Bendable computers

Young lady, what are you wearing?

Generally, “countercultural” attire tends to annoy me. It’s not because I think people ought to dress in any particular way; I think they ought to be free to dress however they like, actually. No, what tends to irritate me about countercultural fashion — tattoos, multiple piercings, etc. — is the assumption that clothing and fashion can be even vaguely rebellious anymore.

The Man long ago stopped insisting that young women and men wear prim, formal skirts and jacket-and-tie combos. Indeed, The Man is the one selling all of today’s edgy Xtreme clothing to all tha rebel kidz. Come to think of it, The Man is making a hell of a tidy profit doing so, because The Man subcontracts the manufacturing out to Chinese prison-labor factories and sweatshops in the Phillipines that employ armless orphan children to stitch the clothing with their lips. So by all means, fight the power, dude — rock that elite surferwear, get a post-ironic barcode tattooed to the base of your neck. The currency traders on Wall Street are cowering.

But anyway. You get the point. I’m a crank.

And as it turns out, I’m also wrong. Because there is one corner of the universe that still fulminates about loose morals and today’s fashion: Christian colleges. A friend recently brought my attention to the web site of Liberty University, where one can peruse the Female Dress Code that was drafted by the Dean of Women. Using Powerpoint and a bunch of images that look like outtakes from an old Sears catalogue, the Dean outlines the rules of proper attire, including:

* Hair and clothing styles related to counterculture (as determined by the Deans’ Review Committee) are not acceptable.

* Shoulder straps should be no less than two inches wide.

* Body piercing is not permitted. Earring and plugs are permitted in ears only.

* No tennis, athletic, sport shoes or flip-flops (of any style) for class.

* Wrap around dresses (or skirts) must be pinned at the top of the knee.

* No midriffs!

My favorite part is the fact that, according to this document, the Dean’s Review Committee actually meets to determine precisely which hair and clothing styles are part of the “counterculture”.

(Thanks to Ian Hannah for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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