Do you dare to bare?

naked bicycle parade

Women ride topless at a Burning Man bicycle parade

Every one of us is a slave to fashion. Some more so than others –many people are fine with wearing the same old t-shirt and jeans every day. Others care enough about being on-trend that they spend thousands of dollars a year on the latest styles from the hottest brands.

But this isn’t a symptom of a consumer-centric, first world country. Every culture in the world, including indigenous and aboriginal tribes, have their acceptable styles. A part of it is looking good, but an even bigger part is fitting in.

This is going to sound totally off-the-wall, but I have this side of me that really wants to be a Native American. I would love to wear moccasins and leather and feathers and bodypaint, and to walk around with a bow and arrow. But could I? What kind of a reaction would I provoke? Might I even attract police attention?

Dressing up however the hell you want is a very cathartic form of individual self-expression. There are only a few times when this is allowed, however (outside the privacy of your own home, of course): Halloween, fetish parties, cosplay parties and conventions, raves, and festivals like the upcoming Burning Man.

“Burning Man is a philosophy, an attempt to reinvent the parameters and constraints of society. Within the most advanced capitalist economy in the world, participants choose to free themselves from commerce.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/aug/20/burningman.festival)

These “constraints of society” entail everything from what we wear to how we interact with one another and the world around us. For one galvanizing week, riding a bike naked, dancing around a fire, practicing yoga with strangers, sharing, giving away, trading … all the regular conventions, rules and mores disappear. You can express your inner essence without inhibition or fear of judgment. You can be utterly one with the universe.

I started thinking today about all the cool styles I would rock if I was free from these constraints. Here are a few:

Hats — Top hats on men are awesome

Gloves — I love women’s gloves

Leg warmers — Think they’re sexy, same with knee socks

Capes — Sooooooooooo awesome, especially the hooded kind

Lace up gladiator sandals — Sexy and functional

At least our society is more lax than it used to be. I would really have hated to wear the full-length, multi-layered dresses from the 19th century, especially in hot weather. Although they were very beautiful! And I do wish there were more opportunities to wear the type of elaborate gowns that we only get to rock at senior prom!

It’s interesting too how people view the showing of skin. Muslims come to mind as the most stringent. Mormons tout modesty as a great virtue. But other countries like the Dominican Republic and Brazil — notably, in a lot of cultures famed for their extremely happy and jubilant populace — showing skin is in. In more “primitive” tribal societies, being naked or half-naked was/is not seen as sexual or provocative, but simply functional, practical and natural. So is our body something to be flaunted and celebrated, bared to the world? Or is to be covered, visible only to our mirrors and our significant others?

I’m going to get a little personal here. I was raised in the Mormon religion and was always taught to cover up — knee length shorts and skirts, one piece bathing suits, no sleeveless tank tops. And every since I can remember, I absolutely hated it. I like to wear comfortable clothes, and many times this entails — especially in warm climes — wearing as little as possible. I just feel more at ease. I like styles that flatter my figure. The church leaders said it isn’t good to attract male attention. Why not? When you look good, you feel good — and yes, you can be covered head to toe and still look and feel good. Depends on the situation. The smallest I’ve gone is a Brazilian string bikini, although there is a nude beach down the street …

But there are other women who only feel comfortable when they are covered up and dressed conservatively. And there are some men who wouldn’t be caught dead in an old t-shirt. I think it depends a lot on your personality … and how much you are subconsciously influenced by your social sphere and cultural expectations. What would you wear if you could wear anything? Who would you be?

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