difference. The lining, the hint of different colors, patterns vs. solids, vents, hems, etc. This is often the accepted place to show individuality.

  • Patina. Items straight out of a box are good for being generally impressive and showing a pristine appearance, but often the 'life' of an item comes through after many uses, shown as scuffs, fades, wrinkles, even stains or rips, telling a story about that item and its owner. Patina is why ripped jeans can be stylish.

There are many very specific rules which fall outside of this, such as which colors, patterns, or styles to wear for which occasions ('business casual', 'law firm', 'weekend', 'prom', 'street'). They're too many to easily enumerate, culturally specific, and I haven't yet found a place which tries to lay out "consolidated wisdom".

Stores are ranked by their ability to produce the cheapest clothing with the highest rating - good fits out of the box using quality materials at sale prices. Many fashion followers have "grail" items, things which are out of their price range, but they wish to acquire. They also tend to have extensive collections for mixing and matching: closets full of shoes or 8 sweaters that are barely different, showing signs of potential hoarding and materialism. It's easy for many such people to spend thousands of dollars on a single item, such as a pair of boots or a handbag.

Fashion is dangerous territory for anyone with a desire to min / max; it's subject to threshold effects, constant change, and diversification requirements. There's normally a large gap between 'basic quality' items you can buy at mall stores and 'good quality' items from luxury stores. For example, there's many basic quality leather or canvas handbags in the $40 to $150 range, but to go up a tier, you'd have to hit $1000 or more; pretty much everything in the $150 to $1000 range is of $40 to $150 quality. Bargain hunting, used by true fashion followers to acquire such items, requires significant time and effort. Which names are worth the money also changes over time, with some switching from top quality to using flimsy leather, third-world workers and mechanical stitching, or YKK instead of RiRi zippers, without letting anyone know, requiring individual inspection.

To get back on the topic of signalling, clothes rank third behind grooming and body type when discussing personal appearance. Getting a nice haircut, being cleanly, smelling good, exercising, and controlling your diet make more difference, and cost much less in dollar terms, though they take much more time. This fits with a signalling theory that primary signals are related to difficult-to-fake costs: how much time you've put in to look the way you do, with dollars (purchased items) being a proxy, easier to fake, allowing patina to add value.

With clothing, the rules are more often broken or ignored, especially for many areas outside of large population centers - people simply dress like those around them, with what their parents style them as, or with what they have access to in the immediate area. It's often stated on the fashion forums I've lurked for months now: "98 percent of people don't care about this stuff and won't notice the difference."

Conforming to the basics seems like a much easier goal.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-06-14T01:58:56.126Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To point out the obvious, the point at which you're worrying about "currency" is too far beyond the point of diminishing marginal returns for most LW folk.

"98 percent of people don't care about this stuff and won't notice the difference."

This is referring to the difference between $40-150 per article and $1000+ per article when holding "fit" roughly constant, correct? (It's not quite obvious from context.)

comment by Rain · 2011-06-14T02:51:24.930Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, fit is paramount, details are secondary.

In-the-field testing from members of fashion forums show that people on the street are generally unable to identify quality from sight alone, hence the propensity of some labels to provide very large and garish branding. Appropriately, those who I quoted attempt to find articles of better quality without a visible brand name, since symbols like that ruin much of the effect. It also provides a higher barrier to entry, though conforming too closely to community norms can get you labeled "dressed by the internet".

Many of the $1000 items are purchased at much lower prices due to losing "currency" yet still meeting the other attributes. Access to deep discounts like this is only available in-store in major cities (NYC, LA). Ebay is also frequented, along with foreign shops, though with heavy analysis for fakes and by using trust networks and proxy buyers.

