I remember when I was younger, I had a lot of anxiety over my clothing. I used to be nervous and fidgety, as if somehow my outfit affected my entire capacity to function as a normal human being. Now that I am older, I have grown out of that state of constant nervousness that revolved around my appearance. However, the process of choosing my clothing is still a big ordeal for me in the morning. I like to pick my outfits carefully and wear nice clothing, it helps me feel uplifted and in control when I do. As if somehow the way I dress improves my ability to wake up and function.
Currently, I have a single set routine in the morning- wake up, brush my hair, brush my teeth, put on makeup, and choose my outfit. The hardest of these five things to do in the morning, and yes, this is even harder than waking up, is choosing my outfit. What should I wear in the morning? I find myself thinking as I’m staring into my closet full of clothing. There are endless possibilities, yet in the morning there never seems to be a good one. Do these pants go with that shirt? No. Does that skirt work with those boots? No. The answer's always the same: no.
In the afternoon, if I look in my closet to see the colorful pillars of hanging pants and shirts, I can see tons of options. My colorfully printed blue, green and purple peacock patterned pants that I got from Greece would work perfectly with a purple long sleeve shirt of mine. But in the morning, I either cannot see that combination or I don’t like it anymore.
Sometimes I have to admit, I take the easy way out and just resort to what I call the “throwing something on” option. Basically, I take whatever’s in arms grasp, which is usually jeans and something that can function as a shirt like a plain light blue sweater I have (sweaters are shirts right?). There are definitely worse things that could happen, I tell myself as I walk out of my room to go about my daily activities.
Later in the day, sometimes I wonder to myself why I chose what I did or why I just didn’t put more effort into what I was wearing. Even though I am not as self-conscious about how I dress as I used to be, I still care about my appearance. I want to dress in an appealing way and be perceived by others in a positive way. Yet I still find myself thinking: why does it even matter?
On one particular morning, a Monday, my childish self-consciousness returned. I had decided to wear one of my “throw something on” outfits. It was a strange and immature feeling. As I was trudging to my destination in the crisp winter air, I had the feeling as if everyone was shooting me disapproving stares to me as I passed them. Was I really being judged that much? I thought. I looked down through my clouds of breath at my baby blue boot cut jeans. They were faded with holes in them and had obviously been worn a lot. And sure, maybe they didn’t fit the best at the waist, or thighs for that matter, but I didn’t think they were that bad, were they?
If it wasn’t the pants, then maybe it was the shirt, which was a simple faded grey gaucho shirt that sometimes slipped off one shoulder. It sported a single bow and arrow on the front. It was so comfortable and soft. Plus it was name brand. I doubted it was the shirt since it was mostly obscured by my jacket anyways. My jacket was a puffy red one suited for the chills of winter and it had a hood framed by faux animal fur. I really doubted the jacket would be so unappealing too since it was also name brand. Was all of this in my head? And why was this feeling of self-consciousness suddenly returning when I thought I had long since outgrown it?
As I was in this uncomfortable mood, I found myself examining other people’s styles and choices of clothing. There’s a lot to be said about someone who wears all black, including black lipstick. Or even someone who wears all sports clothing. They easily fit under the classifications of “goth” or “sporty.” It’s easy to judge people based off what they wear, but who is to say that that is who they really are?
A worker in the dining hall that I’ve become friends with calls me “Flower Child” instead of my real name. He has called me this ever since he met me because he thinks I dress exactly like an 80s hippie. He always says I was born in the wrong time period and that I would fit into the 80s perfectly. But sometimes, I really don’t fit into this category. One time when I walked up to get some food he asked how “Flower Child” was doing that day. I replied with my normal response of “good” as he looked me up and down in the outfit I was wearing that day. I could tell what he was thinking before he voiced it; that day I was not wearing clothing that a stereotypical hippie would wear. “Well I guess you’re not a Flower Child today,” was his response to my red and black tights matched with a tight black shirt with rips in it and black boots. I shrugged.
