(This post contains no pictures to protect the innocent.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about fashion lately. You wouldn’t think it to look at what I wear, because I’m hardly what one would call “fashionable,” but I pay attention. I notice trends and styles and fads. I marvel at how much importance we can place on the length of a hem or the shape of a bag.
Don’t even get me started on the term “statement necklace.”
It’s with that in mind that I drank a cup of coffee in a restaurant in an American suburb on a Saturday morning and watched the parade of people go by. All of them were adorned in one costume or another. Each of them were making a statement about who they are.
There were hipsters and seniors, harried moms and hungover students, people making deals and people just trying to deal.
There were blue jeans and leggings, fleece and cashmere, boots and sandals and a dizzying array of sneakers. Hair came in bottle blond, bottle pink, steel gray, streaked amber and several more mundane shades of brown. Some of it was pulled into a utilitarian ponytail and some of it was shaved and gelled into a rather striking mohawk.
Don’t even get me started on the term “man bun.”
Each of these people — whether they picked up yesterday’s outfit off the bedroom floor and threw it on in order to not get arrested for public nudity on the way to get coffee, or whether they carefully chose that sweater and those pants to meet their realtor at the coffee shop that morning — each of them was making a statement.
They were telling the world something about themselves through the choices they made. They chose to blend in or stand out. They expressed their values by displaying the label of a designer or a team.
Whether they grew their beard extra long and wore gold lamé hi-top sneakers, came in with the perm and big bangs that they’ve had since college in the late 80s, or put on the cardigan that their dad wore before he died, they were telling the world a little something about themselves.
Or at least that’s the story I told myself while sipping an oversized latte and watching the rain. (Wearing, for the record, a pair of dark wash jeans, long-sleeve t-shirt and anorak, which put me firmly in the practical-over-pretty category.)
Clothes don’t really make the man and fashion is at least as often ridiculous as it is beautiful. And yet we rely on the clues provided by what others wear to determine many things very quickly: their self-worth, their judgment, their economic status, their demographic status, their values.
Right or wrong, we look at people and based on what they’re wearing, categorize them as friend or foe, potential lover or someone to be avoided, responsible or a hot mess. And those statements often speak much louder than the words coming out the person’s mouth.
So what are we to do with this? Is this a call to dress more consciously? Maybe. A wish that we could all just wear a uniform and put our brains and money to better use? A little. More than that, it’s a distinction.
What we wear is a statement. How others perceive it is a story.
You have control over what you wear, but not the stories others make up about it. You can’t control what other people wear, but you can become aware of the stories you tell yourself about how people look. Part of being present with someone is noticing their costume, certainly. But it’s also looking them in the eye, listening to what they have to say, and observing how they treat others.
A statement is not a story. A first impression is not understanding. Making a judgement about someone based on their clothing is like convicting someone based on one piece of circumstantial evidence. You might be right about them, but you’ll never know for sure.
We are more than our statements.
But don’t get me started on “lingerie as outerwear.” (I’m not even kidding. It’s a thing.)