The U.S. Supreme Court is actually trying to answer: What ARE clothes?
Staring into your closet for what seems like the 10th time this morning, you may ask yourself why you have the clothes you do, but likely, not what they are. But don't worry, that's a question that the United States Supreme Court is currently trying to answer for us.
We know that clothing is what we wear -- the garments that protect us from the elements, that keep us warm and dry. But what about sunglasses, which protect you from UV rays? Are they clothes? And your shoes, a watch, what about a Knight's suit of armor? It seems that the definition of clothing is just too incomplete, doesn't properly identify what "clothes" are. Because all of these previously mentioned items protect you, but aren't widely acknowledged as clothes but rather accessories, jewelry, outerwear (how would you classify armor...?), etc. New technology in what we wear has started to raise the question of garments versus gear, and what that means.
This question, which might not have ever crossed your mind, has culminated in Sandifer vs. The United States Steel Corporation, in a case that has this year reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Reports The Atlantic, "In 2012, a group of 800 steelworkers at a U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Indiana brought suit against their employer, asking for 'work time'-that is, paid time-to include the time it took them to put on and take off their work clothes. For steelworkers, 'work clothes' aren't just suits or coveralls; they include flame-retardant jackets and pants, protective leggings, Kevlar sleeves, gloves, steel-toed boots, hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs, and hoods. When you work with molten metal, getting dressed for work -- and, then, un-dressed -- takes some time."
So is putting on protective work gear the same as putting on regular work clothes (whether it be a uniform or our own wardrobe choice)? Are all of the necessary protection tools just that, tools? Or can they be constituted as garments? The law that Sandifer vs. U.S. Steel is disputing is the Fair Labor Standards Act, which says, in regards to compensated work hours, "there shall be excluded any time spent in changing clothes or washing at the beginning or end of each workday." Eric Schnapper, lawyer for the steel workers, argued before the Supreme Court this week that the gear they put on every day to protect themselves isn't standard clothing, but his opponent argued the opposite. And the assistant to the solicitor general agreed with U.S. Steel that most work gear is clothing, but said there might be exceptions to this rule.
So commence the most entertaining, amazing back-and-forth with the SCOTUS. It brings up toupees, handcuffs, tool belts, wrist-band playbooks, knife scabbards (what...?), jousting and more. It's amazing, and you have to read it.
The Court won't rule on the case for months, but we can't wait to hear the verdict. Now take a look at your closet one more time -- what exactly is in there? (The Atlantic)
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