It's illegal to walk around naked in public, but what if someone is literally too poor to afford clothes?

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    Voted to close because this is opinion based. Most civilised societies provide the extreme basics to their population, and there are ample second hand clothes available to even the poorest places on earth, so this is somewhat academic. I posit if you were to poor to afford clothes (and thus food), society would be doing you a service by arresting you - you would at least get clothing, shelter and food.
    – davidgo
    Aug 24, 2018 at 3:45
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    I don't have the answer or know where to start, but this is actually a really interesting question. I don't see how it's opinion-based at all. The OP is asking whether a certain set of conditions would would constitute an affirmative defense to a criminal charge. That's a pretty classic legal question.
    – bdb484
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:26
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    I didn't vote to close, but I think the comment by @davidgo is right in that the situation as described is too unrealistic to be of any practical (and I would add "of any theoretical") interest. Indecent exposure --with all the widespread assistance by charitable entities for a person's utmost elementary needs-- triggers concerns of potential sexual aggression, disorderly conduct (regardless of whether it would be initiated by the naked person or by others finding that conduct repugnant), spreading of diseases, whether the naked person is a drug addict, and so forth. Aug 24, 2018 at 15:27
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    More realistic would be being at a nudist beach, and your clothes are stolen.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 27, 2018 at 14:46
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    @gnasher729 Actually that's a qualitatively different situation, more akin to people who escape after being abducted for instance. Because you were left unclothed by being victim of a crime, you would not be punished for it (rather the clothing thief would be).
    – Consis
    Aug 31, 2018 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


This situation is unlikely to come about in practice. If you were born into such extreme poverty, your parents would considered guilty of child neglect, and CPS/social services would take you into foster services where you would be given clothes.

If you previously had clothes, but recently became poor, it is very unlikely that any creditors would repossess your last shirt off your back. It would probably be illegal for them to leave you in that situation, and a used shirt wouldn't be worth much. For the same reason, it's unlikely you would sell your last shirt to, eg. pay for food: Who would buy it? For how much?

In many countries, there are extensive welfare systems and private charities that private food, free clothing and other resources to the very poor. Even before you lost your last clothes, you could go to these for assistance. So again you are unlikely to involuntarily end up in this position.

Also, technically the amount of clothes you are required to wear is usually very small. I believe you are usually only required to cover the groin and breasts if female. In theory you could easily collect a discarded plastic bag, piece of paper, scrap fabric, cardboard box or some other trash to fashion a crude loincloth.

Lastly, when the police do show up and arrest you, you will likely have the opportunity to explain to them your situation. They would probably try to get you some basic clothing and other assistance. But if they do end up pressing charges, you would be able to either convince the judge to let you off or challenge the law itself for failing to consider poor people like you.

Generally, laws are designed such that there is always an option to follow them and nobody would be "too poor" to comply, failing to do this could make a politician extremely unpopular. Many laws with significant cost burden offer alternatives to the poor. Courts will also tend to be sympathetic to cases such as this. But as I said, the situation is very unlikely to come about.

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