Also note that the currency effect happens even for the most common brands - they're following the luxury designers, perhaps behind by a season or two. Why did they have that really nice shirt at J.C Penny last month, but now you can't find it? They don't make it any more, because it was St. John's Bay S/S 10. Check the clearance racks and stick to the classics.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-06-14T15:37:56.673Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please consider writing up a (discussion) post on your experiences. It sounds fascinating. I personally would be particularly interested in changes in how the less fashion conscious reacted to you.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-14T16:06:12.483Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To quickly answer that, people definitely noticed when I started dressing better, and I received many positive remarks and a few negative.

Some of the more telling comments:

A friend: "Nice shirt... you know, I try not to judge, and that's why I hung out with you, but you're really looking better after your fashion project." To me, this hints that I was being judged (for years?) by this person, even though they're my friend.

A family member: "Those are really nice boots, where can I get those? They're almost work boots... though far too nice to be wearing out here in the woods! And those jeans.. be careful, that shade of denim can bleed onto white shirts like that, trust me, I know all about fabric." This is from my Aunt, who creates many bespoke shirts for her family, and has worked in craft stores for decades. Tellingly, it was just Levi's and Doc Martens (both classics), with the proper colors and fit.

My boss: "You know, when I first I saw you, I thought to myself, 'I hired that?!' But you really cleaned up well." I had a phone interview for the position. This says to me it's very likely I would not have been hired due to looks alone, but that I had improved to hireability, allowing them to justify the action.

My brother asked me for advice, though he realized my 'transferred wisdom' method of learning, and asked 'How would your fashion forum people judge this look?' instead of asking for my personal judgment.

A negative remark I received was that I seemed to be dressing more like a person in a TV show, with the suggestion that I was exceeding my current reference class and conforming too much with the popular view.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-12-21T19:10:40.667Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What fashion forums have you used?

comment by Rain · 2011-12-21T19:50:04.292Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

styleforum.net primarily (male focus), and many sites linked from there.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-12-22T16:02:40.010Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks :)

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-07-13T19:03:00.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would really really like to see a discussion/top level post about your experience and advice on this topic.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-06-14T19:00:19.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, fit is paramount, details are secondary.

Agree.

comment by lucidfox · 2011-06-14T05:51:40.035Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a suspicion you're just trying to rationalize your existing mode of behavior.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-14T15:20:11.555Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had the same suspicion (and also that I like being contrarian too much), and tried to compensate for the bias in the post. Do you think the resulting text is still substantially biased? Or just that it's a good idea for readers to keep the suspicion in mind while they consider my post?

comment by atucker · 2011-06-14T15:35:54.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was mentioned that dressing "badly" can be a useful signalling device

That seems like the most biased statement in the post, because it increases the salience of the idea that dressing badly might be a good choice.

The rest of it seemed fairly unbiased, except for the whole rationalization bit.

comment by khafra · 2011-06-14T13:32:00.625Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Michael Vassar has advocated wearing a fashionable, well-fitting suit with Vibram Fivefingers to properly countersignal--since without showing the capability of properly signaling, the "counter" part is lost.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-06-14T13:47:58.840Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I saw that, I would assume the person was trying to make a statement, but I would not be very receptive to it since those things look ridiculous. It's like applying an Uncanny Valley skin to your feet.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-14T13:54:06.391Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But their looking ridiculous is part of the point!

comment by [deleted] · 2013-01-04T00:02:10.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Vibram Fivefingers look hideous to be, but sometimes I wear fashionable clothes and then put on a ridiculous rainbow fedora hat with paillettes.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-14T21:34:11.967Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another important observation is that there are at least two very different ways of dressing "badly." One is dressing in a tacky and sloppy way with complete disregard for aesthetics, and the other involves breaking the conventions of formal wear but still dressing neatly and stylishly. The latter, I think, can be a useful signaling device in some situations where adherence to formal wear may lower your status by making you look like you're trying hard to please others.

The prime example would be situations like job interviews (especially in technical fields), where you're expected to dress up, but those you have do deal with are not, because they enjoy a position of superiority. When you show up for those wearing something obviously more formal than what you wear on a daily basis, you signal that you're trying hard to please the people you have to deal with. A much better signal can be achieved by dressing in a stylish but less formal way that signals all the right things in terms of social aptitude etc., but makes you look less like a supplicant, especially if it looks plausible that this is how you actually dress on a daily basis.

