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Silly fashion question

Posted by Robin Abrahams  May 29, 2008 11:24 AM

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There are days when I like to ponder the deep questions of ethics and meaning, and then there are days like today. So, on the way to work, I saw a young woman wearing a one-shoulder top. It was well-coordinated with her outfit, she had the body for it, and it looked absolutely dreadful. To me, one-shoulder tops are just trashy and awful-looking, no matter how fashionable they may be. Unless you're going to a costume party as Wilma Flinstone, you should never wear a one-shoulder top.

In my humble opinion, of course.

What fashion items make you cringe every time you see someone wearing them?

UPDATE: Well, this is entertaining! Keep sending in your comments, folks--I won't be able to moderate them all until late (post-"King John") tonight, though. In the meantime, here's a few more of my pet peeves:

1. "Quacker Factory"-style sweaters and sweatshirts with whimsical plants, animals, or other symbols appliqued, sewn, or woven into the design. (Is there anything a woman could wear that says more loudly, "I am not to be taken seriously in either the professional or sexual arenas"?)
2. Pointy-toed shoes. No, you don't have to suffer for beauty, you really don't.
3. High heels worn by women who can't walk in them.
4. Tank tops on men unless they are actually running in a marathon.
5. Not exactly fashion, but grooming--the Total Beard, untrimmed, going all the way down the neck and all the way up the cheeks. Gentlemen, growing a beard doesn't mean you stop shaving, it just means you shave differently.

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33 comments so far...
  1. That's a tough question... there are just so many items to choose from! Lately my #1 annoyance is women showing cleavage in the workplace. It drives me crazy! (Yes, I am a woman and yes, I have nice cleavage but I do not feel the need to reveal it to my coworkers or my bosses!)

    Robin says: Especially with the freezing air conditioning in most offices!

    Posted by RT May 29, 08 12:00 PM
  1. Think of the stereotypical big plumber, but instead of a plumber, a friend, acquaintance, or anyone else you wouldn't expect. As a dancer, I've unintentionally witnessed many women stooping down or kneeling to get their dance shoes only to reveal the dreaded vertical line. Good grief! Get a belt!

    Robin says: PeaceBang even discovered the D.V.L. at a ministerial conference!

    Posted by Chris May 29, 08 12:29 PM
  1. As someone whose day job primarily involves listening to and writing about indie rock and its practitioners, there are several looks that make me shudder. Foremost among them is the affectation of giant black plastic-framed eyeglasses; the irony is that most of these guys used to beat up the kids who wore these when they were in grade school.

    Also, I have come to the conclusion that every single person who wears a fauxhawk must be beaten with sticks.

    Posted by Stewart May 29, 08 12:49 PM
  1. Not a fashion item perhaps, but more of a "fit" issue. If people bought clothes that were a size larger, that would allow the muffin top to disappear and the person would actually look better! Tops, jeans, it matters not! By clothing that fits!!!

    Posted by Michele May 29, 08 12:59 PM
  1. Leggings. Leggings are not pants. Leggings should not be worn as pants. Leggings are not carte blanche to wear a short mini skirt if you do not have the legs for it. I say this as someone who most certainly does not have the legs for it.

    And I hate that this annoys me, but I just will never understand the scarf as the first line of defense against cold. Not a decorative scarf but a wintery scarf, worn with a tee shirt. (In college a few years ago, it was tiny tee shirt, scarf, mini skirt, and Ugg boots. In North Carolina. Where it seldom if ever is cold enough for Ugg boots.) I know a lot of people do this and more power to them, but that one just boggles my mind.

    Robin says: I do the fake-pashmina and t-shirt thing sometimes, and it's because you can unfurl the pash and wrap it around you as the temperature fluctuates. What I don't get is the flip-flops in winter, myself.

