I recently visited the university where I had been a student many years ago. Apart from the expansion of campus buildings, what surprised me most were coeds wearing training or running shorts about campus, shopping and in restaurants. Exposed legs are one thing, but running shorts, beyond the gym…all day? This casual fashion was totally lacking in my college days when obvious pride-of-appearance ruled. I thought I’d write about my experience in hopes of catching up with the times.
My thoughts initially turned to how fashion is thought to be related to the economy and recalled the “Skirt Length” or “Hemline” theory. This is the belief that skirt lengths are related to prosperity, with short skirts predicting a bull stock market and long skirts predicting a bear market.
The running shorts I witnessed were not “hot pants,” but they were short enough to happily predict a continuation of today’s bull market, unless other factors sabotage the presumed relation between fashion and the economy. Some analysts suspect fashion was more indicative of economic trends years ago, long before the popularity of the “casual look.” They point out that today’s consumer has more fashion choices to express their individuality and uniqueness; a fact that speaks so loud we can hardly hear what the fashion magazines are saying anymore!
Perhaps shorts beyond the gym are an adaptation to the warm climate of a state that became habitable after the invention of air conditioning, and is getting hotter with climate warming.
Perhaps running shorts represent “power to the person,” where the person is more important than fashion; suggesting that students are more into identity and personhood than mere appearances. I have reservations concerning this transcendental attribution.
Perhaps running shorts are a rebellion against the “authority” that gave us today’s Great Recession with its persistent unemployment affecting the lives of many college students.
Perhaps running shorts are pride-of-legs found and pride of education compromised...a transposition of values with moral implications in a culture dedicated to learning and self-actualization. .
Perhaps shorts indicate an evolving malaise and detachment in response to the economy.
Perhaps students find it impossible to ignore the drum-beat of depressing domestic and international news when considering their future. News that is capable of dampening youthful enthusiasm, evoking a depressed mood, and diminishing pride-of-appearance?
Recalling the old adage “to a hammer everything is a nail,” I asked myself if I was a victim of the occupational hazard of the psychologist who becomes overly sensitized to problems in living? Was I making a mountain out of a mole hill? Besides, “one robin doesn’t make a spring” and I was witnessing a fashion-phenomenon at only one of 4000 American colleges! Was I seeing signs of a malaise among young people in response to the times in which we find ourselves? If so, I’m prepared to diagnose it as a collective “pseudo-cultural-depression,” rather than an individual “clinical depression.” I admit labeling conveys meaning and comfort, both real and imagined!
Is the loss of pride-of-appearance something that should concern us? Is wearing running shorts all day beyond the gym an instance of lost pride in one’s appearance or a “touch” of pseudo-cultural depression? Even more profound is the question of whether this "fashion statement," along with even more obvious signs of social stress, is a symptom of a “sick society” resulting from the asymmetric evolution of natural science without moral science?
Wall Street is recovering faster than Main Street, and this distorts the spirit-of-the-times to which college students are not immune. I can only imagine how they might process this, their search for jobs, and the general consequences of having learned their ABCs and 123s without moral education, which is the ultimate preventive psychology; every bit as important as preventive medicine. The problems of today’s world are surely enough to reject Robert Browning’s poetic reference to “God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world.”
In addition to the lack of early moral education based on science, some believe our social and economic problems are made far worse by the failure of colleges to teach the humanities, as discussed by columnist David Brooks in his recent New York Times Op Ed Column cited in a previous blog (New Psychology Revisited).
The emergence of value science (i.e., axiological science), offers hope for the future. It gives us values clarification, values appreciation and values measurement for the 21st century, which philosopher Robert S. Hartman saw as a “pragmatic necessity.” He believed that we must find ways to think about values and morals with greater sensitivity and precision. In his autobiography, Freedom to Live, Hartman writes of the dire need of a science of values that will make us as sensitive to moral values (e.g., self-actualization) as we are to material values (e.g., running shorts). As to the “running shorts” that inspired this blog, I will leave further social, economic, moral, and psychological speculation to others as we continue to recover from the Great Recession of 2008.
© Dr. Leon Pomeroy, Ph.D.