Of course, this can backfire if you exaggerate with informality, or if you use a wrong sort of casual style.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-14T21:07:50.203Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dressing well is not entirely a zero sum game. Depending on how you look, you create a positive or negative externality on other people around you by making their environment more or less aesthetically pleasing. This also has clear signaling implications, separate from those status signaling issues that you have in mind.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-06-14T17:55:39.785Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you ever found yourself thinking "this person sounds interesting but they are just dressed too well to take seriously"?

comment by gucciCharles · 2016-12-06T02:26:15.680Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

lol,No.

comment by atucker · 2011-06-13T22:55:49.462Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Costly signaling is mostly a zero-sum game. I like to opt out of zero-sum games.

I wouldn't choose to signal this via not dressing well. Its too many inferential steps for most people, and clothing doesn't have to be super costly. Dressing to look better than other people might be zero sum, but I doubt if just dressing well is.

comment by Alexei · 2011-06-14T02:22:39.111Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you make a very good point. Most people who don't care about clothing style, will also not care about yours. (Self-example: until I studied a bit of fashion recently, I didn't care at ALL what other people were wearing.) So signaling to them seems useless, since they are not even receiving input on that frequency.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-06-14T02:09:40.344Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For people inculcated from a young age with a desire to be perfect along all possible dimensions, dressing well is essential and you will get a huge self-confidence (non-self-loathing?) boost from doing so. (I imagine such inculcation is a lot more common among LW folk than most.)

comment by cousin_it · 2011-06-14T16:10:26.142Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have the same suspicion as lucidfox. Also,

Costly signaling is mostly a zero-sum game. I like to opt out of zero-sum games.

This is self-defeating, no? Dressing badly to send a signal is costly signaling.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-15T00:34:27.840Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have the same suspicion as lucidfox.

Perhaps an even stronger bias on my part is that I want to see more people in the world who are like me, i.e., who are interested in and capable of solving some of the same problems as me. When I look back on my life and try to see how I got here, it seems like "not caring much about socializing and social skills" is a big part of it, since that freed up a lot of time and energy to think. I'm worried that things like LW and mini-camp with their message of "being a good rationalist means you should learn social skills" are "killing off" those future people.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-06-15T09:53:13.653Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Paul Graham made a similar point in "Why Nerds are Unpopular". It's true that socializing doesn't help me solve hard problems, but I still do it because it makes me happier.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-15T21:11:14.373Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's true that socializing doesn't help me solve hard problems, but I still do it because it makes me happier.

I wonder how much of "socializing makes me happier" has to do with alcohol. (I have a genetic condition somewhat common amongst East Asians that makes my liver unable to process alcohol properly, so I can't drink.)

Also, sorry to tell you this, but I consider your happiness secondary to getting my list of questions answered. :)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-16T03:26:24.143Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder how much of "socializing makes me happier" has to do with alcohol.

I'd say this hypothesis is false. Even in places like where drinking is out of the question, like most workplaces, people are normally much happier if they're surrounded by others with whom pleasant socializing is possible. My work, for example, demands long periods of intense individual concentration, but my happiness, morale, and ultimately also productivity would still suffer greatly if I were surrounded by completely unsociable coworkers, even if formal work-related communication with them went flawlessly.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-06-16T23:56:18.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very implausible. (I also don't like socializing. And don't drink...)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-06-15T01:13:19.368Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I gave you an up vote, but I've got mixed feelings about it.

I dress casually, and not to impress, but I wonder if I'm missing something.

Is it plausible that people who want to affect the world should find a way to care enough about social skills to trot them out for occasional use, but mostly (especially when young) spend most of their time on other things?

