You’re walking along the street, minding your own business, when out of nowhere…
Someone just sucker-punched you!
What did you do? Why is this total stranger mad at you?
Could it be something you were wearing?
You may think there’s nothing wrong with what you’re wearing. But it’s not just what you wear, it’s where you wear it. In certain situations, even something as innocent as a hat could lead to trouble. Read on to find out what to wear if you want your ass kicked.
Before we proceed, Full Disclosure: this article is all in good fun. I’m not saying you should start a fight with somebody because you disagree with what they’re wearing or how they’re wearing it. Just let me warn you that if you push the boundaries on this first point, it could lead to an altercation.
#1. Stolen Valor
Stolen valor is ‘the wearing of certain military decorations or medals in order to obtain money, property or other tangible benefits.’ I took that definition from the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which made it a federal crime to impersonate someone who’s served in the military for financial gain.
That’s the key distinction: is the person who’s wearing the uniform trying to represent themselves as a veteran when they’re not? Are they doing it fraudulently to get some benefit? If you go into a store dressed like that and try to get a discount, that’s stolen valor.
If your father was a Navy SEAL, can you wear a Navy SEAL hat with a trident on it? If you love the Marine Corps, is it ok to wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on a hat or shirt because your brother served or you’ve always wanted to? My answer: sure. If you’re just trying to support the military, I have no issue with that. I appreciate your support.
This brings me to more a serious question, Gentlemen: was Luke Skywalker guilty of stolen valor? I’m very curious about your opinion on this, especially now that I’ve explained what stolen valor means. Head over to the YouTube video and tell me in the comments what you think.
Someone asked me a great question the other day. If you wear a regimental necktie, is that stolen valor? My answer: it depends. What are your intentions? Do you know that it’s part of a military unit? Do you know which one? Is that unit particular about who’s allowed to wear that necktie? To me, opinions on this issue have become a lot more relaxed since the 60s and 70s, and I’m fine with that.
I actually had a whole set of limited edition regimental neckties made to raise money for suicide awareness. The military loses 22 people a day to suicide, so I had no problem with a civilian wearing one of these neckties. I sold them to anyone who wanted to support the military.
I don’t personally have an issue with wearing regimental neckties. But understand that, to some people, they are off-limits.
#2. Inflammatory T-Shirts
It doesn’t even have to be a T-shirt. Anything you’re wearing that signals ‘challenge me’ risks a reaction from someone who’s willing to. If you wear a controversial message in an environment where you don’t know people’s opinions, you’re going to incite emotion. If you’re going to wear an inflammatory t-shirt, you run the risk of someone coming up to you without a word and sucker-punching you.
What counts as inflammatory? Well, it largely depends on the people you’re around and what type of emotion it’s going to incite from them.
For instance, some groups approve of the Confederate flag and some groups are totally against it. Then you’ve got obvious examples like the swastika. Nudity and vulgar statements are also inflammatory. Large religious symbols often can be as well (pro tip: don’t wear a giant crucifix to a Bar Mitzvah!).
The bottom line: be aware of the emotion you’re going to incite with your clothing decisions and be ready for the consequences.
#3. Religious Imagery On Clothing
There are many places in the world where they just don’t tolerate this. Know where you’re going and what the rules are.
When I traveled to Thailand with my family, we researched what to wear beforehand. We realized it’s a country that devoutly respects the Buddha, which meant, among other things, that wearing a t-shirt with the Buddha on it would be seen as disrespectful. Why? Well, what you do with that t-shirt when it’s dirty? If you’ve got the Buddha on the back of your shirt and you’re lying on your back, perhaps on the ground, what are you doing to the Buddha?
I read about one guy who had a Buddha tattoo on his back. When he went to the hotel pool, he would throw on a T-shirt to cover it up because he didn’t want to offend people with the religious imagery. Be very sensitive about religion when traveling, especially when it comes to your clothing. You want to be careful about pushing something like that into somebody’s face.
#4. Dressing Like A Tourist
Now why is this going to lead to a butt-kicking? Everyone loves tourists, right?
Yes, especially thieves. Tourists carry a lot of money and valuable items. You do not want to be a target. My best travel safety tips: dress like the locals and leave as much as you can in your locked hotel room. It’s much safer than taking it out with you.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with hats. They’re a great functional piece. But if you wear a hat indoors, some people may see it as an affront to civilized values.
Remove your hat whenever you’re indoors, especially if you’re in a private residence, a government building, or a house of worship. It’s really bad table manners to wear one while you’re eating. Who knows, there may be an Italian mobster in that restaurant who isn’t going to put up with some punk kid who won’t take his hat off during a meal. If you’ve seen that great scene from The Sopranos, you know what I mean.
The common theme in most of these? Respect. A flagrant lack thereof is the best way to get total strangers mad enough to punch you.
Turn that around and it says a lot about the importance of respect. Respect for military service. Respect for opinions and beliefs that are different from yours. Removing your hat is a gesture of respect that goes back to the code of knighthood, when removing your helmet was also an act of trust and courage.
In other words, good manners aren’t just a dapper accessory. They’re the difference between people around you having a good day and having such a bad day that they want to kick your ass.
Want to know how I researched this article? I asked 50,000 men in my men’s style Facebook group. If you didn’t see the poll, you missed a great conversation, with lots of opinions: Crocs in the Vatican… t-shirts at a funeral… socks with sandals (awful as it looks, I wouldn’t personally come to blows over that one).
If you want a quick bit of style advice at 2 in the morning, go to that group and there’ll be men awake somewhere in the world ready to help you use clothing to get what you want out of life. Click here to check out the RMRS Facebook group.