The Tyranny of the Iron
Why we should all wear wrinkled clothes.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker
I am not a slob. My hair is washed, my nails clipped, my teeth brushed and—very often—flossed. Yet many among you would judge me unclean simply because of my radical stance with regard to textiles.
My clothes are wrinkled. I know this is shocking for you to hear, so I will repeat it as plainly as I'm able: My attire exists in its natural state. It is not ironed, pressed, or steamed. My shirt-fronts shrivel. My pant-legs pucker.
Don't look down your nose at me. (And please be aware that my nostrils' hairs are as neatly trimmed as yours, if not more so. Also: well-scrubbed nose pores.) This is an important choice that I have made. I stand behind—nay, within—my wrinkled clothes, unashamed.
The benefits are manifold. I waste zero time slaving over an ironing board. Squander no money on superfluous laundry services. Budget no mindshare to the relative dishevelment of my cuffs, box pleats, and plackets.
You will say I look less than neat. You'll tell me I'm one or two corners shy of squared away. I contend that the deficiency is all yours. You are beholden to an ancient despot: the tyranny of crispness.
Cursory Internet research suggests that people like you have been harshing the mellow of people like me for thousands of years. Misguided ancient Egyptians smoothed their clothes using heavy stones. The Chinese employed primitive hot irons (or, as I call them, "wrinkle subjugators") that were essentially maneuverable pans filled with smoldering coals. The electric iron was patented in the United States on a dark day in 1882. Our current fashion landscape is blighted by creepy no-iron shirts that are infused with formaldehyde. I am imparting this knowledge simply to make you aware of a long, unbroken pattern of oppression.
Ask yourself: Why is it so vital that I be smoothened? There's no functional advantage to eliminating clothing wrinkles—unless you are competing in a timed event that favors reduced drag coefficients. What you're really doing when you leave your house in ironed clothes is engaging in an elaborate signaling ritual. You demonstrate that you have devoted time and resources to ironing (or to compelling other people to iron for you), which in turn connotes respect for a (silly) social compact. You use your crisp clothes to advertise yourself as a rule-follower, and you hope that in turn you will derive benefit from being perceived as one who follows rules. "Oh, he took the time to press his shirt before he showed up for this job interview. So I guess he must be a reliable and trustworthy employee." It's thinking like this that encourages broad-based evil to fester.
Consider the aesthetics. Your preference for unpuckered expanses of fabric no doubt stems from a stupid quirk of biology. Wrinkles suggest age and decrepitude—the opposite of youth—and by ironing you are clinging to a falsely achieved sense of smoothosity. It's like a facelift for your clothes. You really don't need it. (Nor, incidentally, do you need a facelift for your face. I happen to think crow's feet are hot. Marry me, Connie Britton!)
No doubt you are now marshaling counterarguments. "But Seth," you say, "aren't washing your hair and brushing your teeth and denuding your nostrils just different manifestations of the same social compact?" No! Let me say that with an additional exclamation point: No!! Personal grooming eliminates odors, health risks, and nostril hairs, all of which are fundamental bads. Wrinkled clothing is the opposite. It is a fundamental good.
"But Seth," you say, "whaaaaa?" To which I reply: You heard me. Wrinkled clothes represent fabric as it is, not as we wish it to be. Cotton, for instance, is meant to luxuriate in those criss-crossing gulches, those puffs of pockmarks. It is born in the fields, born from the ground! Why can we not find it in our hearts to accept its inherent wildness? Why must we labor to tame it, for centuries on end, in an endless stalemate of human versus wrinkle? We will never win. Wisdom dictates: Just give in. Free your fabric and your mind will follow.
We would save time, and money, and effort. So I implore you, throw down your irons (once they have adequately cooled) and join me. We could be happy together, in the warp and weft of a brand new world.
Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.