Maybe a rationalist community can share the mental work of dressing well (keeping track of fashion and good deals) so that it's less onerous for individuals.

comment by BenLowell · 2011-06-15T05:39:29.219Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where dressing better and social skills are important is if you want to go outside of the solving problem arena and try to spread solutions to other people.

Edit: From person to person, rather than through writing.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-27T14:49:44.542Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Parse "dressing badly" as "dressing as you would if clothes signaled nothing". It is costly (social cost), and it is signalling, but it's not costly signalling in the same sense as "I'm going to buy a suit instead of diamond-studded ice cream".

comment by fburnaby · 2011-06-27T14:46:02.725Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. As long as we all occupy meat-space, I don't think this is a game that we can opt out of.

Hacker culture at least prefers simple t-shirts to anything fancy or expensive. But even there, a clever one is probably better than a plain one.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-06-22T01:52:40.211Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fashion is the intersection of social skills and aesthetics as applied to clothing. Fashion and style matter for the same reason that social skills and aesthetics matter. Lukeprog gave a good summary of how people will rationally make judgments about you based on your appearance.

You can't "opt out" of fashion anymore that you can opt out of web design. There is a reason why the web no longer looks like this. Regardless of whether clothing is a zero-sum game, it's a pervasive enough game that trying to opt out doesn't let you escape: it just makes you lose.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-06-22T07:11:39.803Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lukeprog gave a good summary of how people will rationally make judgments about you based on your appearance.

I'm not sure what summary you are referring to, and couldn't find it with a Google search. Can you give a link?

You can't "opt out" of fashion anymore that you can opt out of web design.

What do you think my website's design says about me? (See also the site for my crypto library which probably has more viewers than my personal site.)

comment by HughRistik · 2011-06-25T05:56:59.608Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here is lukeprog's comment I was referring to.

What do you think my website's design says about me? (See also the site for my crypto library which probably has more viewers than my personal site.)

What it says to me is:

"I'm a smart programmer who wrote this page by hand. If you're a programmer, you know that you don't need me to spend time on CSS to display technical information. If you're not a programmer, this web page isn't for you... go away."

What a non-programmer will probably think:

"WTF??! Was this page made in 1997? I'm getting the hell out of here..."

Since your website is for programmers, and plenty of programmers don't bother with CSS on their personal pages, your web design actually may be appropriate. Flouting CSS could be a form of costly signaling, because it will scare off non-programmers. Furthermore, it signals that you feel you have better things to write than CSS.

However, nowadays I've noticed that programmers are often using blogging software for their personal websites, so I don't know how long bare HTML will be an effective sort of web design among programmers.

comment by Nisan · 2011-06-13T21:28:35.543Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not clear what you mean by dressing "badly". I'd agree that it can be advantageous to dress "badly", as long as you do it right.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-13T22:31:55.656Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I take it to mean "without proper fashion sense, recognizable by any target reference class", rather than the more typical phrases "dressing down", which means to be less formal, or "costumey", which would be trying to fit a particular style very closely.

comment by scientism · 2011-06-14T14:39:13.593Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's different "levels" of dressing well. For example, with respect to point 1, not everybody who dresses well puts a lot of effort into it or looks like they put a lot of effort into it. Somebody can dress very simply and effortlessly and be considered well dressed. Somebody else might put a lot of obvious attention into how they dress and look awful (i.e., a "fashion victim"). (To make matters more confusing you can spend $2000+ on a t-shirt, jeans and canvas shoes. So you can look casually and simply dressed but be very self-conscious about it.) There's also the difference between looking like a slob and exhibiting some sort of care and attention about how you look. In certain situations looking like a slob can be taken as a sign of hostility (i.e., showing up to a meeting or formal gathering looking disheveled). It's also usually possible to tell the difference between someone who is indifferent to their appearance (they might still be considered attractive, for example) and somebody who is an incompetent dresser (i.e., they've made an effort but it's all wrong). People often spend a lot of time trying to signal apparent indifference (this is common among male celebrities).

