Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
Our wardrobes are important assets, possibly more than we realize. A wardrobe protects us from the elements, keeps us from exposing ourselves in the presence of others, and plays a vital role in influencing our behavior. Besides doing this, and often without us knowing, a wardrobe greatly affects how others perceive us. The clothing we wear, whether lounging around the house or on a trip around the world, influences our behavior and the perception of us by others.
As members of the human race we are required by society to clothe ourselves. Johnson said, "Naked people have little or no influence in society" (58). He also said, "The clothes make the man" (58). If this be true, how exactly do the clothes make him? One way is to make the man feel a specific way and that feeling may provide adequate confidence for presenting himself accordingly.
There are those who hold the idea that being dressed in a particular style will not change a person into a whole new being. I am only a small person with a small set of manners to draw from. However, a significant change happens when I dress in leather and fur. I find myself making every effort to stand tall, walk gracefully and present myself as a lady. My clothing makes me feel valuable, even if I am only covered in dead animals.
The President of the United States knows what he wears is important. Along with consulting advisors, he also consults fashion advisors. These consultants must keep two key points in mind. They must consider how to dress the President so he will appear trustworthy self-assured, comfortable and confident. Henry David Thoreau said, "It is an interesting question how far men would retain their rank if they were divested of their clothes" (102). The President's fashion advisors know what Thoreau knew.
Many politicians have long recognized the importance of clothing. When Lamar Alexander ran for governor of Tennessee in 1978, "conducting a grass-roots campaign, he walked across the state wearing a work man's attire--a red and black plaid Levi's shirt" (Rubinstein 4). He won the election which encouraged him to run for the Republican presidential candidate in 1996 and again in 1999. Alexander wore the same shirt which led many to believe he was using style instead of facts to win the nomination. He in fact lost (4).
Fashions vary greatly. If frilly undergarments don't do it for you, sweat pants and hoodies may. Once considered the attire of locker rooms and gym class, they are now commonly worn to the mall, out to dinner, and even to church. My sister is seventeen and to this day, when I picture her, she is wearing sweats. My sister, Laura, has spent every possible moment of her life in sweats.
Sweat pants may be a prerequisite for an ideal day in my sister's life but the same cannot be said of my mother. She avoids sweat pants at all costs. The lazy feeling they provide is not conducive to my mother's lifestyle. Wearing garments which cause her to feel awake, alert and energized are essential to her productivity. Both work and casual clothing provide positive results.
While clothing can afford us positive results, my mother relayed a story to me of how one's clothing can have a negative impact. The parents of a teenage boy recently shared with her their parenting techniques. Their son Damien had acquired a habit of wearing his pants low around his waist and decorating them with chains from side to side. He also began arranging studs in various places on his clothing. Damien's parents began to notice that when he wore those items he became rebellious. When not wearing the decorations he returned to his normal self. They quickly put a stop to his dressing style by threat of punishment, and instantly, their son was back to his old self. Damien's bad behavior had been the result of the way his clothing influenced him.
We are not the only ones affected by our clothes; others are also influenced. Social scientists generally "take it for granted that an individual's clothing expresses meaning" (Rubinstein 3). "A picture is worth a thousand words" recognizes a concept which is easily adaptable to clothing. The manner in which we dress is a communication system, a two way street which affects the behavior of the one wearing the garment and the behavior of the one seeing the garment.
This universal language has been practiced since the first person wore clothes. "Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing--and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires and current mood" (Lurie 3). I may not consciously register all this information, but I will recognize it just as you will. When the time comes for us to speak actual words, we will have already spoken in one of the oldest and most universal forms of communication (3).
We are each impressionable characters and there is no one immune from prejudging, though we may try not to. A close friend once told me she considered one's appearance on the outside as crucial as one's personality and abilities on the inside. This philosophy resulted in her getting a job, in spite of intense competition for the position. Eileen attended a job interview where she impressed her interviewers with both her dress and abilities. Her rival, though more qualified for the job than Eileen, was not as well groomed in dress and appearance. Even though my friend had ample skills for the job she was hired more for her impeccable wardrobe than her abilities. We as humans often pass judgments based upon appearances.
When a person's station in life, role or attitude changes, it can often be reflected in the adoption of a different style of dress. In the 1980's many women who held jobs outside of their homes sought to prove this did not equate to being a feminist. They created a unique clothing style to prove their point, one which is no longer popular. They wore dark colored formal wear from the hips up accompanied by threatening purses. This was countered by an entirely different style from the hips below where mini skirts, sheer tights, and the highest heels around were sported. The idea was, when she sat behind her desk and dealt with the public she appeared sturdy and stout. However, when she arose from her desk, such as in the presence of her boss and coworkers, she assumed an entirely different look--one that said she was playful and girlie (Lurie xi).
The longing for self-transformation has been a part of the American people since the earliest days of our democratic beginnings (Elliott 485). Not surprisingly, this includes our own unique styles and the way we choose to dress. Especially in today's times, we are required to build our own images--our individual identity--based upon our appearance. Our images are seen as "an object of individual control" (486). Interestingly, if we are well dressed in front of others who are not, we feel good about ourselves and sometimes even feel powerful. In the presence of those who surpass us in style and dress, we often feel negative feelings towards ourselves and may even feel humiliated! In diverse circumstances this personal style can cause us to feel either elevated or inferior. Our own personal style and dress are important and, whether we like it or not, they play a vital role in the way we perceive ourselves and in the way others perceive us.
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Elliot, Carl. "Putting Your Best Face Forward." Elements of Argument. Ed. Annette T. Rottenberg and Donna Haisty Winchell. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. 2006. 484-486.
Fussell, Paul. Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2002.
Johnson. "Clothes." The All-American Quote Book. Ed. Michael Ragan and Bob Phillips. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1995. 58.
Kula, Marisa. "Victoria's Not-So-Secret Strategy." The Bedford Guide for College Writers. Ed. X. J. Kennedy, Dorthy M. Kennedy and Sylvia A. Holladay. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2002. 510-513.
Lurie, Alison. The Language of Clothes. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1981.
Pope, Alexander. "Fashion." Phillips' Great Thoughts and Funny Sayings. Ed. Bob Phillips. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993. 125.
Robin, Jennifer. Clothe Your Spirit. San Francisco: Spirit Press. 1987.
Rubinstein, Ruth. Dress Codes. Boulder: West View Press. 2001.
Spiker, Ted. "How Men Really Feel About Their Bodies." Elements of Argument. Ed. Annette T. Rottenberg and Donna Haisty Winchell. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's. 2006. 499-503.
Thoreau, Henry David. "Clothes." Phillips' Book of Great Thoughts and Funny Sayings. Ed. Bob Phillips. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993. 102.
Unknown. "Clothes." Phillips' Book of Great Thoughts and Funny Sayings. Ed. Bob Phillips. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993. 70.