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Expressing Identity Through Clothing - A Living Interface Of Communication
The way that we dress reflects who we are. The interface of what we show the world is something we can choose and modify based on our mood or the context of the day. Over 60% of Americans are wearing clothes as self-expression. Labels are more than just a store name, they're akin to a badge of identity. But what if we want to express something entirely different? This is why it's important to find the right outfit that meets the occasion.
It's no secret, that through the use of clothing, we communicate how we see ourselves, who we choose to associate with and what our values are. As we're looking for ways to express our identities, we seem to find ourselves wearing what we're trying to personify. In this article, I will explore how clothing has evolved from a tool to express our identities, to accompanying the body, to influencing others.
Clothing is how we show the world who we are. It's how we declare our status. It's a conversation, that we're having with each other, even when nobody else is looking. So why don't we do it better? Why do we feel compelled to walk around in our birthday suits, when so many people are going about half-dressed? It's a silly question, because the answer is obvious. It's been this way for hundreds of years. If we don't wear what we feel comfortable in, then nobody else will think we're worth coming close to. This isn't just about being "comfortable". It's about being "in-style". Nobody wants to wear what's out of place. Nobody wants to be a square.
The word for the period during which clothing has adapted to the latest fashions is "Regiment". It was a time when people dressed for the occasions they planned to attend. A lord would wear a different coat for each function he would attend, just like the man he hired to run his hunting lodge. When nobody expected it, men were put into full-dress coats for royal audiences. During the regiments, people still wore somber colors, but they were the only ones who were allowed to wear those colors. The king and the queen wore the brightest reds and yellows, like common livestock.
But when people start to move away from clothing as an expression of self, you have "fashion". Those who don't conform have been forced to wear rags. But the fashion industry is now taking what was once unacceptable and making it into the new, normal. Clothes are no longer a way to define ourselves except through their absence. They've become another form of background noise, that helps us tune out the world around us.
We're so busy worrying whether or not we're making the right decisions about what to wear, that we forget the most important decision of all - who are we expressing our identities for? Ultimately, our clothing choices are a direct reflection of our values. But which are to be valued and which are to be eschewed? Why do you think fashion houses such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton are still around? Because they can show the world a refined and luxurious version of the human soul. Something beyond what the world has deemed acceptable. A desire to flaunt one's self is nothing new; it's human nature. And that quality has certainly shown up in our interpretation of what an appropriate social gathering is.
Fashion has always been about creating the illusion of wealth and status and the high-end manufacturers can help us do so without looking like we're exhibiting poor personal hygiene. Of course, it goes without saying that there is a fine line between tasteful and ridiculous. So much of what we wear could be seen as eccentric or simply out of style. However, these labels are not always a reliable indication, that what we're wearing is fine. Some of the biggest offenders in this area have been the "popular" designers, who charge outrageous sums of money for clothing, that is then worn ironically. But with the democratization of styles and media, it's easy to discern the bad taste in what we're wearing.
So how do we know what our style is? The answer seems so simple yet so complicated. Is the perfect look to be found by imitating what you've always worn or what you're seeing around you? There is no answer that satisfies everyone. If it's the former, then do you wear a button-down shirt or an ascot? If it's the latter, then is it the pleated Chanel pants or the raw denim of the Japanese silky? Ultimately, there is no "right answer" other than what you feel good in. While it's fun to try new things, there's nothing wrong with returning to the familiar.
When we think about the evolution of clothing, we tend to focus on the meaning that it has for the one wearing it. But the clothing in our wardrobes has different meaning for us. When we buy a suit, we're buying the sign of respectability. We're selling the image of a powerful, competent adult that can take on the world. But what about when we put it on? What are we selling when we remove our clothing? Do we still feel powerful and competent? Yes, probably for only a moment. The reality of dressing for success presents itself and is much stronger, than any of our illusions.
So what kind of impression do we give off? Do we broadcast our status as men? The women can read our status pretty easily. So it's just about managing our expectations amongst each other. Nobody expects us to come out on top in a wrestling match with a female lawman. We don't come to blows with our male counterparts over the rights to a women's body.
It's a much more peaceful existence. So we put on our best show and even if nobody is looking, we do it for posterity. We want our grandchildren to be entertained by our exploits. And if we can leave behind a legacy of stories to tell them, so much the better. You might have a much different response to the world than you expect, but it will be a response nonetheless.
By controlling what we wear, we're controlling half of our communication. Nobody expects you to be yourself, if you're wearing ratty old clothes, nobody expects you to be respectable, if you're wearing overalls. You have only so many identities to give, and you're not going to pawn one of them off on anybody. This decision is your choice, but it has an impact on everyone else.
In a way, people are reacting to the clothes you wear, whether they know it or not. Their reaction is a direct result of you putting on the clothes. Now the interesting thing is that you don't have to care what anyone thinks of you. You're above such things. However, you do need to consider the consequences of your actions before you make yourself look ridiculous, or worse, dangerous.
It would be foolish to fall into the same trap, that you escaped. This is not to say that you can't experiment with your style. Just don't get distracted by halfhearted attempts to rebel against societal norms. These experiments probably won't last too long.
Wear what you feel comfortable in, by itself is probably not a viable solution. But, you could take this small step toward becoming more accepted by wearing clothes, that a more mainstream culture would find acceptable. Then, maybe, you'll find a community to merge with. Maybe you can even gain a reputation for being a swinger/rebel without actually being one. That could work.
It is important, though, not to lose yourself in the process. The process is to become somebody else. So be sure you're comfortable with who you are before you try to become somebody new.
There are many different ways you could go. A mixture of colors and patterns would look good. A more minimalist approach to clothes would be to wear only certain types of shirts and suits. Maybe even mixing those with ties and other more casual clothes. The possibilities are really endless. There's only one important thing to remember: you have to be comfortable in who you are.