I think if the way you dress sends negative signals, you probably want to address it. Figuring out whether that's the case may not be easy.

comment by j_andrew_rogers · 2011-06-14T02:13:44.020Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have typically sought advice (and occasionally received unsolicited advice) from fashion-aware women, most of whom are happy to demonstrate their domain expertise. This has proven to be an efficient strategy that produces good results for relatively low cost. Most of the men I know that dress well rely on a similar strategy; the dearth of men who are savvy at this suggests a somewhat complex signaling game at work.

Take advantage of specialization. It is no different than when individuals solicit advice for me on a matter about which I am perceived as knowledgeable. People enjoy demonstrating their expertise.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-06-13T17:56:41.825Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately none of us knew much about the topic so the discussion turned into "how can we find an expert to advise us for minimal cost?

You don't need an expert, go into a shop where you can buy clothes and ask some sales women/girl to help you dress. Tell them for what occasion you want to get dressed. This will work well enough (i.e. much better than what you would be able to come up with yourself and its free).

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-13T18:16:43.217Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Be careful, though. At least in North America, people who sell clothes often work for commission, and it's in their interest to sell you as much expensive stuff as possible, regardless of how good it really looks on you. Moreover, unless you have a body shape that fits the standard cuts very well (and very few people do, even among those who are fit and handsome), and unless you buy the same standardized item repeatedly, you'll usually need to go to several stores before you run into something that fits you really well.

Thus, it's much better to figure out how to recognize well fitting clothes yourself, and (for men) it's generally not a bad idea to bring along a lady friend or relative for advice. (This also makes it easier to resist the salespeople's pressure, since you'll feel like they can't blame you if she frowns.)

Of course, if you're rich enough that money's not an issue, custom-tailored stuff is the way to go.

comment by Zvi · 2011-06-13T22:46:29.905Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the low to medium end it seems logistically impossible for there to be a link given the way they set up the store.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-06-14T00:21:52.877Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess that depends on what exactly you consider as "low to medium." If at the cash register they ask whether any of the staff helped you with the purchase, it's likely that they get a commission for it. At least where I live, that will normally be the case in places where you can get someone to help you seriously.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-06-14T02:02:32.551Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(A typical example of such a store is J. Crew.)

comment by Vaniver · 2011-06-13T18:12:01.670Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't need an expert

Isn't this an explanation of how to find an expert who is already paid to help you?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-16T03:05:02.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post commits the relation projection fallacy with respect to the word "signal," which isn't a two-place predicate but a three-place predicate (at least): the well-formed sentence isn't "X signals Y" but "X signals Y to audience Z." Two values of Z that might be relevant to LessWrongers are "rationalists" and "most people," and there's no reason to expect the answers to be similar in the two cases. For Z = "most people," options 1 and 3 in particular strike me as wishful thinking.

Barack Obama is an example of someone whose time is much better spent not thinking about what to wear, but that doesn't imply that he dresses poorly (because he also recognizes the obvious importance of his dress as a signal):

You need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-03-24T17:27:57.557Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about this:

-6. I buy my clothes from thrift stores (which explains why they don't quite fit, and aren't "in fashion") because I'm more concerned with social/environmental/economic responsibility than I am fashion.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-06-23T20:56:53.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the dressing well vs badly dichotomy may be misleading here, a better analogy might be with similarity to certain archetypes.

For example neither Barack Obama or Justin Timberlake dress 'badly' but he way they dress is radically different. So if you want to alter your social perceptions dress in a manner similar to the archetype most relevant to your goals.

Applying this, if you are in a university environment your goals might be wanting the professor to treat your work favourably, and possibly be lenient in cases. Hence you can choose similarity to the archetypes "Lazy student" (Stained t-shirt, baggy trousers) or "Academic" (Shirt, neat but non flashy clothes). This can be generalized to other environments and social signalling situations.

comment by MrMind · 2011-06-15T10:17:07.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's dressing 'well' and there's dressing 'normally' (within the norm of your social group). Sometimes, dressing well for a subculture is dressing bad for the social norm.

