Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sporty!

    If you weren't already aware, the sports of Tennis, Cricket, Lawn Bowling and Croquet all have something in common besides falling under the umbrella of sports. In each of these endeavors, the clothing is always white from top to bottom.  And that is a great little fact to jump off from into the world of sports apparel.
    Now, as a subset of the Attire language, sports gear holds a place that is similar to the uniforms of the military, because individuality is being deliberately suppressed in order that a sense of team membership can emerge.  Or in the case of the aforementioned sports, the erasure of person is coupled with a kind of formality that takes some personal expression away from the players so that viewers can concentrate on the game itself.
    For organized team sports of all kinds a uniform is de rigeur.  Uniforms do the job of personal disguise.  It works on two levels.  First, since team sports are usually played in very large open spaces, where often the faces of players are too far from us to distinguish, the large numbers serve to ID them for us.  Second, the colors of their uniforms tell us in a glance who is on what team, precisely as the uniforms of armies used to, before the 20th century.  And since at the end of things team sports are mostly a form of ritualized conflict, that is a natural result.
    In the case of every sport, whether it be solitary or group, there are instantly recognizable elements that peg the wearer as practicing that particular activity.  Ye shall know them by their gear, would be a good axiom with regard to sports attire.
    For anglers, there are the waders, and vests, and hats. For golfers, the special shoes with cleats identify them instantly.  Cyclists, with their helmets, and spandex; footballers with their over the calf socks, and t shirts; equestrians in their unique hats, and wrestlers in their singlets, all are tagged right off by certain apparel signals.
    And in a good many of these cases the clothing has become so ritualized and codified, that it has achieved icon status, and the mere presence of certain gear can spark profound sexual fantasies for many people.  But in every case, and this is the real point here, the idea behind the clothing is not the expression of personal identity, or freedom of thought.  The point is the exact opposite, we are encouraged to veil the real person behind the apparel. So sporting gear does something at odds with the rest of our clothing.  When we don it, taking that iconic attire onto ourselves, we willingly give up a layer of expressiveness, in order to closer align with the sport itself.
    Of course, there are going to be exceptions. For example the annual Aids Ride loudly encourages its riders to give voice to their individuality at all times.  Even in that milieu, though, seen en masse, the thousands of riders tricked out in whatever fun things they want, merge into a greater whole, and that too is part of my point.

2 comments:

  1. I have a much younger sister (14 years) who really enjoyed riding horses, whereas I rode as a youngster but gave it up after I took my first big fall that resulted in a broken bone and 6 weeks of convalescence. Apparently, our mom told my sister that the reason I quit after one bad fall was because I wasn't in love with riding, just the clothes. I was pretty offended (hello, broken shoulder that still hurts on snowy days!), but that lasted approximately 20 seconds. Then I had to admit that Mom was absolutely right. :)

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing this story, Maria!

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