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It’s the year 2018, and you live in the good ol’ North American landmass. The fascist landmass. By this year, the dystopian N.A.F party controls all of the landmass and secret police prowl the streets armed with automatic rifles. Protest the rules and NAF makes you disappear -- permanently.

Onto the subject

As you’ve seen in a lot of movies and whatnot, dystopian governments like to make people fit into a mandatory dress code. 1984 did it, a lot of other dystopian media did it, and so on. I plan to do the same, but I want to make my dystopian government a logical one, that only does what’s necessary to keep power. What is a logical reason why mandatory dress codes would be forced upon citizens?

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 3 '18 at 3:44
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    $\begingroup$ How do the secret police stay secret if they're carrying automatic rifles? $\endgroup$ – Shawn V. Wilson Aug 4 '18 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose traditional religious reasons, with legal enforcement? Saudi Arabia comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Aug 5 '18 at 15:12

23 Answers 23

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Control the Supply

The citizens of your dystopia work in a government-controlled factory. They shop in a government-controlled shop with government-controlled prices. What does the shop have in stock? The products of more government-controlled factories, of course.

It is not illegal to wear non-standard clothes. It is illegal to buy or sell them (that would be black marketeering) and it is usually illegal to make them (that would be diversion of government-supplied raw materials). One might "repair" government-pattern clothes into non-standard shapes, e.g. cutting trousers short or making a skirt out of an old bedsheet.

Few people make their own clothing. A sure sign they have too much time on their hands, why don't they join in a government-sponsored community activity instead?

Of course there is "special store No. 0815" which is open to senior regime officials and their families. These officials work so long hours in their selfless service of the people that they cannot possibly stand in the waiting line of a normal store. The special store opens by appointment, e.g. right between the parade for the Dear Leader's birthday and the official reception. And it stocks suitable clothes for that reception.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that such shops existed in real life - kind of - like Pewex. $\endgroup$ – Maciej Piechotka Aug 2 '18 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @MaciejPiechotka, Wasn't Pewex open to anyone with valuta? I was thinking more of the "supposedly normal" shops in places like Wandlitz. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Aug 3 '18 at 4:46
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    $\begingroup$ "It is not illegal to wear non-standard clothes." But doing so is a sure way to attract official (and unofficial) attention - and that is not going to end well for you. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Aug 3 '18 at 11:01
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    $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast, that depends. And it could be a nice way to characterize characters. "Nice coat, isn't it? We all got it for the Party Marching Band Conductors Conference in '11, for the picture with our Dear Leader." vs. "Hey, it ain't illegal! Are you gonna write me up for this?" $\endgroup$ – o.m. Aug 3 '18 at 15:14
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Reason number one: it removes people's individuality.
Reason number two: the act of controlling a citizen's personal life makes the government feel omnipresent and all-seeing.
Reason number three: it prevents a rebellion from being able to wear a recognizable uniform.
Reason number four: the government could plant tracking devices in the uniforms.

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    $\begingroup$ The already have tracking chips in their wrists. $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Aug 1 '18 at 3:42
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    $\begingroup$ And don't forget that limiting clothing choices means you can produce clothing much more efficiently. Fewer production lines, lower cost per item. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 1 '18 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ Management studies teach that there are 3 ways to build company culture (and really they apply more generally). Rituals, Stories, and Symbols. A uniform is the most common form of symbol. $\endgroup$ – Lyndon White Aug 1 '18 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertPaul That might actually perfect. If the implantation of the tracking chips is reasonably covert and there's an easy to find chip in clothing, potential rebels will think they have gotten rid of the government tracking when in actually they've just marked themselves as dissidents (only one signal, not two) $\endgroup$ – Valthek Aug 1 '18 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ See: School uniforms. $\endgroup$ – SeanR Aug 3 '18 at 11:13
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Sumptuary laws gone mad

In brief, sumptuary laws are laws regulating displays of wealth - chiefly they're thought of in terms of clothing, although there were ones dealing with other luxuries.

