(Emphasis added).dunamis wrote: Nothing wrong with building good relationships, but in my opinion that doesn't start by a superficial presentation of ones self for evaluation or to be judged by others. It should come from real meaningful acts which reach beyond these invisible and illusory boundaries.
It should, but it doesn't. I completely agree with your premise, but disagree with your apparent conclusion (that because it is superficial we should disregard it).
I have done many things, I have worn many hats (both literally and figuratively) and I have been many places. The unfortunate reality I have come to accept is that we humans are still embarrassingly primitive in many respects. I struggle to think of an area in which this is more patently demonstrated than fashion. Most people make many assumptions about others based on little more than how they are dressed. It is almost like a caveman level superstition or something.
I once read about a sociological experiment in which they had someone standing at the entrance to a parking lot and telling people they were not allowed to park there. (It wasn’t true—parking was allowed). In one version, they just had someone wearing normal street clothes. In the other, they had someone wearing a marching band uniform. Interestingly, when the guy wearing street clothes told people they couldn’t park, he tended to be ignored and people would park there anyway. However, when the guy in the marching band uniform did it, most people followed his instructions. Why? The researchers concluded that it was because he was wearing a uniform. To most people, uniforms symbolize authority. What is especially odd is that it was a band uniform. This tells us that the particular uniform doesn’t matter so much. The mere fact that it was some type of uniform cloaked him with the aura of authority.
I have noticed the same behavior in my personal life. I grew up on a farm, I worked in law enforcement for a while and I was in the military. In my off time, I tend to wear jeans, T-shirts and long sleeve T-shirts, running shoes or hiking shoes, cargo shorts, sometimes cargo pants—sometimes 5.11 pants—not because I want to look “tactical” (whatever that means) but because they’re comfortable, practical and durable. So I’m not what you’d call “high society” by any stretch of the imagination. However, because of my job I often have to wear suits and I’m expected to wear nice ones. Just to be clear for the uninitiated, there is a big difference between a suit and simply a jacket with slacks. Just ask Barney Stinson.
There is a marked difference in the way strangers react to me depending on whether I’m being “myself” or whether I’m wearing a suit. Granted, I’ve been wearing suits long enough now that I look and feel (relatively) comfortable in them. (I can tell a difference between someone who wears suits a lot versus someone who doesn’t). But when I’m wearing a suit, strangers tend to treat me as though I’m important—even though I’m not. I know this is all anecdotal, but I want to mention one particular occasion. I was at a restaurant for dinner with a group of about a dozen people and for some reason I was the only one wearing a suit. The waitress (and even the manager, I think) kept looking to me as if I were somehow “in charge” of the entire party. My friends noticed, too, and we all thought it was really strange. For some reason there is something totemic about suits and ties in our society. I think it is stupid—but I’m aware of it and try to make use of it when it is helpful.
Similarly, whenever I wear a Utilikilt, I feel as though people respond differently. Some people are more chatty, some more standoffish. Ten years ago (has it been that long?) I used to get the occasional insult from strangers. Not as often anymore, but I do sometimes get the snarky, “nice skirt, huh huh huh” comments. Think about that. Simply wearing an unconventional garment compels strangers to openly insult someone. It is as if humans believe (perhaps subconsciously) that societal sartorial expectations are so sacrosanct that any deviation from them calls for mocking, derision and efforts to either coerce conformity or to “punish” divergent behavior. It is wrong and I don’t like it, but I am aware of it and I take it into account. As analytical as I try to be and as much as I’d like to think I’m above conformity, it does mean I don’t wear my kilts as often as I’d like. Social pressure—even from strangers—is a powerful psychological force.
Given the powerful response to what is generally recognized as a male garment, consider how strongly ingrained is the way we feel about certain garments that are generally considered to be so gender specific that they necessarily preclude even momentary consideration for wear by the opposite gender. We feel such forceful, primal emotions about these garments that we’re rendered incapable of any type of objective pre-deliberative thought about them. And yet, when all is said and done, they’re just fabric adornment for a human body.
A few months ago I read an article about a guy who dressed in a completely normal manner but who liked to wear fingernail polish. He wrote about an instance on the subway where a woman he did not know asked him about it and insulted him (she may have even yelled at him, I don’t recall). And that isn’t even clothing—it is just some color on a small percentage of the body. Why such an emotional response about what a total stranger does to adorn himself?
We are just simple creatures on a small planet in an enormous universe full of mystery and undiscovered secrets about the nature of time and space. We live in a universe that is either infinite or it isn’t. We live in a universe that has either always existed or didn’t. There are planets light years away that may be capable of sustaining human life. We’re complex creatures made of millions of atoms. We can only exist under the right pressure under certain specific, delicate, conditions. We’re capable of amazing feats of philosophy and technological advances like space travel, prosthetic limbs and artificial intelligence. Yet, in a galaxy so full of wonder, we humans place so much significance on what other humans wear. We can’t tolerate the thought of someone straying too far away from established norms about how we are supposed to cover our fragile corporeal forms. It is foolishness beyond comprehension. But it is the world in which we live.
All of this is a long way of saying that no matter how logical it may be to say that we should not be judged based on what we wear, we are. This does not mean that we should always conform to expectations. (In fact, I submit that we benefit from opportunities to challenge our deeply held, preconceived notions). But wisdom dictates that we be aware of such expectations and permit that awareness to inform our behavior. It is superficial. It is illusory. But that’s true of most human interaction, in my opinion. Reflecting on and questioning these norms is wise. But I think it is also wise to know when to break the rules and when to follow them. I follow them at work and work-related functions. And I break them when I’m on my time, when the mood strikes me and when confidence fills me. I think the best way to build new relationships with other humans is to start by demonstrating one’s mastery of social expectations. That fosters confidence and comfort. Then, as time goes on and one learns more about someone, one may discard pieces of that façade to allow some expression of one’s true personality. And slowly as confidence builds and positive bonds are forged, one may be comfortable in being more and more one’s self. Some few will appreciate it. Those few are the ones we call friends.
Hell, eventually we may even tell them we like to frequent a certain zombie themed preparedness forum.