    Posted by Amy R. May 29, 08 01:40 PM
  1. I agree about the fit - the problem is, tightly fitted is in now, and people so often do tend to wear what's fashionable instead of what looks good on them. I have a second job in retail, and I get to people-watch a lot; I see each trend as it is born, lives a short life, looks good on some folks (maybe) and terrible on others, and then dies. Personally I'd prefer to see more emphasis on style, and what looks good on a given individual, and less emphasis on trends/fashion/looking "hot," which can be so competitive and divisive... but I sense a rant coming on so I'll stop here ;)

    Robin says: Linda, what blogs or books on style would you recommend, if any? (I'll be blogging next week about a recent favorite--if unusual--fashion blog.)

    Posted by Linda May 29, 08 01:40 PM
  1. And I am a flip flops in the winter kind of a girl. Heh. It's the southerner in me. I've reigned in to make April - October now that I live here.

    I get the pashmina thing because it can be unfurled. It's the ones that can't double as a wrap that leave me head scratching.

    Posted by Amy R. May 29, 08 01:50 PM
  1. Ah...I'd have to say my all time least-favorite is Thongs that show above your pants. Really...I need to see your "whale Tail" as my husband calls it when you squat down in the grocery store??? If you're going to wear thongs PLEASE wear higher waisted pants. I'm forever telling my 5 year old that no one needs to see her panties...

    Posted by Jennifer May 29, 08 01:51 PM
  1. Robin, I recommend that you check out Emily Neill if you haven't already: She offers a really interesting service in which she comes to your house and helps you understand which items in your closet are working for you (or not) and why; how to combine what you already have into flattering outfits; and how to identify what you need and shop for it. I'm not sure whether to recommend her blog or her book - she has two small children and is very busy, so her blog isn't always up-to-date, and after reading her book I've concluded that she was underserved by her editors (layout errors that make it hard to understand, etc.) Her book includes non-models of various shapes and shows how different clothing styles flatter them (or not); one neat thing about her book is that she actually included one woman who was too skinny and showed how to work around that (yes, we're out here, and contrary to what you might think, _lotsa_ things look bad on us ;) ) I had Emily come to my house and go through my closet, and since then I've saved a lot of money because I know how to avoid buying clothes that don't work for me, and also I don't look as much like a scarecrow... Linda

    Posted by Linda May 29, 08 02:33 PM
  1. I must disagree with Miss Conduct on the issue of pointy toed shoes. I am a recent convert the the pointy toe. I always believed they would be terribly uncomfy but after actually trying on a pair, I have to say that my pointy toes are are far more comfy tham some of my regular heels. The key is making sure you are wearing shoes that fit properly. And they look super cute with a good pair of jeans!

    Posted by Beth May 29, 08 03:47 PM
  1. I hear you on the wearing heels if you cannot walk in them as being bad. My sister whom we affectionately call "Grace" as a tribute to her ability to trip over everything does poorly in heels. In my wedding she had these fabulous flats while the other ladies wore heels in various heights, all were gorgeous. The point is wear heels at a height that you are comfortable in.

    I disagree with the pointy toed shoes, if they fit properly the pointy part will start after you toes, so your shoe is huge but your toes will not be squished beyond recognition. If you have large feet I can understand if you don't like the look.

    I have to second, third, or what ever number it is please wear the size that fits you, that means not too tight or too big, neither is flattering. Be comfortable in your clothes, this doesn't mean going out in your flannel pants or gym clothes (obvious exception is going to and from the gym but don't stop to do errands). Being comfortable helps with the whole presentation that make an outfit go from functional to fashion it shows in the way you carry yourself.

    Posted by Wendy May 29, 08 04:57 PM
  1. This is unrelated to the post but relevant to an older one.

    New York town repeals ban on clotheslines:

    Posted by Danielle D. May 29, 08 05:20 PM
  1. #1: OMG. I had a *tenth grade* teacher who wore denim overalls with appliqued teddy bears and schoolhouses on them. Walking nightmare.

    Now that I've been reminded of that (thank you?), I just can't think of any worse fashion possibility.

    Posted by Andromeda May 29, 08 07:02 PM
  1. Ultra low rise pants + short tight shirts (usually in layers) + "muffin tops" are really not a good fashion statement. Unless you are very skinny and curvy in the right places, hipsters and short midriff shirts are not the look for you. I saw a woman today wearing pants low enough that I wasn't sure how she was actually covering everything up. With a good 5 inches between the top of her pants and the bottom of her shirt. Bending over was not a good plan.

