What’s the deal with robes? F’real!
In Philosopher’s Stone, we get told that wizards go around wearing robes, which made sense because we all have images of Merlin and Gandalf and the Wizard of Id wearing big curtainy things, so it seemed very Wizardy for part of Harry’s induction into the wizarding world to involve getting some Hogwarts robes. And then the movies came along, and someone must have realised that the kids might not be down with a flick where the hero wears a dress all the time, so they turned Hogwarts uniforms into a private school, pressed trousers, plaid-skirts, and striped ties affair. Which was certainly less silly, but made no sense.
And that’s because J.K. Rowling gives her readers regular jokes about how wizards don’t know how to dress in muggle clothes, and so come up with preposterous outfits for when they have to venture into public. There’s even this bit with a wizard who had never worn pants before, and was complaining about how they cramped his privates or something.
But that was OK; we could accept that there was one rule for the books (wizards wear robes) and one for the movies (wizards usually wear muggle clothes). Except in the movies, all the older and more magicky characters like Dumbledore and Voldemort wear robes all the time. And then in the books, Rowling started describing her characters wearing jumpers (sweaters) and t-shirts and ties at school, though robes were still mentioned, albeit less frequently. Had she been influenced by the movies and forgotten about the robes, or did she just decide it was a silly idea, or what?
We could suppose, I guess, that Harry and Hermione wear muggle clothes because they were raised by muggles and probably don’t want to make a wholesale wardrobe change just because they can now open doors by shouting
Accio! Alohamora!1 But the Weasleys, an all-wizard family, also wear muggle clothes. Except for maybe Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, because I’m pretty sure we had a few of those ha-ha-Mr.-Weasley’s-wearing-galoshes-with-a-bowling-hat-and-a-dressing-gown scenes somewhere in the series.
In that case, perhaps the shift in clothing preferences is a sign of a major generation gap? So while all the adults are going around in regular wizarding robes, the kids have adopted strange new muggle styles, which they somehow know how to wear exactly like muggles, even though the social strata is structured so that the people who know the least about muggles are on top? I guess the First Voldemort War or whatever it was called when Tom Riddle went and avada kedavrad Harry’s mum is a juncture big enough to make Harry’s generation a pretty wild and out-there bunch,2 but we don’t really see any inter-generational fissures resulting from it, if that’s the case.
Actually, we don’t get to see much at all in the way of what must be a major culture shock for the muggle-borns who do go to Hogwarts. I mean, that’s so we know that there’s no difference between muggle-borns and folks who have grown up in wizarding families, but surely there must be quite a shock in so rapidly acclimatising to a radically different dominant culture? Hogwarts effectively creates a class of immigrant orphans every year and expects them to assimilate into a mainstream they weren’t aware of until a couple of weeks earlier.
Of course, the fact that this is the stuff I really want to know about Harry Potter is part of the reason they don’t let me write these kind of books.
1. Really, isn’t alohomora the stupidest spell ever? They teach it to first years, so everyone knows how to do it, and we know doors can be alohomora-proofed. So what use is alohomora when alohomora-proofing your door is just going to become the new locking your door? This ain’t a wizarding school, it’s a goddamn arms race.
2. Which means that denim jeans are the wizarding world’s version of the zoot suit, I guess.
POST CORRECTED: See here.