From what I’ve seen so far, American dressing culture (at least here, in VT) is very different from European (Estonian).

Overall, one might say that Americans dress very functionally. They put on shorts when it’s hot and put on their “Columbia” jackets, when it’s cold. They wear over-sized fleeces and sport pants when it’s chili. But there is something American dressing culture mostly lacks (by my European standards) – a sense of taste and aesthetic judgment. As a representative of the stronger sex I am biased to pay more attention to female clothing. And to characterize American female dressing culture in one sentence: I haven’t yet seen a single girl wearing a skirt. How much more do I have to say anyway?

When I came here what struck me was how casual and arbitrary American clothing culture was. I came in the end of August, when the temperatures were still around 90 F and the sun was shining almost straight down. At first I didn’t understand what was different in what I saw around, but after a couple of days I suddenly realized that I was just seeing too many legs! Sounds rude, probably, but very true! And the reason for that was that everyone was wearing shorts. Very short shorts.

Of cause it was hot outside, but it still struck me how much this small thing actually manifested.”America – the land of emancipated women!” – I remember myself thinking. Somehow for me this disregard for one’s looks, pursuit of purely functional comfort and disinterest in the fact that you might be attracting extra attention from the male part of the population by wearing tennis-sized shorts everywhere signified a certain implicit freedom. Here shorts are worn to lectures, to the gym, to everywhere (except for bars and clubs, though, where an almost formal dress is the choice, and the church where longer pants are preferred, but again, no skirts). Of course, there are a number of additional factors that explain this phenomenon: I haven’t seen too many women wear shorts in New York for example, which means that the campus setting where everyone knows everyone (40,000 people altogether though..), all residents are of more or less the same age group and you are meant to “work, not show off”, may-be encouraging this kind of “functionalistic” dressing style. Also, VT is a very “sporty” institution – one more reason, why shorts are so common. But still, in Estonia, show me a girl wearing sport shorts even at home, even when it’s hot!

And it’s not all only about shorts. You may sometimes see a girl or a woman wearing a flowered dress of a very light and gentle material with sneakers for footwear. If it’s a bit chili outside, a fleece would be casually thrown over that composition… You will not see a female wearing a nice Indian scarf – a Nike scarf is preferred. You will not see layers on top of layers of clothes when the weather gets cold, as it is typical in France, for example. No corduroy jackets neither. Instead, a “Columbia” jacket will be worn on top of a T-shirt – apparently because of the enhanced temperature performance and the outer water resistant layer of the former and comfort of the later.

There exists no aesthetic consideration in clothing here. The new, more efficient clothing made of synthetic materials, which is also much more available, unfortunately annihilates any chance of diverse expression of a personal “style”. This clothing is more efficient, there is no doubt about that, but nothing else. It is a bit sad that this disregard for style becomes an intrinsic thing and at some point many people just cease seeing the difference between beautiful and not, and dress equally tastelessly to work, as they do for cocktail parties (with this I definitely do not want to judge anyone in particular – I am merely observing a trend).

The body culture, on the contrary, is amazing! If they do not really pay attention to how and whether their clothes match, women here do care about how they look, if I may, underneath the clothes (men are also no exception, but that’s not that much a surprise). And this is again something different from what we see in Europe. In Europe you see women, who do dress more femininely, but they might not be going to the gym every other day to keep their body toned. Instead they utilize all sorts of visual tricks to cover up what is too much and add what is too little. In America, it’s vice versa. And, personally, I find this difference in body culture to be a very interesting cultural phenomenon. Women and girls here don’t feel they have to make themselves nicer than they are by the means of clothing, because they seem to believe that it’s the real body that matters. It almost reminds me of ancient Greece with its worship of beautiful human body. In fact, this analogy might just as well be true, but I doubt that American body culture has the same intricate philosophical justification for bodily beauty as Greek culture used to have.

I don’t know exactly what the reason is for such a difference in attitudes towards the body-clothing relationship in the US and in Europe, but it’s definitely interesting to observe. I am sure that if we start seeking analogies between American dressing culture and architecture, art, music, etc. – we might be finding some very interesting things. But for me a couple of things are sure so far: the way of clothing, as well as the way of thinking about and perceiving femininity is different here.

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