Letting It All Hang Out

San Francisco has banned nudity on city property. I’m good with that. Our society isn’t comfortable with exhibitionists letting it all hang out in public view.

Barack Obama said during his Occidental College days that human beings would be better off if they didn’t wear clothes. His biographer David Maraniss writes, “It’s possible he was so stoned he didn’t know what he was talking about.”

We expend an enormous amount of energy and money on clothes; we jump through hoops trying to decide what’s culturally sensitive clothing; we are, except for dedicated nudists, embarrassed about our unclothed bodies.

When our daughter was 2 or 3 we took her, clothesless, to Poipu Beach on Kaua’i. The lifeguard said she could not be naked. We insisted otherwise. I called the county prosecutor and said if they wanted to push it, I’d point out county law said pubic nakedness must “raise prurient interest,” and I’d suggest in court that the body of a 2-year-old girl could do that to a Kaua’i citizen. They backed off.

Today, people – especially women – go nearly naked on our beaches. Not much left to the imagination. But an inch or two less of cloth and the cops might be called. Depends which inch or two. Some women who went bare-bosom in Waikiki this year were absolved before trial. But if it involves the genital area …

Pants and neckties used to be considered men’s clothing in America. Today, women also dress that way. But men other than transvestites do not wear dresses. We haven’t gone that gender neutral.

We used to have religious and societal rules of women’s dress in the early days. Muslim countries still dictate female attire. So do some conservative Mormon communities. Dress for men, women and children is prescribed in some orthodox Jewish communities.

Clothing has been used to indicate rank or status. In ancient Rome, only senators were permitted to wear garments dyed with Tyrian purple. In traditional Hawaiian society, only high-ranking chiefs could wear feather cloaks and whale teeth. In pre-republic China, only the emperor could wear yellow.

When Westerners encountered naked Native Americans, Polynesians and Africans, they held that to be evidence of being savages. That and, of course, not being Christians.

How long have humans worn clothing? Nothing survived as evidence farther back than about 36,000 years – although scientists think we started 100,000 to 170,000 years ago. That’s a surmise based on fossilized body lice. But it doesn’t seem that early clothing had anything to do with status. It was simply to protect the skin.

We’re very lucky in Hawaii. We don’t have much of a clothing culture. Not the ballroom gown and coat-and-tie kind. My blazers and my tux are rotting in the closet.

I hope our Hawaii clothing culture never changes.