The best algorithm I know of to handle all the dressing well area is:

1) identify the subculture you normally are a part of and that you most like to be a part of;

2) identify the general trend of each subculture and learn when they 'fire' (when it's proper they're active and they're not);

3) lower the mental cost of signaling-by-dress, by buying a proper single clothe you like once every 2/3 weeks.

comment by InquilineKea · 2011-06-13T23:38:02.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hahaha, I agree that bad clothes can sometimes be an good signal of rationality. I actually know 4 professors here who wear socks with sandals.

On the other hand, though, there are certain clothing combinations that a significant fraction of people can't stand (that being said, I know a number of people who can't stand fashionable clothes like high heels either). Sometimes, a certain set of clothes can make someone less willing to talk to you, which can translate into a lost opportunity. Now, whether that set of clothes coincides with the set of non-fashionable clothing by the population you're potentially interested in - that's an open question

comment by timtyler · 2011-06-14T08:43:22.124Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually know 4 professors here who wear socks with sandals.

What's supposed to be wrong with wearing socks with sandals?

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-14T13:58:15.675Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meh, fashion is largely arbitrary. What's wrong with wearing a toga as opposed to a tie, and would the ancient Greeks agree?

But still - sandals are supposed to show your feet (possibly signalling something about accepting some discomfort), and you're defeating that. Also, you shouldn't show your socks much. (Formal suits have long, rigid pant legs that entirely hide the part not hidden by the shoe.)

comment by Rain · 2011-06-29T19:07:20.996Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meh, fashion is largely arbitrary. What's wrong with wearing a toga as opposed to a tie, and would the ancient Greeks agree?

It occurs to me that there are likely many more fashion relativists than moral relativists in this community.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-30T11:21:15.992Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you implying there's an objectively (not written in the stars, but deductible from human brains) optimal way to dress? That strikes me as strange; I'm pretty sure the optimal world would contain a bunch of different cultures, and I can't see why they'd share clothing styles more than any other characteristic; also, implementations of human minds that can wear clothes in the first place don't strike me as particularly good.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T12:35:15.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you implying there's an objectively (not written in the stars, but deductible from human brains) optimal way to dress? That strikes me as strange

I don't know. I hadn't thought about it before. Objective morals strike me as strange, too.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-30T12:47:21.258Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's strange about being a fashion relativist, then? (Well, not a complete relativist - accepting there are objectively ugly ways to dress, but anything beyond that is culture-dependent or arbitrary.)

Note that the flavor of objective morals I'm referring to is not "There's a magic stone tablet in the fabric of the universe, which humans can't access (so if an AI finds it and it says 'Kill all humans' then I want the AI to do so).", more like "Considerations (that move me to accept considerations (that move me to accept considerations (...))) that move me, in a chain of changing my values according my meta-values, not by external accident".

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T14:59:51.739Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just thought that if you took some of the posts here, and did a find-replace on "moral" to "fashionable", they might make just as much sense.

Example:

Note that the flavor of objective [fashion] I'm referring to is not "There's a magic stone tablet in the fabric of the universe, which humans can't access (so if an AI finds it and it says '[Wear] all humans' then I want the AI to do so).", more like "Considerations (that move me to accept considerations (that move me to accept considerations (...))) that move me, in a chain of changing my [wardrobe] according my meta-[aesthetics], not by external accident".

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-30T15:11:18.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

not by external accident

That's the "non-relativism" bit. So you claim that if cosmic rays suddenly struck everyone in the world, making them believe that wearing colanders on one's head was the most beautiful thing ever (with since aesthetic appreciation and all that), colanders would still be ugly in some real sense, and it would be a sad thing that knowledge of their ugliness was lost?