    Oh, and another peeve, wearing brightly colored underwear under either white, or slightly see through garments. I really should not be able to tell that your panties are hot pink *through your pants*.

    I will disagree on wearing comfy casual clothes out for errands. I really don't care what I look like if I'm running to the store for milk or the bank for a quick deposit. It shouldn't matter to you that I'm wearing sweats and an old T-shirt.

    Posted by Eeeeka May 30, 08 08:31 AM
  1. I'm amazed that so many women seem to think pointy toe shoes are uncomfortable - you don't have to buy a bigger size, they are made so that your toes don't go all the way into the point. Just imagine your normal round toes shoes and where your toes fit except these are a bit longer - there's a space between the point and your toes. They do wonders for elongating your legs in a good pair of jeans or in a fancy dress. I love my (multiple) pairs, though in summer I tend to go in round toed, pretty printed flats, because it gives me more of a summer feel.

    And my pet peeve - women who wear sneakers with their suits on their way to work. Cute, comfortable, work appropriate, and walking appropriate shoes exist!

    Robin says: Totally agreement on sneakers/suits. Get a pair of Dansko clogs instead ... or, radical notion, wear shoes to work that are actually comfortable enough that you can walk in them!

    Posted by Catherine May 30, 08 10:09 AM
  1. I'm sorry ladies, but I have to agree about the pointy shoes. I understand that they aren't terribly uncomfortable but I just don't like 'em! I have always said that if I were ever on that show What Not to Wear, that would be the one thing I would absolutely refuse to try/buy.

    With you eeeeka on the sweats - on that show they make it seem like you have to get all decked out to go grocery shopping. Sorry, not gonna happen!

    Posted by RT May 30, 08 10:26 AM
  1. Here's a weigh-in from the foot-challenged: I don't like the look of sneakers and suits, but I can understand why it happens, especially as people age. My boss has arthritis, and she has to wear sneakers every day, no matter what the rest of her outfit looks like. I also have severe problems with my feet and strict rules from my podiatrist in terms of what I'm allowed to wear - no ballet flats for me, never mind heels! So lots of times I'm wearing an outfit that's cute - until you get to my feet, which have Wallabees on them, because they fit my orthotics. So, anyway, I guess what I'm saying is - please don't judge anyone's footwear choices too harshly, you *never* know what's going on with a person's feet! (I'm in my thirties, and looking at me, you'd never guess that I had such foot problems, you'd probably just scratch your head and wonder why that crazy chick is wearing Wallabees with a skirt ;) )

    Robin says: Oh, absolutely!

    Posted by Linda May 30, 08 11:33 AM
  1. Robin says: Commenting on my own post here, because I thought of another look I really dislike: denim jackets with jeans or jean skirts. I've seen both men and women do this (well, I've never seen a man in a jean skirt, although utilikilts are another matter). Looks like a mismatched denim suit.

    Denim on top, denim on the bottom. Pick one.

    Posted by Robin Abrahams May 30, 08 02:22 PM
  1. here here to the denim dan look- nothing is worse.

    I would never go grocery shopping or to the bank in sweats or pajamas. I don't get "dressed up" either. What's the big difference between a good pair of jeans and sweatpants? Are they really that much harder to throw on? Nothing is as comfortable to me as jeans. I have trouble finding other types of pants to fit, I own almost all skirts and jeans. Here's a good old saying about it:
    "Never leave the house without looking decent, you never know who you're going to meet."
    Kudos to pointy toed shoes! I bring my pumps to work in a tote bag and wear flats on the way.
    My biggest pet peeve? when people wear flip flops like they're dress shoes. The flapping noise makes my skin crawl. They have their place, the boardwalk, beach and pool side. Keep them there. They are never formal, no matter how beaded or sparkly.

    Posted by Noel May 30, 08 03:16 PM
  1. Once I had a female boss that would not allow women to wear flip flops because of the sound, however she walked around in open-backed sandals and low heels that not only flipped and flopped, they clicked and clumped, as well!

