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Who hasn’t had the nightmare? It’s about getting caught in public underwear. Therapists and dream bibles tend to portray these dreams as symbolic expressions of shame or oppression.
But what if the so-called experts are wrong and these dreams are instead an unconscious pursuit of liberation? Put the embarrassment off along with this constricting outerwear. Go out proudly in your turtle-print boxer shorts or your Cosabella bra.
Certainly a lot of people have been doing that lately as many go beyond what qualifies as street wear after 16 months of hibernation with a terrifying level of license.
Ten years ago it was a rarity to see people on Fifth Avenue in Washington Square Park riding the subway or walking around airports in various states with advanced disabilities. Anyone who’s been walking New York recently can tell you this is no longer true.
So people are walking around half-naked.
Last week, Claudia Summers, a writer, was out running errands in Midtown Manhattan when she passed a young woman casually strolling down 33rd Street near Moynihan Train Hall in low-slung jeans and a bra. “Was it a sports bra?” Asked a follower after Ms. Summers posted a snapshot of the woman on her Instagram account.
“Definitely not!” replied Mrs. Summers, who quickly added that she admired the woman’s moxie and that the day was hot anyway.
Of course it wasn’t a bra top. Bralettes, tiny bandeaus, and crocheted bikinis are everywhere. Likewise, Daisy Dukes are cut high enough to reveal the curvature of the buttocks. And these items are by no means restricted to people who identify with the pronouns “she” and “she”.
“I’m an exhibitionist and I enjoy showing off my body,” said Kae Cook, 32, a messenger of his dress choices one evening as he walked Eighth Street in the East Village.
To keep a cool head on a hot day, Mr. Cook had taken to the streets in mid-thigh bike shorts and a strappy sports bra top. “Especially after a pandemic, people enjoy showing off their bodies, no matter what that body is, and I’m very comfortable with that,” he said.
The case of Deniz Saypinar, a Turkish bodybuilder and social media influencer who was recently prevented from boarding an American Airlines flight from Texas to Miami, allegedly because of her tight brown tank top, shows that not everyone shares his view her super-cropped shorts are likely to “disturb families” on the plane.
Ms. Saypinar, 26, quickly used social media to spread the word about the incident on behalf of her one million followers and tearfully explained that gate staff had insulted her by claiming she was “naked”, which on everyone else Fairness, you had.
In a separate statement, American Airlines confirmed that Ms. Saypinar was denied boarding and rebooked on a later flight despite wearing more modest clothing: “As stated in the Conditions of Carriage, all customers must dress appropriately and offensive” is on board our flights not allowed.”
What might be called the terms of carriage is constantly changing in the broader culture where women’s clothing has always been a source of controversy and society has strictly regulated the choice of clothing based on political climates, mores, and tastes.
“Efforts to legislate modesty are always imposed and accepted unevenly,” said Reina Lewis, a professor of cultural studies at the London College of Fashion, recently on the phone, adding that while the current meat parade certainly signals some kind of exemption, it is one which it is, probably like not, is more firmly rooted in pandemic pragmatism than in the desire to disregard conventional morality.
“After the Covid lockdown, a lot of people have to get out,” she said. For the most part, young people could not meet. Many now desperately long for a vacation that they probably won’t have. Traveling is more expensive and more difficult.
“Basically,” said Dr. Lewis, “that people need to have their vacation at home.” Those casual outfits that we once reserved for pool parties and backyard barbecues are now being brought out to the only vacation spots available to many of us: city parks and city streets.
“The world is getting hotter from global warming,” said Nefalfj Lewis, a bartender, last week as she and a friend were walking on St. Marks Place. Despite the withered subtropical humidity, Ms. Lewis, 25, looked unimpressed by the weather. “The city is hot and dirty, so you have to do whatever you can to stay cool and comfortable,” she said, standing in a striped cotton stretch romper with a beach towel (for the “dirty” subway ride) under her arm.
But what about traditional dress codes and the days when you dress up for city life instead of undressing? Have New Yorkers given up vanity in favor of comfort and surrendered the city’s lead in the global competition for priority among the urban fashion capitals to places like Paris and Milan?
“I understand that we have moved from hiding, hiding and nobody what you are wearing because nobody sees you, to this unexpected ‘coming-out’,” wrote Linda Fargo, director of women’s fashion at Bergdorf Goodman, all in one recently released SMS describing what she sees as lowering the bar on civic pride. “I’ve never seen this look or this self-expression, no matter what time or place – unless we’re talking about Ibiza or St. Tropez.”
But weren’t all kinds of borders eroding before the lockdown, when pajama bottoms made their debut on the city’s sidewalks, along with fluffy slippers, lululemon tights, and shower shoes? (Never mind spandex bike shorts.) Decency seemed like the prairie dress of morality long ago, standing in a troubled digital landscape where no one knows who’s zooming in. Trousers and intimate selfies are the equivalent of a Tumblr hello.
Seen in this way, underwear on Fifth Avenue has always been a logical end point of a progressive blurring of the lines between public and private. At least that’s what I imagined until one afternoon last week when I looked up from my Harvest Bowl at Sweetgreen and through the window saw a young woman casually crossing Astor Place, wearing a pair of cut-off shoes, a pair of sandals, and – that is completely legal – naked above the waist.