Also, nitpick:

chain of changing my [wardrobe] according my meta-[aesthetics]

That one doesn't work, you lose the recursion. Changing your wardrobe doesn't change the aesthetics that will change your wardrobe later on. Does it?

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T15:25:53.026Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I claim nothing. I just thought it was an interesting line of thought, one that helped me see the meta-morality debate in a new light. Discussing a vantage point, so to speak. Sorry for bringing it up; I doubt we'll be making any progress on meta-aesthetics, if such a thing existed.

comment by Peterdjones · 2011-06-30T15:05:27.466Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT Downvoted for disagreement it was. The key point in my argument was that morality needs to be objective because it leads to objective sanctions: someone is either imprisoned or not. There is no such parallel with fashion.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T17:28:51.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT Downvoted for disagreement it was.

I didn't downvote you.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T15:07:50.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What?

comment by Peterdjones · 2011-06-30T13:32:58.954Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why Objectivism?

At first glance, morality looks as though it should work objectively. The mere fact that we praise and condemn people's moral behaviour indicates that we think a common set of rules is applicable both to us and to them. We can say that something is good-to-Mary but evil-to-John, but we cannot act on that basis, because someone is either in jail or they are not. To put it another way, if ethics were strongly subjective anyone could get off the hook by devising a system of personal morality in which whatever they felt like doing was permissible. It would be hard to see the difference between such a state of affairs and having no morality at all. The subtler sort of subjectivist (or relativist) tries to ameliorate this problem by claiming that moral principles are defined at the societal level. Although this constrains individuals to societal norms (as do legal systems), similar problems the get-out-of-jail objection re-occurs at the societal level; a society (such as the Thuggees or Assassins) could declare that murder is OK with them.

The foregoing assumes a rational or explicable relationship between the doing of right and wrong, and the subsequent allocation of praise and blame, reward and punishment. It could be argued that we can do without this, and just punish arbitrarily, and not bother reasoning things out. Since are not all in agreement on a single objective morality, that is to some extent the case. In democracies, punishment and reward are decided by an averaging out of opinion, and in other societies by the whim of the powerful. However, this is no a desirable state of affairs even if it is an inevitable one. It is desirable that people behave well based on their own understanding. rather than threats, and it is desirable that justice should be explicable and not arbitrary. That neither standard can be completely fullfilled is not justfication for abandoning them; some reasoning-based ethics is better than none.

These considerations are of course an appeal to how morality seems to work as a 'language game' and as such do not by themselves put ethics on a firm foundation. They make a prima facie case for the objectivity of morality, but the "language game" could be groundless. The epistemology and metaphysics of the issue need to be considered as well.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-30T14:56:51.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was afraid of this: getting into a morality debate when all I wanted to do was identify a quick and simple parallel. The reason I was afraid of it is that I don't have the answers, I don't like standard philosophical terminology (objectivism, relativism, etc.) since I can't translate it, and I'm not very good at arguing in-depth through time-delayed text.

I'm sorry; I don't have any answers for you.

comment by Peterdjones · 2011-06-30T14:37:42.325Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted for disagreement, I presume

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-17T00:28:44.312Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

sandals are supposed to show your feet

I read once that men should generally avoid showing their feet, because said feet are likely to be uglier than socks or shoes. (Or even Vibram Fivefingers).

comment by timtyler · 2011-06-14T20:41:09.029Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But still - sandals are supposed to show your feet (possibly signalling something about accepting some discomfort), and you're defeating that.

I see. For me, sandals are light, let my feet breathe, and minimally confine my toes - while socks protect against rubbing and abrasion. Comfort and functionalism trump fashion rules, here.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-15T12:55:35.990Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you say function, you mean, "it protects my feet from broken glass and concrete, is easy to put on and take off, and feels good." You've defined 'functionalism' to mean the effects of the item on you rather than including its effects on others. The functional uses of fashion (being attractive, being liked, being approachable, raising the aesthetic average) are very powerful in any location with people around.