    Posted by Anna May 30, 08 04:51 PM
  1. Everything has a place and a time, including clothing. I am one of those terrible people who wears socks with sandals. However, I wear them to school, not to--for instance--France. The American tourists who wore crocs and socks to see Marie Antoinette's bedroom in Versailles looked ridiculous, but there is nothing wrong with wearing crocs for 95% of the rest of your life. I guess my biggest annoyance is people who talk incessantly about how much they hate crocs. I don't like pointy-toed shoes, but I don't tell that to people who wear them. Footwear deserves politeness too.

    Posted by ACS May 30, 08 05:14 PM
  1. The flannel drawstring pants drive me crazy! Especially on teenage girls - they are NOT out running a quick errand, and they look like they are wearing pajamas outdoors. As a group, it's like some wayward slumber party.

    Agree with the denim on denim - it looks like a strange suit.

    Posted by MAK May 31, 08 08:27 PM
  1. I have no problem with people who go about their daily business in comfortable clothes and shoes (errands, dog walking). Why not? Who cares if you have on sweats with birkenstocks and socks in the grocery store? Live and let live and worry about the bigger picture. I live in ruralish New Hampshire and things are much more laid back up here, just the way I like it. We don't have big malls and there is plenty to do outdoors to keep us busy. People are accepted for who they are and not what they wear. Most women I know wear no makeup or very little. Anything but practical footwear looks silly and out of place. I applaud any fashion on a teen girl that doesn't make her look like a tart - drawstring flannels bring 'em on! My biggest fashion pet peeve is people who comment on what other people wear although I'll go against myself and say that I can't deal with the thong hanging out of the jeans thing (especially with a strategically placed tattoo.) Cover up people!

    Robin says: I think commenting on other people's clothing is innate in the human species! We are visual and social creatures. I agree with you that context matters; like manners, fashion is about doing the right thing for where and when you are.

    Posted by Cordelia Potter June 1, 08 11:31 AM
  1. Who started the rumor that fashionable clothes aren't comfortable? Jeans are comfortable and fashionable, sporty "lifestyle" sneakers are comfy and stylish, so are t-shirts, skirts, sun dresses, clogs and a vast variety of other clothing items that are not meant for exercise or sleep!
    No one gets dressed up to walk the dog, but being comfortable and looking like you rolled out of bed are two different things. On all those makeover shows you see they say the same thing, "while it should not matter what we look like, it does matter." Period.

    Posted by Noel June 2, 08 10:31 AM
  1. I think it's true that what we look like on the outside does matter to how we're perceived, and that it's pretty natural to internally critique others' outfits, but I also think we should all strive to be as generous as possible with other people's efforts. Everyone has various skill levels at choosing clothing, especially these days - things that were taught to older generations about how to tell if a garment actually fit and should be worn are no longer understood by many people. (How many times have I seen someone walking around with the back vent of their coat still tacked shut, and the vent gapping awkwardly, because they don't realize that the basting should be cut once the coat is paid for?) Also, people may be up against a difficult situation - for example, business clothing in my size and shape isn't generally available (even online) and even with the best tailoring, it's never really going to fit right. So I think, as with so many things in life, being generous of mind is beneficial...

    Posted by Linda June 2, 08 02:14 PM
  1. LOL, the un-cut basting is alive and well in the financial district, I see it at least once a day in jacket weather! Cheers!

    Posted by Noel June 3, 08 12:25 PM
  1. Noel, thanks so much for the reply :) - I feel so alone in my head sometimes when I see that trussed-up coat thing goin' on, and indulge in my private fantasy of somehow waving a magic wand to remove the basting and free the person's stride. Now if only we could only also get the word out to people to remove those tags on the coat sleeve that say "wool/cashmere blend" or whatever, we'd really be cookin' on the coat level! Sometimes I wonder if maybe the idea of a home economics class in high school wouldn't be such a retrograde idea, if it could help us all be up to speed on these things... Not everyone has a mother who sews, these days!