Sumptuary laws were a popular solution for Renaissance nobility who were faced with a problem: the middle class, especially merchants, were starting to make as much money as the nobles, and if the nobles weren't conspicuously better dressed and otherwise appointed than everybody else, it might lead the common people to start questioning the basic assumptions of the realm. (Starting with, "there are nobles and common people, and never the twain shall meet".)

Expanding on that a little, the idea of such laws is to ensure that everyone is aware of their place in society. Everything in their lives - the clothes they wear, the way they get to work, what they eat - reinforces this. The commoners know that they are powerless, and that the nobles (or the Party) is powerful. This is so ingrained in the fabric of society that it might as well be unquestionable, or so the theory goes.

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History shows us how it works:

  • People of certain groups (preferably the enemies of the government) have to identify themselves. The Nazis ordered all Jews to wear a Star of David on their clothing. As a direct result, Jews were easily identified and discriminated against by the "common people".

  • Service uniforms are always a symbol of power. The government forbids any civilian clothing that resembles a service uniform to keep people powerless.

  • "Good people" who support the government want to show their support and thereby get advantages. It's basically the opposite of the Star of David.

  • Those who neither support nor fight the government are forced to wear uniform clothes to make it clear that there is no other way of live. They are taught from early age to follow the rules and therefore don't even think about change. How could any change be possible if it's always been like this? This kind of brain washing was done in Germany by the Nazis and the Communists after them, in China and other Communist countries and it's still in practice in North Korea and in Muslim countries like Iraq, where women are forced to wear their Hijab (veil) in one specific way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any evidence of this happening in China? I've been throughout the country and haven't noticed enforced distinctive clothing anywhere. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Alexander Aug 2 '18 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ It isn't enforced, just like it wasn't enforced in Germany. To be honest, China has become extremely liberal in the last decades so I will edit that part. There was just this general understanding that decent people have to wear a certain style (simple laborer clothes) and anyone who looked different (too western style) or displayed too much wealth was considered an outsider or even enemy of the government. Or anyone who wasn't wearing the infamous little red book close to their heart was considered an enemy of Mao. $\endgroup$ – Elmy Aug 2 '18 at 5:47
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrewAlexander - It certainly did happen. I spent several months in China in the very early 1980s, working with technical people. The males had four choices of clothing: black, brown, grey, and blue Mao suits. Females had one extra choice, an ugly floral Mao suit. The monotony made for a long, drab winter in Beijing. Then I flew home in springtime, arriving in LAX, where no two people wore the same thing. It was glorious. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Aug 3 '18 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen - I meant more recently. I visited China in 2017, and there was as much variation in dress as you would see in a typical western city - both in major cities, as well as in less populated areas. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Alexander Aug 3 '18 at 3:50
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Brave New World told you 85 years ago: a caste system.

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/brave-new-world-what-each-castes-designated-color-69917

Each caste in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is distinguished by the color of its work clothes. In order of caste from lowest to highest, Epsilons dress in black, Deltas wear khaki, Gammas wear leaf green, Betas dress in mulberry, and Alphas wear grey.

This color division system to differentiate castes is in place so that people can quickly and easily know what caste a person is in. The dystopian world described in Huxley's novel is very superficial, so of course they would use a superficial designation like color coding. It is surface-level symbolism, but also very effective psychologically. The world is also one that relies heavily on simplistic psychological conditioning, as seen with the Pavlovian type conditioning and the electric shocks.

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    $\begingroup$ Yellow helmets are worn by labourers. Blue by electricians and plumbers. White by architects and supervisors (and guests). It's easy to distinguish between people's casts at a glance (on a building site). $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 1 '18 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ And to strengthen the bond, people are brainwashed (even before birth in Huxley's world) into identifying their colour as superior or at least preferential to all others so they won't even consider wearing anything else outside of work. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 1 '18 at 7:01
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    $\begingroup$ And such colour coding in uniforms is beneficial in real life situations, not just for population control. On the noisy decks of aircraft carriers crew wear colour coded clothing to distinguish them by their job. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Aug 1 '18 at 7:02
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Clothes are owned in common.

