We live in a time where there is a global push towards freedom of individuals to live how they see fit—provided that they do not infringe on the rights of others. While this seems entirely fair on the surface, there are indeed some grey areas to this general rule. Also, the pursuit of personal liberty can cause some unintended negative consequences for those who make this choice. Such effects can range from minor to far-reaching situations, to even circumstances that may be life-threatening. One of those choices that often puts individuals at odds with others, particularly strangers and constituted authority, is how we choose to appear—how we decide to dress when we look in public.
Throughout history and even in present times, people have used dressing to convey overt or covert messages. The Greeks used their bright white robes to convey nobility. Monks dressed and still dress merely to express piety and detachment from worldly pursuits. Muslim women wore and yet wear Hijabs to convey modesty. This can gain respect from others by just stepping into a room. On the other hand, the sight of a group of men in Viking attire usually struck fear in the minds of innocent villagers. Pirates and women of the night also appeared in a way that immediately sets off alarm bells to say the very least. In current times, things are not so distinct—fashion and pop culture have evolved in such a way that there are no clear codes to determine who is who. We are only left with our gut instinct, which could be misleading at times.
The topic of dressing is a very sensitive one, as many people see their fashion sense as merely an expression of individuality, not a character trait, and will be quick to state that it should not serve as a judge of their character. The famous saying that you cannot judge a book by its cover is something that many are quick to reiterate. However, is it a realistic way of going about life? Can we expect that the world sees us as responsible people when we put in enormous effort to make ourselves look otherwise? Keep in mind that we encounter strangers every day who do not know much about us and can only form an opinion about us solely by what they see, at least until they have a proper interaction with us. Perception is everything. How we portray ourselves is what will carve a perceptive monument in the minds of others about who we are.
“The way that people dress makes them part of an army, dressed in their own uniform, determined to do something.” — Suzy Menkes
There have been some interesting scientific studies which have investigated why people—fairly or unfairly—tend to judge the character of others by their appearance. Research by the New York University, studying how people form impressions of others, found that upon the first contact with a stranger, the posterior cingular cortex and amygdala in the brain sort information by its subjective importance and summarize it into an ultimate score—a first impression. This is a sort of self-defense mechanism that allows us to determine whether a person could be dangerous to us or not. It is formed based on years of experience and can be influenced by our worldview of stereotypes. There is also an array of psychological surveys confirming the impact of clothing choices on the way we perceive each other. Perception is everything.
Again, these assessments may ultimately prove to be wrong or unfair, but they do exist and form a basis of how humans can determine whom they would like to associate with. It could be the difference between a person getting their dream job or not, based on how the interviewer assesses them. It could be the difference concerning whether people would take you seriously or not in the place of work or not. It could even be what is barring someone from getting the promotion that they honestly deserve. This could also mean the world difference between getting the phone number of your dream girl and being turned down. Perception is everything, and to be honest, perception eventually becomes our realities.
So, now that we know our outward appearance affects how we are perceived, what can we do with this information coming your way via this column? How do we prevent ourselves from unfair labels of criminality, drug abuse or even sexual promiscuity? Well, it is important to reiterate that the choice to dress how we want is still ours, provided it is within the boundaries of the law. However, we may perhaps want to consider a more pragmatic approach so as not to deprive ourselves of the things we work hard for in life just because of the need to be non-conformist. This information is worth ruminating on—maybe is time to make a hundred and eighty degrees turn when it comes to how we dress.
Finally, it must be said that outward appearance does not always portray what is inside. A criminal in a fancy suit is still a criminal, while a poor beggar with a good heart may appear scary but might just need a shower and some fresh clothes. A young girl who dresses promiscuously may be less so than one who is always covered up. On the flip side, one could be dressed up all nice and covered up but is lacking decency and morality. Looks and perception may be everything or even our realities but could be deceiving either way. In the words of Kajal Aggarwal, “I dress according to what suits me and what I am comfortable in.” Truth be told, we are at liberty to dress with what makes us comfortable. However, we must be wise to pass it through the litmus test of morality, moderation, and decency.
“I dress according to what suits me and what I am comfortable in.” — Kajal Aggarwal
Come to think of it, we live in an age where we see billionaires who own billion-dollar empires and are just clad in the simplest of attires. For instance, think about Mark Zuckerberg who loves his gray T-Shirt and blue jean slacks—minimalism at its core. His dress sense is simple, leaning very close to the saying of a Lindsey Wixson that “I dress myself, not to impress, but for comfort and for style.” His dress sense might not impress you, however his knack, ingenuity, drive, creativity, innovation and the will to become the best he is made to be will blow your mind. But I bet you some who work at Facebook, earning only an infinitesimal fraction of Zuck’s net worth splurge on the latest designer outfits. You may see Zuck on the street and take him for an average Joe—but his bank account speaks in the billion-dollar lingo. Looks at times maybe deceiving.
However, in the world we live in, the competition for success is so tight that we cannot afford to be obstacles to our own success by creating a wrong impression to others who could be future friends, partners, investors or clients. After we hit gold, we could choose to go minimalist like billionaire man Zuck, Mark Cuban, or Jack Ma style, or we could also just decide to be ourselves and dress as we desire and allow others to form whatever perception they so choose—the choice is ours to make. The general rule should be to dress for comfort and express our creativity and individuality in a way that makes us respectable and inviting to others, and not in a way that immediately elicits a contrary or adverse reaction. Our appearance can either be a hindrance or a propelling factor to us. In the simplest of terms, it is always best to dress the way we want to be addressed—end of story.