    Robin says: Noel & Linda, do you have to exercise great discipline in order not to tuck strangers' shirt tags back in when they're sticking up? Me too! And I like the idea of bringing back home ec with two changes: study the actual applied science of it (the chemistry of cooking and cleaning, the math behind tailoring--which, as a sewing teacher explained to me once, is about making something that is basically two-dimensional into three dimensions), and make it co-ed and not an elective.

    Posted by Linda June 3, 08 12:44 PM
  1. Robin, I find that I have to exercise great discipline in order to _not_ run after strangers' sewn-up coat vents with little clippers! But they do say it's not safe to run with scissors, so... ;) In terms of home ec - yes, co-ed, yes, not an elective, and, also please, teach everyone even more practical skills, like how to handle finances before we get out into the world- I guess what I'm really putting out a call for here is a general "life-skills" class. For everyone, not just targeted individuals in certain schools!

    Posted by Linda June 3, 08 01:33 PM
  1. Oh, I do try to exercise self-control. However, on the T, if it's rush hour, and the person next to me has an un-cut basting and is surely heading to the office, where I imagine people gossip, and I think I should say something, I rack my brain thinking of the most polite way to say it (how do you explain basting to someone who may not know? or vent?), but then we've come to South Station and we all get off the train, and it's too late!
    I graduated high school in 2000, and I believe my class was the last one to take home-ec, such a tragedy! My husband laughed when i told him about my home-ec class, but when he needs a button sewn back onto his shirt, he's not laughing so hard.

    Posted by Noel June 5, 08 02:18 PM
  1. pet peeves? shoes with the backs/heels dirty from driving; matchy-matchy jewelry, or matching bag with the shoes with the belt with the watch; panty hose with shorts, or with sandals; mature women wanting to look like their teenage daughters; clothes that should be pressed but are not; bras or their straps purposely peeking out of tank or spaghetti strap tops; terribly outdated clothes like a royal blue suit for god sake! and the literal following of trends in celebrity wear

    Posted by Mary June 6, 08 10:13 PM
  1. Oh, so many fashion no's and HELL NO'S. LOL. Any visible underwear, bras straps, whale tales, just silly. Flip flops in the dead of winter or during the rain (what are people thinking?) Ugs - was ever a shoe so aptly named? Shrunken jackets that come up to the boobs, skinny jeans on people who are not skinny. Unless you have toothpick sized thighs and legs, skip the skinny jeans. The effect is the same as those awful tapered jeans from the 80s. Ick. Women who are stuck in one decade. Trampy styles that show way too much skin. Unless you're Madonna or Britney and you're putting on a show, do you really need to show everyone your belly, boobs, and wear a skirt that barely covers your behind? Older women who have just given up and dress like dowdy drudges. It isn't that hard! If I could learn how to dress right and wear makeup, anyone can. The advice is literally everywhere.

    Posted by elle June 10, 08 03:27 PM
  1. Oh, so many fashion no's and HELL NO'S. LOL. Any visible underwear, bras straps, whale tales, just silly. Flip flops in the dead of winter or during the rain (what are people thinking?) Ugs - was ever a shoe so aptly named? Shrunken jackets that come up to the boobs, skinny jeans on people who are not skinny. Unless you have toothpick sized thighs and legs, skip the skinny jeans. The effect is the same as those awful tapered jeans from the 80s. Ick. Women who are stuck in one decade. Trampy styles that show way too much skin. Unless you're Madonna or Britney and you're putting on a show, do you really need to show everyone your belly, boobs, and wear a skirt that barely covers your behind? Older women who have just given up and dress like dowdy drudges. It isn't that hard! If I could learn how to dress right and wear makeup, anyone can. The advice is literally everywhere.

    Posted by elle June 10, 08 03:28 PM
  1. "And my pet peeve - women who wear sneakers with their suits on their way to work. Cute, comfortable, work appropriate, and walking appropriate shoes exist!"

    Obviously written by someone without bunions. Yes, those shoes may exist, but for those of us who have a hard time finding shoes, period, that's generally not true. Do you think those of us who do this actually like the look?

    BTW, Roin, Dansko clogs are not "work appropriate" in a law firm, nor are ballet flats, unless you are support staff.

    Posted by Anne June 10, 08 04:52 PM
About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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