Prior answers cover evil reasons. This is a nonmalicious utilitarian reason.

In circumstances where clothes are owned in common, you turn them in after wearing to get them washed. When you pick up new clothes they are unlikely to be a set you have worn before. They will be in your size and that is all.

In your world, there are not facilities for citizens to wash their own clothes themselves. Citizens turn in soiled clothes which are taken away and washed in a common facility. In return they are provided an allotment of clean clothes. A common facility for laundry is just efficient economics - we have our power generated and our water purified in common facilities and do not think much of it. Diaper services used to be a normal thing: leave a bag of soiled cloth diapers for pickup and transport to diaper facility, get a new bag of clean diapers. Scrub suits for hospital workers are done exactly like this now - scrubs are owned by the employer, washed in a common facility and made available for use.

Electricity is electricity. Diapers are diapers. Clothes are clothes. You turn in what needs washing and you get clean ones in return. Worn out ones are recycled. New ones enter the rotation as needed. The clothes cover you adequately for the season. Your priorities are elsewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for comparing clothes with diapers :-) That service would be a bonus to quite a few communities to reduce the amount of landfill that disposable diapers generate. The modern parent has been brainwashed into thinking that community washed diapers are not clean enough for their precious baby, even though they get facility washed at 95 degC with good and safe cleaning products. This is the best logical reason that is utilitarian rather than social engineering. The service exists in various places to this day. - google.com/search?q=cloth+diaper+OR+nappy+laundry+service $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Aug 3 '18 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ Having been conscripted, and having dealt with the common uniforms, I can also tell you that I have never before or after owned five of the same piece of clothing that were all noticeably different sizes and colors. $\endgroup$ – user10328 Aug 4 '18 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ If I remember correctly, kibbutzes in Israel at various points in the 20th century handled clothing & laundry in this very way. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Sep 20 '18 at 15:57
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One explanation would be rent seeking.

The company/government department who produces the clothing has bribed or lobbied or whatever the government into outlawing any competition. Now with monopoly prices and economy of scale the people who run clothing production are enjoying a great deal of wealth some of which of cause gets kicked back to the people who make the decision on what clothing is legal.

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The clothing has id printed on them that is only visible in the UV spectrum. The administration has security cameras that can pick it up. It could also have NFC threads that can id them walking through doorway sensors.

Automatic id systems pick up who the clothing was issued to so if people hide their faces, the system can still tell if they in an area they aren't suppose to be.

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In the Complex Alpha from Paranoia RPG, a dress code is mandatory. You have to use only items allowed by your cleareance. This is the best system because Friendly Computer created it. After all, wearing anything else would have been treason.

slide from paranoia-notlive

Yes Paranoia RPG was inspired a lot by a Brave New World.

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    $\begingroup$ Related: ux.stackexchange.com :-p $\endgroup$ – Evorlor Aug 1 '18 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ The computer is your friend, except when it's not. $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Aug 2 '18 at 2:09
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    $\begingroup$ Jeeze I'd forgotten how much I missed this. $\endgroup$ – Era Aug 2 '18 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ @pojo-guy even when its not your friend, the Computer is still your friend. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Aug 5 '18 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ @aloisdg - when I played Paranoia, the Reds were only given black paper (as befits their station). And pens with black ink, obviously. $\endgroup$ – gbjbaanb Aug 5 '18 at 15:09
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It's a bit prison uniforms - it's easy to tell if you're in the wrong place.

You're a pleb with rebellious designs? Approach a sensitive area in the wrong uniform, get summarily shot. You won't get close enough to cause problems or blag your way past the guards.

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When I worked for a large healthcare provider, we had at least a dozen different colors that clinical people had to wear. The motive was that if you needed a doctor, nurse, lab tech, dentist, orderly, rad tech, etc., you would just look for the right color. Unfortunately, there were so many colors that I never did learn them all. But I could imagine a totalitarian government coming up with such a scheme.

