Thought Leadership

You are what you wear

By Colin Walls

It is an old saying – “You are what you wear”. In the light of recent news about the banning of various forms of traditional Muslim dress in France, I have been pondering the significance of how we choose to dress …

It is interesting how clothing has evolved from a means of protecting ourselves from the elements, when our ancestors migrated away from regions with a climate where clothing was unnecessary. We now have a mire of dress codes, fashions and social attitudes to clothing that takes it so far from the original purpose.

I suppose most of the vagueries associated with dress are all about an individual trying to express themselves non-verbally. For example, during the earlier years of my career, I always wore “smart business” attire – a suit or, at least, a jacket and tie. I guess that I wanted to portray myself as a serious business person. In more recent years, I have moved to typically wearing a polo shirt and chinos. My objective is to look less like a salesman, by dressing a little more like the engineers to whom I normally talk.


Given that we have established that clothing is essentially a means of communication, how should a state be able to restrict citizens’ mode of dress? If we have freedom of speech, sure freedom to dress in any way that we choose just follows on from that? In the UK, that is essentially the way it is. However, it is illegal to speak, behave or dress in a way that is specifically intended to cause offence or incite others to commit a crime. This means that wearing a T-shirt with a slogan supporting race hatred is an offence. Even being naked is acceptable in law, unless it can be shown [in a court of law] that you are intending to cause alarm or distress. So I will not be making visits to the local shopping mall in the buff anytime soon.

I was amused by a recent suggestion that a very large proportion of modern misdeeds and crimes seem to have been performed by men in suits. Presidents have started wars. Bankers have compromised the financial system. Even dictators, who have illegally taken control of countries, are normally seen in a smart suit. Maybe that is the mode of dress that should be banned …


0 thoughts about “You are what you wear
  • “Even being naked is acceptable in law, unless it can be shown [in a court of law] that you are intending to cause offence or afraid.”

    The last phrase of that sentence should be: “intending to cause alarm or distress”. Simply causing offence (even intentionally) is not a crime in the UK to the best of my knowledge, and hopefully will never be.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at