“Guess not,” I replied with a smile. This wasn’t the first time that someone has been surprised or slightly confused when I don’t fit the category I am placed in by them. Countless times people have assumed that I don’t eat meat, which I actually eat a lot of, or that I have specific political views based off my appearance. The reality of the situation is that I just wear what I like to wear and that does not have an impact on who I am as a person or what values I hold, despite what people may think.
As other people do to me, I also assume things about people based solely off their appearances. Humans tend to like to try and classify things. It’s a part of our nature. Categorizing people helps us define the world around us. Labeling different groups helps us gain power and a sense of belonging because we can then hope to fit into one of the groups. Empowerment and inclusion are two things that humanity craves and may even need to remain emotionally stable. Which is why when we find that we either can’t classify something or if something doesn’t follow the classification we placed it under, then we become uncomfortable and taken aback.
There are definitely reasons as to why people choose to dress or look a certain way. Some people aspire to attain beauty including myself. It’s completely normal and even okay to want to be beautiful and appealing. Not only do we classify others, but to some extent, we want to be classified. Being classified for some reason tends to be associated with fitting in. It means that we can be accepted within a certain category. Instead of embracing and searching for acceptance in who we are as a person, we search for acceptance into a category. This can be seen in a wide variety of things people do without even necessarily consciously realizing it. For example, people who want to be classified as athletic buy Nike, Adidas or any other brands that fit the athletic image. In some ways, it makes sense that we would want to be placed in a category. In any category, there are other people who are similar and that means there are people like you; or at least that’s the idea in theory. So how do we get into a category? We dress a certain way so that people can and want to label us. But how does the clothing or items we buy become associated with the images we want to fit into? The media specifically advertises brands or items to fit into certain categories.
In today’s culture of consumerism, so often are we told that we have to look a certain way in order to be a certain thing. We are obscurely told by the media that beauty is something we need in order to fit in and be happy. This is a line fed to us so often in almost every image, advertisement and magazine in production. We are constantly being instructed that without a certain product, we will lack something and be unsuccessful. For example, the recent “#mycalvins” Calvin Klein ads for women’s jeans, portray women who have the jeans as being attractive, sexy, and confident. One specific ad shows a woman draped along an attractive male in a sensual position. This is subliminally telling the viewer that with these jeans, like her, you could also be all the things she is and have young attractive men.
Taken out of context, these messages often sound ridiculous because obviously, only buying jeans will not cause these things to happen. Yet somehow, messages like these are huge factors that drive people to be so concerned with things like clothing and their appearances. Such industries actually play off people's emotions and manipulate people into believing that somehow, with such a product, something about them will change. Ads have the power to convince us that with whatever product they are selling, our lives will somehow be better. In a similar way, ads have the power to convince us that we will be accepted by others if we fit into a category, which we can do by buying their product.
By believing the things that fashion industries sell to us, we actually lose our individuality and originality. If everyone believes that certain products can allow us to have something more than just the product such as beauty or acceptance, then everyone will buy those products. And if everyone buys those products, soon everyone becomes the same as everyone else.
I remember when this realization occurred to me. Looking down at my American Eagle printed sweater, I knew that there were obviously other people who had it, but it wasn’t necessarily something that I thought about. To me, and probably at least a good handful of other people, this shirt was a sign of self-expression and a good fashion sense. What I had previously taken for originality was actually mass produced and shipped to thousands of stores in the country.Just as I have mostly grown out of my previously uncomfortable-with-my-clothing stage, I realized I needed to grow into being more comfortable with actual self-expression and originality. This was something that I personally wanted although other people may not want to truly express themselves through their clothing; instead they might want to blend in and dress like everyone else. If someone else wants to wear name brand clothing, then sure, go right ahead. If they want to wear only t-shirt’s every day, then why not? But if self-expression, along with beauty, is what I am attempting to gain from my clothing then I will need to be able to branch out from only buying clothing that other people value and instead buy or create clothing that I value. Despite the various implications that come with clothing, I’ve grown into being comfortable wearing the clothing I value instead of what others value.