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It's a fascist government, so the logic must build on opposites: Tradition by Revolution, Peace by War, etc. At the same time it's a dystopian government (one might argue that's a natural corollary of the first), so it needs to be intransparent, freewheeling and all-powerful. By these rules, just about anything is possible.

The NAF is a conglomerate of nationalist states, so everyone is forced to wear a modern remix (and in womens case sexy modern remix, see Dirndl, and how that came about) of their homelands(or some region of their homelands, or just any) traditional garb. To keep the manufacturers happy (Fascism loves big business) this was reduced to a picture of that garb printed on an overall (and to keep that sexy, it's a transparent overall, made intransparent by the printed parts), which also doubles as a sweat collector (sweat has to be 'donated' daily, for drug testing and as an outward sign of productivity). The hood can be zippered shut, so the overall is also a body bag, in case of need.

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The Goku Uniforms in Kill La Kill were issued to students at Honnōji Academy based on their merit. The uniforms not only were a measure of status - which influenced where you lived, the food you ate, your place in society - but also conferred superhuman powers to anybody wearing them, with higher-ranking Goku Uniforms resulting in an even more luxurious lifestyle with even more powerful abilities.

In Kill La Kill, many students and people living under the shadow of Honnōji Academy were of low status and had no Goku Uniforms, which relegated their place to the slums.

In this viewing of a dystopian society, the clothes you don't wear are as influential as the clothes you do wear.

If you are interested in dystopian societies and the role of clothing in particular, I can recommend no tale more fascinating and exhilarating as Kill La Kill.

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There's a lot of control that can be attained by using visual clues. Just like in the military where rank insignia are important, outfits and colors can be used to remind people of their place or caste.

In The Handmaid's Tale (the book) colors are very important. They can remind you where you stand and who to avoid or watch.

  • Commanders: black with white shirts
  • Eyes, Angels, Guardians: black
  • Wives: blue
  • Econowives: striped dresses (red, blue, green)
  • Daughters: white until marriage
  • Aunts: brown
  • Marthas: green, with apron
  • Handmaids: red dresses/gloves/shoes, white wings, white underwear
  • Unwomen/Unmen: gray
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It matters how the government came to power. For example, back when England was colonizing places, they would try to stomp out the native culture in those places. One way to do that would be to outlaw all their art, including personal expression by means of clothing. There's a strong correlation between diversity of thought (free thinking/creative expression) and dissension. So the strictly logical dystopian government decides, without desiring to spend much time speculating about the nature of a person's spirit, that it's safest to restrict creative expression in as many forms as possible.

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Control through selective prosecution

Government has the most control over people it can charge with a crime.

Make a dress code. Change it from time to time. This can be rationalised as "witches/spies/terrorists/[whatever scare your government uses]" would be easier to spot.

However, the main reason is that people wouldn't be able to keep up with ever-changing ruleset, neither financially nor mentally. People would be winging your uniform rules, looking reasonably consistent, but many would have some flaws in their garb.

Thus, your law enforcement would have one more probable cause to stop/search/detain/execute persons of interest. Combine it with some other laws and your police would be able to prosecute anyone. Seasoned officer would know that he has enough tools to find a crime in any lifestyle. More than that, in each of those cases you can argue that the person was punished for not following the rules and disrupting public safety, and definitely not for some sort of activism or whatnot.

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The clothing have been provided by govt approved manufacturers. They advertise that this special clothing is made of special tech that monitors your health and well-being. The clothing fights diseases by killing pathogens from the outside as well as the inside. There has been no reported incident of a heart failure as the clothing has various tech to prevent and cure heart issues.

But the real reason is that they want to monitor people, make sure that they follow the law to the tee and prevent terrorism (read rebellion or free thought).

