Thus, my jury summons for 29 May 2013, “Do not wear shorts.”
To fulfill my duty as a resident of Illinois, I have to take a day off work, travel downtown, and be prepared to serve as a responsible member of society in a criminal or civil case. And all the while, I must do so wearing a garment that covers my legs.
Can they do that? And more pointedly, is that right of Big Brother to reach his long arm into my closet and govern my public wardrobe? The people I have talked to have all agreed: A public policy is necessary or else people would wear things “inappropriate.”
The word appropriate, which was used by a number of responders to my informal survey on the justice of this act of public control, was snuck in with the bare assumption that we all knew what it meant. But what is appropriate? Who decides? Is it in the Bible? Should the laws of appropriateness also judge us in public houses of worship? During family gatherings? Can society’s culture change what is or is not appropriate, or is it somehow rooted in something monolithic—some bedrock foundation of all life, say God’s character?
When I had Amy’s ring cleaned, all the employees of the jewelry store wore suits and classy dresses. They told me it was their company policy. Ditto for the life insurance salesmen I spoke with.
Don’t be distracted with my examples. I’m not merely interested in clothing for public events. But drilling down to the definition of the elusive “appropriate,” I want to ground my cultural sensibilities in something more sure than personal taste, public opinion, and certainly more solid than celebrity example (whether from the entertainment industry or the clergy).
How does some cultural expression become appropriate or, more controversially, inappropriate?