The Art of Uniform:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
- Mark Twain
As student’s we wear what our school tells us. In time a few of us will have jobs that require certain clothes. But what is the power of these clothes? They might lend authority to a certain person, like a police officer or bus driver. Or maybe they are functional like the protection offered by fire fighters uniforms or an army officer. But there are those of us who are not given a uniform and yet we wear one anyway.
A lot of people think they are free from uniform, when they have found a job and a life that no longer requires them to put on the same items of clothing everyday. And yet the uniform we pretend not to wear binds us all. Have a look in your closet? Is there a color you tend to favor, or a style? Perhaps your closet seems divided between what you wear at home and what you wear for work. Perhaps you have a collection of clothes you only wear when you go a particular place like clubbing, yoga, or to visit the in-laws. But do you consider this a uniform?
Think for a moment about that great and wonderful species known as the teenager. At the first taste of choice they a pulled towards distinguishing themselves by appearance. They identify each other by what they wear. Think of the cliques, you know the stereotypes I mean, jocks, nerds, emos and theatre geeks. While exaggerated by television and film the truth is it does exist. At that age it is easy to distinguish who you are by what you wear. And we do not grow out of this. We are persistently stalked by uniform even if we are unaware of it. As adults the costumes become subtler but they are still present. These clothes we choose are like costumes to an actor. After all;
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players.
- William Shakespeare
Why is this important? Well as always, any greater awareness of yourself and why you do what you do is a wonderful thing but there are a lot of other reasons why becoming aware of uniform, and your uniform specifically is important.
Girls do not dress for boys. They dress for themselves and, of course, each other. If girls dressed for boys they’d just walk around naked at all times.
- Betsey Johnson
If we all dressed for ourselves our clothes would merely be practical wrappings designed to protect us from the elements. But clothes are self-expression. I’m not talking about fashion but style. Personal style. Even if you have no interest in clothes and your only concern when buying a new garment is fit and comfort that is still a style. Your style. The thing you place above others, the thing that defines you.
To quote an unusual source, I look to One Tree Hill, a television show that started in 2003, and the eighth episode of the first season when one of the characters attends a party and meets someone new who shares the same taste in music:
Gabe: I was wrong about you. I guess the, uh, clothes through me off. Peyton: I’m into the music, not the uniform.
This right here is the perfect summary of our generalized ability to identify others by what they wear and what similar interest we might share as well as the inherent flaw in that system. We look for superficial similarities and bond accordingly when there are often things that we share on a deeper layer our appearance. While in this case the stranger merely misjudged a character’s taste in music there are other cases where judge much more strongly and about deeper principles simply because of how someone looks.
It is the eye of other people that ruins us. If I were blind I would want, neither fine clothes, fine houses or fine furniture.
- Benjamin Franklin
Our uniform is for the perception of others; I find it doubtful that anyone wears a uniform to remind their self who they are, what they like or what they stand for. But for others it is a way to prove whom you are before you even open your mouth. As a species we are designed to make judgments on face value in order to distinguish between friend and foe so that we may know whether we should befriend, fight or flight. What we wear such as a particular brand with a logo across our chest, a pair of ripped jeans or a suit allows us to identify other people with similar interests and lives so that we can find common ground. Equally we can choose to avoid certain people because of what they wear. And here is the first hurdle at which we fall when we are unaware of uniform.
It is often hard to see out of our own lives because they are the most important things happening to us at this time. But judging others based on their appearance so that we might avoid them only leads to avoiding new influences in our lives. I have a lot of people in my life to which I share barely any common interests. And this choice is made purposefully. I am an artist of sorts and yet I have friends who are lawyers in suits, famers in work boots and personal trainers that permanently live in sweats. By looking past the uniform upon first meeting these people I’ve been able to expand my horizons, my connections to the world, and allow more of the world into my life without the expensive cost of travel. So here is the first warning of uniform: don’t let someone’s appearance allow you to define him or her forever. As you get to know them and find their contradictions allow your opinion to change and your world open to a contrasting viewpoint.
So why do we continue to project onto the world a particular image of ourselves? It is ego driven, often an unconscious choice, and it serves us to connect to those who are like-minded and avoid others who will challenge us when we are unwilling to change. But there is one other very important thing; it’s easier.
I wanted to wear a uniform when I was in High school, but I couldn’t. I was like, ‘It would be so much easier!’
I cannot imagine that there are many people in the world who have never, not even once, fussed over what they were going to wear. Clothes can signal not only who we are but also what we’re feeling. Our day to day dressing would easily become tedious if we had to constantly labor over what we we’re telling the world by our clothes. These self-imposed uniforms serve us. They allow us to not question who we are every morning. So why bother changing our clothes if they do in fact serve us?
You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.
- Zig Ziglar
Whether consciously or subconsciously you have chosen clothes that represent you and how you want others to perceive you. By changing what we wear we can change people’s perspective of us. This can in turn change the way we are treated. Uniforms can instill authority, be equalizers or create a sense of belonging. Officers wear uniforms and you know who they are and what they stand for. Kids wear a uniform to school and it is claimed to prevent hierarchy based on socioeconomic status. Or a person chooses a uniform, such as a hipster wearing triple denim, and they can feel as if they belong to a movement, just like every other visual stereotype.
The uniform makes for brotherhood, since when universally adopted it covers up all differences of class and country.
- Robert Baden Powell
Therefore by changing what we wear we can choose to belong to a culture within our society or change the way we are perceived by others. But what does our uniform mean to ourselves. Do you dress boldly to attract attention? Do you wear plain clothes to help you blend in? Are you aware of the uniform you choose to wear? How does it affect your story? Do you want to change it?
If anyone is now reconsidering what you’ve chosen to wear I suggest you have fun and play with your appearance. Don’t just dress up, dress down and sideways. Explore parts of yourself by exploring your wrappings. You’d be surprised to find how changing your clothes might change the way you are treated and as a result change your life.
But here are my second words of caution; if you change the dust cover on a book; someone new might pick it up because it’s appeals to them now, but the story inside hasn’t changed.
How many times have you heard of someone getting frustrated with their lives and as a result they get a new haircut or buys some new clothes. Changing your appearance does not change who you are but who people perceive you to be. If there is something about yourself you are unhappy with and you want a change, start on the inside with your story and intentions, then change your actions and maybe your appearance will follow.
If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.... It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.” - Albert Einstein
Remember that your appearance is merely what you are projecting onto the world, a composite of your life choices that expresses itself physically on your body. Stay in touch with who you are if you decide to change your image. And remember the wise words of Theodor Geisel:
Today you are you, that is truer then true. There is no one alive more youer then you.
- Dr. Seuss