Several weeks ago, Kansas City's Power and Light District held a grand opening for its newly designed entertainment venue. This gala generated controversy which could have been duplicated anywhere, including Columbia.
The issue in dispute was the dress code established for the area, to wit: no bandanas, no work boots and no ripped nor baggy clothing. Predictably, these prohibitions raised the ire of segments of the populace, notably those who can find latent or overt racism or abridgment of First Amendment rights lurking behind almost every public edict and among teenagers whom, as everyone who has ever been one can remember, possess innate wisdom. The teen advantage accrues from a self-indulgent faculty to ignore fact or evidence at odds with their vast experience.
As have many of you, I have survived without participation in countless and increasingly silly fads. Beatniks, hippie flower children, Goths, and the collection of spiked and dyed hair, dog-collared body piercing enthusiasts have come and gone while leaving some of their least attractive attributes with us to as a reminder that there is a reason for everything if only to serve as a bad example.
The current sartorial rage of which the most visible aberration is the wearing of baggy clothing, the most distinctive feature being the pants worn far enough below the waist to exhibit the subject's underwear. This attire is then complemented with accouterments designed specifically to increase one's bizarre appearance. The origins of this fashion are somewhat hazy; however, the prevalent theory has it of prison ancestry (I will not entertain the versions.), adopted by the rap and hip hop genres and then spread among a diverse section of our youth.
The desire for dress codes is not unique to Kansas City, nor is it one relegated solely to entertainment venues. This is an issue which has been raised in our schools, libraries, malls and other public areas because, like it or not, weird or unconventional dress is often a harbinger of like behavior. While it may be unfair to judge one's character solely on the type of attire, it is also fair to assume that the individual who dresses in such a manner as to draw attention may be prone also to act the part.
To define the imposition of such a dress code as racist is at best an over generalization and at its worst an absurdity. Whatever the origins of this garb, it has spread across the spectrum without regard to race, ethnicity, economic position or education. In reality, the characterization of this dress code as ‘racial profiling' is insulting and racist - is it not equally asinine to assume all blacks dress in this fashion as to associate the wearing of coats and ties with whites?
To those who find their First Amendment rights of expression threatened or trampled, there is no enactment banning your inalienable right to dress as you please - within socially accepted limits of course. You may appear in public baggy and disheveled, breeches lowered to half-mast and chained and be medaled as you please - so long as you do not infringe upon the rights of society in general.
For example, the proprietors in an entertainment district are in business for profit and those of us with money to spend are less likely to frequent emporia that include hangers-on dressed as hoodlums, freaks, homeless or other undesirables. Likewise, it is no secret that schools that require reasonable attire in classes incur fewer disciplinary problems while enjoying increased academic progress.
Fashion statements are ours to make; however, there is a time and place for everything, and one must expect consequences for inappropriate decisions. If you exercise the privilege of donning outlandish attire, be it baggy pants with underwear in plain sight, lip, tongue or navel piercing, spiked and dyed hair et al., be advised that you do not blend in with the more conventionally attired. Accordingly, you may be subject to stares, ridicule, and be made to feel unwelcome - and, you will be accorded precious little sympathy.
Finally, if you decide to dress as a clown - you might join a circus or carnival and get paid for it - you might also discover that your supply far exceeds demand.
Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.