Some fashionable alternatives to sandals with socks: boat shoes such as Sperry Top-Siders, loafers, or generic slip-on shoes such as Vans, potentially combined with no-show socks or flesh colored ankle socks.

Note that fit requirements are important for shoes as well - many people don't realize that their feet require more or less width than is found on a normal shoe. If your toes are constrained, you could try different half-sizes and widths.

comment by HughRistik · 2011-06-22T00:41:08.915Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rain said:

You've defined 'functionalism' to mean the effects of the item on you rather than including its effects on others.

Excellent point. The notion that the "function" of fashion is merely one's own comfort is incredibly strange. This kind of thinking may be the consequence of all the public fictions about status (e.g. "it's what's on the inside, not the outside, that counts", "clothing is shallow, intellectual pursuits are deep").

Thanks to these public fictions, lots of intelligent, technical people just want to opt out of clothing as a communication channel. Actually, I think it's more "shallow" to want people to use less channels of social communication. Including the clothing channel allows a greater depth of signaling.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-06-14T14:36:20.995Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, you shouldn't show your socks much. (Formal suits have long, rigid pant legs that entirely hide the part not hidden by the shoe.)

Is this a gender thing or something? I don't think I've ever been told that I should avoid wearing socks if I have on a skirt that doesn't fall to ankle length.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-14T15:08:13.370Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The way I've heard it phrased:

  • "Do not wear socks with skirts or shorts - the point is to show off your legs."
  • "Men shouldn't wear shorts unless they're in a sporting event or at the beach - men's legs are ugly."
  • "Do not wear socks with sandals - the point is to show off your feet."
  • "Men shouldn't wear sandals - men's feet are ugly."
  • "Match socks to slacks - your legs look longer."
  • "Do not match socks to shoes - looks like you're wearing boots."
  • "You can use socks as a personal detail to make something 'pop' - standard pantsuit, gray, gray, white, brown, then pow, a hint of bright red socks." (Advanced Use)
  • For all of the above: "...but I have seen it done [well/poorly] on occasion."

Note that failing to wear socks can cause damage to the skin around your feet and ankles, depending on the style of shoe or boot, and that wearing thick pants in hot weather can cause dehydration and heat stroke. Physical comfort is near the bottom of the list for fashion. Any use of the word 'comfortable' is only to define a stance or personality. There are 'no-show' or 'ankle' socks which are often used to protect the feet when a sockless look is desired, and lightweight pants to match weather requirements.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-14T15:01:45.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right, I hadn't noticed.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-14T23:14:36.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also the possibility that they were 'dressing the part'. When doing a quick check on sandals with socks, I noticed at least one person say, "You don't want to look like a professor." If professors are 'the type of people who wear socks with sandals', then more may do so than would occur naturally.

comment by Rain · 2011-06-14T23:11:19.978Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's supposed to be wrong with wearing socks with sandals?

The purpose of wearing sandals is to show off your feet.

One might respond, "the purpose of wearing sandals is to avoid cutting your feet on glass or scraping them on concrete without the hassle of putting on shoes." This is from a functional context. Switching to a fashion context acknowledges that 'foot coverings' are required, therefore, the choice of a specific foot covering can be viewed through an aesthetic lens, in which case, the purpose of sandals is to show off your feet.

comment by Raemon · 2011-06-14T02:32:30.926Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love socks with sandals, and I wear them whenever I am unconcerned with making a good impression.

comment by khafra · 2011-06-14T13:31:50.234Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Michael Vassar has advocated wearing a fashionable, well-fitting suit with Vibram Fivefingers to properly countersignal--since without showing the capability of properly signaling, the "counter" part is lost.

comment by Miller · 2011-06-15T01:20:45.593Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can anyone deny that neckties are the worst invention in the history of man? Why are they not hung from the crotch rather than the neck? Is a bowtie a functional but diminutive member, compared to the flaccid tree trunk that appears to have won out?

Evidence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blMN_9ZtxsY