What do you choose to wear? Depends, right? I find I’m thinking through a bunch of questions as I mindlessly throw something on in the morning.
So, am I exercising or yoga-ing? What’s the weather like? How much time do I have to get ready?
Easy ones to start off with. Functionality is (usually) key. Sometimes I need to keep warm, sometimes I need to be able to move freely. Usually, I want to be comfortable. There are some clothes that exist only for specific activities like playing football or going on a beach holiday.
What clothes do I have to choose from? What have I bought recently? What do I like?
I have a set of clothes from which to choose from each morning which, unsurprisingly, is everything I own. Of all I own, typically only a small portion is real choice set, based on what I like and what is new. The rest I should probably get rid of. But maybe I’ll lose the weight, and those trousers will fit again. Maybe I’ll enjoy wearing purple flowery shirts next year.
Is it fashionable?
Now it starts getting interesting. My clothes need to be in line with an arbitrary and dynamic set of norms determined by a handful of influential companies, designers and celebrities – each of whom has a vested interest in regularly changing these norms for financial gain. How permeated is following these norms in my very existence, my desire to be part of the herd, my aching to be popular? How easily am I preyed on by Tom Ford and John Galliano (yes, I’m showing my age and lack of up to date fashion knowledge)? Am I strong enough to fight them off? My jeans have varied in bagginess, colour and levels of distress over time so my answers to these questions are unlikely to be rosy.
Is it the weekend, or am I at work? What are other people likely to be wearing? Will I fit in? Does it make me stand out?
I adapt what I wear to my social situation, and how others see that same situation. Big dinners at my own extended family’s houses are, for instance, more casual than those at my wife’s extended family’s houses and I will dress accordingly. I am, begrudgingly, a slave to expectations. I will wear what the situation demands and what makes people happy.
Workwear is becoming increasingly confusing for me. I have no idea where to draw the line between wearing what I want to vs. wearing what’s expected. As I’ve become more comfortable in myself, I’ve come to focus less on dressing to impress.
I do know one thing: I hate the suit in a work context. I hate it. With a passion. I feel it represents something negative about us. It is about conformity. It creates arbitrary and meaningless standards of “professionalism” that we judge people on. It is drab uniformity. It is peacocking power and wealth, especially as it takes a large investment to get a suit that fits well (unless you are very luckily mannequin-shaped). Worst, it is often a marker for separating work life from personal life, and thus becomes representative of us being happy to leave our morals out of the picture when we are in the world of work – “it’s business” we say, hiding in our corporate uniforms. Add to this the “let me show you how fun I am underneath” ties and socks and you have, well, you know – I don’t want to swear. Yet I do wear suits, occasionally, and ties too. Yes, I’m weak. I crumble (in specific circumstances).
I’m wearing what everyone else is. But… I need to add something that stands out. Not too much, mind. A colourful pocket square, maybe. A bright pink jumper. Slightly funky shoes. The aforementioned ties and socks. I’m an individual! Sort of. Look at me! But not in a judgemental way. Same, same but a little bit different.
What does this outfit say about me?
Whether we like it or not, we are judged. Or at least, I feel judged. No matter what we wear, it makes a statement. Even if we don’t care about what we wear, that’s a statement in itself. I think about the image I’m projecting to the world. I don’t want to seem too fashionable, I’m too vain to ignore what others think, I’m too chicken to be way out there. I fall in a weird in-betweeny world where I’m not cool, nor eccentric. My style is boring mixed with a bit more boring.
Some of us wear brands. We proudly show logos to the world. We are happy to be walking billboards in return for some weird kudos, some statement about what this brand says about me. I was happy to be a walking billboard, but no longer. Fuck off Calvin Klein, do your own marketing. Ironically, even that is making a statement about who I am. There is no escape.
Does it make me look good?
The real answer for every item of clothing is no it does not. No fault of the clothes. Every fault with my body shape. Oh well.
What are the ethical consequences?
Wow, now we are really cooking. I reflect now and then on the supply chain. Who made my shirt? How much did he or she get paid? Where was the cotton picked? Where was it turned into yarn? The guilt-laced consumerism that is central to who I am takes hold of me and shakes me, this way and that. Buying stuff creates jobs! But what quality of job? Buying stuff creates wealth! But also generates ridiculous externalities that I can’t even begin to comprehend. I want to buy ethically! But I’m a sucker for a deal. My head is a mess. I cannot compute. So I blank it out. But now and then, often when I least expect it, it finds me and shakes me once more.
Just another morning. Think I’m going to go back to bed.