A few weeks ago, I was waiting with my colleague and friend Joanna Rothkopf outside of an intimidating exercise class that we attend together sometimes. Across the room, past a cluster of upsettingly fit former sorority members, Joanna spotted something unusual—a price tag, still affixed to a woman’s spandex shirt. Oh no.
“There’s a tag on that girl’s shirt,” Joanna whispered to me.
“Dang,” I whispered back.
“Should I tell her?” Joanna wondered. “Do you think she would rather be told, or not told?”
Joanna did not tell her, because we decided it would be more weird and embarrassing to be told by a stranger that one’s tag is still on than it would be to have one’s tag on. Also, she was not within speaking distance and neither of us felt like standing up.
But then, I wondered—why is embarrassment a relevant emotion here at all? Why are we so ashamed of our tags? Most of us buy clothes, don’t we? For dollar amounts that generally roughly correspond to the amount of money our friends and acquaintances assume we make? They don’t just magically appear in our closets, unless you are a social media influencer or a celebrity or Bee Shaffer or a miniature clay person in a stop-motion film. The main reason to take a tag off in the first place is because it’s scratchy and uncomfortable—but if someone is unaware that there is a tag on their shirt, then they are probably not having that issue, right?
It’s true that visually, a tag is not appealing. Its purpose is temporary—a tag is made be removed. But if you forget, uh, who freakin’ cares? Why is this a faux pas, if a minor one? Perhaps it’s because we are all, deep down, ashamed of our role in the late capitalist marketplace, and don’t want anyone to know about our spending habits. Or maybe it’s a knee-jerk desire to prevent others from thinking we are shoplifters or wear-and-return-ers, although neither would be so sloppy as to actually have a visible tag out. Or maybe it’s just that a tag, left awkwardly fluttering on an article of clothing, transmits the dreaded message: “I tried.” A tag does not say, “Oh, I dunno, I just threw this old vintage thing on, I never look in the mirror!” No, a tag says: “I spent money and time putting this outfit together, and am unfortunately too much of a mess to complete that minor task.”
Okay, I hear you saying: “Uh, I don’t care about tags? Who cares about tags?” Yeah right. You may think you don’t care about tags, but what would you do if you saw an acquaintance’s tag peeking out from the back of their patterned sundress at a mutual friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner? Would your eyes calmly flick over it, seeing nothing out of the ordinary? Or would you say, “Oh... your tag is out...” with an uncomfortable laugh? And if you were said sundress-wearer, would you feel a quick but searing bolt of humiliation?
I am not saying that you should purposefully leave the tags on your clothing like some kind of shopping transparency martyr. I am not even saying that you shouldn’t tell a friend if a tag is on their dress. I’m just saying, like, who cares? There are too many things to be embarrassed about. The accidental presence of a price tag on an article of clothing should elicit absolutely no emotional response from anyone. This is my advice. You’re welcome!