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Focusing on the “logical” aspect of such a system—eg, perhaps purely logical beings (evolved, mutated, extraterrestrial) or a ruling (machine learning) AI—then “the system” may come to the realization that fashion/attire is heavily influenced by social pressure, and requiring certain attire will inherently create both loyal adherents as well as those who wish to rebel against these (oppressive & seemingly arbitrary) constraints. The system does this to create ongoing conflict within the population to distract from other more vital concerns & abuses of the state. (There are analogs to be found in both current society, as well as (of course) The Matrix). In short, it’s becomes a logical “distraction” from more important issues—even if only a minor one, perhaps meeting some threshold like 2% utility—and the “machine learning objective function” may have evolved to find it sufficiently useful to retain, for the time being.

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The thing is that you need to know that totalitarianism is not founded on common sense, evidence and logic. Collectivist ideals are running wild and manifested into a regime seeking to control every aspect of life, supported by some ideologies (a most common one being Marxism and any other versions of it). It is clear that freedom is not only most moral, but also ecomically most beneficial, but logic has lost the battle.

You don't need any logical reason to justify uniforms, the sheer idea of getting rid of individualism (which is oppositional to collectvisim), the goal of equity or any other reason like "terrorists could wield weapons illegally in government unapproved clothing". It could be even, in case of a religious totalitarianism, the reason of sexual exposure - which is currently a quite dominating ideology called Islam.

Let your fantasy run wild, any horror or dystopia you come up with would be realistic (and reasonable) enough - and chances are good that what you brought up is currently, was already existing in reality.

There are no boundaries for insanity and irrationality in totalitarian systems. If it is inefficient and not sustainable - it does not matter - it lasts as long as it is maintained or collapses, which can be decades or even a century. Or forever in the worst case.

The process is roughly this: You create arbitrary axiomes like "being rich means resources have been stolen from the poor" and derive logic from that. It's a house of cards with a foundation which must never be questioned. It has to be accepted no matter what, because if the foundation is lost, any logic derived from that will fall apart. Such thought constructs are called "ideologies" and are widely common in various magnitudes.

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Since the self-image of a totalitarian government with regard to the level of control it maintains over their citizens for their own good and their view of the relation of individual choice and community is similar to that of an educational institution regarding children, I think you can just read up on the arguments for school uniforms. Those arguments are real enough to be accepted in real life in numerous countries, and not as a punishment but as a way of removing choices that are not helpful and lead to unwanted competition and disturbances.

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People getting triggered.

People in your society can't mentally handle seeing things that they don't like or agree with, things that remind them of things they don't like or agree with, and things that make people feel unequal, among many other things. When they get triggered, they do irrational things like riot, create hashtags, and attempt to destroy said person or entity.

Because of this lack of mental fortitude for ideological diversity in the people, and for fear of losing control of the people, N.A.F. has deemed anything that triggers someone else to be harmful, dangerous, and illegal. Over time people have been triggered by almost every aspect of clothing, so it's standardized on a single style that has been approved to be trigger-free (for now). It contains no animal products, no one has a bigger relative collar size than another, no one is showing more skin % than another, is made from an eco-friendly "natural" material, and has no cost to the consumer so everyone may acquire as many as they wish. Each person has an attractiveness index, which is directly proportional to how unflattering the clothing must be.

Dissenters are given a padded jacket and quietly reeducated.

N.A.F. fears the triggering so badly that it mandates an image of a puppy on the front side of shirts and a cat on the backside. All these measures seem to have helped because hashtag counts are down and riots are rare.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised no one has even touched on dress code as a vehicle for reinforcing conformity toward a specific narrow view of morality - something that's pretty standard fare for totalitarian governments. This answer comes the closest; I would say both fit within a common generalization of fearing, even demonizing diversity. $\endgroup$ – HonoredMule Aug 3 '18 at 21:23
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“You don’t necessarily need the choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this county.” — Bernie Sanders, 2016

It is the conceit of central planners to believe they can simply reallocate perceived inefficiencies toward a more noble result. Why would you waste money producing different clothing choices when there are children starving?

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Smart Hardware / Software would be part of the daily lives so much, the garments contain basically weaponizeable technology, basically every t-shirt carrys the explosive potential of a samsung galaxy phone. So having complete controll of the garments is needed, to prevent a uprising from having ready made molotow shirts - or bundle together into a hacking super-computer.

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