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Inconspicuous dressing: a critique of the construction-through-consumption paradigm in the sociology of clothing

Based on ‘wardrobe interviews’, this article studies how young Dutch men dress themselves. We argue that existing sociological studies of clothing have gone too far in emphasizing the symbolic aspects of clothing and have not paid sufficient attention to the role of routines and rules in daily dressing. Moreover, we find that young Dutch men dress rather inconspicuously, and are hardly interested in using clothes as a tool in ‘postmodern’ identity experiments. Insofar as clothing selection is a matter of reflexivity, it is primarily directed at conformity to meet social and situational requirements. Our respondents use clothing to construct coherent and authentic identities: their dress should express who they think they are. Convincing others of their unique identity is hardly desirable for these men. Finally, for most of them clothing is a negative act: they seek to avoid attracting attention through their dress. Our respondents are aware of the fact that their inconspicuous dress is similar to those of their companions, but this is a source of comfort rather than distress.