Clothes create character: A symbolic expression of self

This man, despite serious genetic deficiencies and sub-hygenic clothing, has forged a new identity as the new Editor-in-chief of this newspaper. Photo by Trent Bates / UVU Review
This man, despite serious genetic deficiencies and sub-hygenic clothing, has forged a new identity as the new Editor-in-chief of this newspaper. Photo by Trent Bates / UVU Review

I think we have all heard someone, when looking back at old photos of themselves, say something along the lines of : “What was I thinking? How could I have thought ____(article of clothing) was a good idea?”

What were they thinking? The same thing they are still thinking: “I am scared to appear different from my peers because I worry they will not accept me.”  Their idea of what is beautiful is based on what others around them see as beautiful.

I won’t say that people do not genuinely like the clothes they wear — I believe they do — but this sincere liking is derived from what those around them like.

Those who hold most tightly to contemporary fashions, are those most likely to look back with disgust on their own fashions. Think of the hip dressers from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

I acknowledge that the clothes we wear make more than a superficial statement about who we are. A person can collect clues about another’s inner life by observing their clothing choices. Our clothes signal to the world some elements of our personality and status. When a person wears clothes which are not “in-style,” it can represent a few different things.

One, they are trying, but failing, to fit in with their peers by dressing like them.

Two, they don’t care about dressing like their peers, so are making no effort to do so.

Three, they want to stand out.

Wearing clothes outside of contemporary styles can also be an indication of that person’s desire for peer approval. The choice to wear clothing that stands out may be evidence of a discomfort with the individual’s natural self which they are trying to overcome by standing out and being noticed. I think we have all seen people whose clothing seems to say, “Look at me world! I am unique! I am special! Love me!” Of course, it could also mean they sincerely love the look and feel of their clothing  despite how much they may stand out.

When a person is trying to fit in with their peers by dressing “in style,” yet failing, it often represents a certain degree of unawareness or “not getting it” on the part of the dresser. It is, perhaps, this sense of obliviousness the out-of-style person has which may be responsible for some of the negative feelings their clothes evoke in others.

When a person is capable of, but chooses not to follow trends that set an arbitrary standard of beauty, it shows an admirable level of independence and confidence on their part which is something to be applauded, not criticized. We may not even appreciate the clothes per se, but the motivations behind wearing them are more admirable than those of someone who is unable to decide for themselves what is beautiful.

The point I am trying to make here is that people shouldn’t worry so much about whether or not their clothes are “in style,” because the more they focus on it now, the more they will look back on their current clothing choices with regret. The more fitting in with current styles an article of clothing is today, the worse it will look tomorrow. When I look at old photos of myself, I never feel any sense of “OMG! What was I wearing?!” If anything I think, “I wish I still had that sweater, what happened to it anyway? Oh yeah, Luke has it.”

At the very least, I hope when people look at others’ clothing choices they can acknowledge there is no objective goodness or badness about it. It is merely a symbolic expression of a handful of attributes the wearer may have and little else.  Constantly worrying if your — or others’ — clothing is in or out of style signifies an inability to think for oneself and the placing unnecessary importance on the approval of one’s peers.

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