I went to high school with some very rich kids. While my peers got BMWs for their sixteenth birthday, I drove my mom’s second-hand, fifteen-year-old Toyota Corolla to school. Back then, the common school clothes were $200 UGG boots paired with $50 Abercrombie shirts and $170 Seven for All Mankind jeans. Not only could I not afford such an outfit, I didn’t want it. All these brands sold their clothes in the same five colors and, so, in a student body of 2000 kids, it would not be uncommon to dress in the same outfit as fifteen other students on any given day. My pride would not accept this robotic way of dressing, so I decided to swing to the other direction. I shopped at no-name stores and expressed my creativity through my outfits. I communicated an attitude through my clothes that I wanted to be unique, just like my peers communicated their desire to be accepted and part of the crowd.
A lot of us are no longer teenagers and don’t care to make strong statements through clothes. However, we still convey our attitudes through our clothing in subtle ways. How many of the following can you relate to?
I dare you to find another piece of clothing that’s as impactful as a pair of sunglasses. We put on our sunglasses whenever we want to look cool, in any situation. Yes, even indoors. Wearing sunglasses indoors may make you stand out, but only a person with a super cool attitude towards life would dare to wear sunglasses indoors. Sunglasses hide our eyes, one of our most important communication tools, and, as a result, cover our vulnerabilities. Sunglasses communicate an attitude of wanting to appear cool, mysterious and, therefore, desirable.
When I was a teenager, I loved wearing t-shirts with quotes like “I love mac and cheese”. My brother has a t-shirt with the word “Huge” followed by an image of a cock (a shirt his wife has tried and failed many times to lose in the garbage can). T-shirts with funny quotes convey an attitude of enjoying humor while t-shirts with motivational quotes convey a growth attitude. Band t-shirts convey an attitude of valuing music while t-shirts with graphics convey an appreciation for art. Even the famous Chinese t-shirts with English curse words convey an attitude of wanting to aspire to different lifestyles, even when the wearer doesn’t understand what’s written on their chest.
Cardigans are more than the comfiest piece of clothing in your closet. They are also a communication tool. You didn’t expect that from your Mister Rogers inspired knitwear, did you? Sure, you could have worn a tailored blazer or a black leather jacket to achieve the same level of warmth, but you didn’t. You wore a soft blanket with sleeves and told others that you didn’t want to be noticed for your sexy body or your cool attitude, but more for your smile and warmth. Cardigans communicate an attitude of wanting to be comfortable and gentle instead of intimidating.
We all have someone in our lives who honestly doesn’t care about clothes. They’ll wear the same pants for twenty years because they’re comfortable or buy the same shirt every time because they can’t be bothered to hunt for other options. Sometimes these people will wear clothes with holes because why throw out a sock if the important parts are still in one piece? These types of people also convey an attitude through their clothing, as unintentional as that communication may be. They might be taking a stance on materialism and wanting people to know more about how they prioritize their values. They might be conveying an easy-going, relaxed attitude. Of course, some people may just be tight on money. But they are also conveying an attitude of agreeing to play by society’s clothing rules but on their own aesthetic terms.
It started out as a way to protect ourselves from the weather. Then, it became law, enforced by fines and imprisonment. Now, wearing clothes is second nature to us. We are rarely without them. Even while sleeping at night, in the privacy of our blankets, we like to cover up.
And in typical human fashion, we have applied our creativity to something that is such an important part of our lives. We now use clothes to express ourselves. We can feel feminine by wearing floral prints, stylish by wearing cool designers or part of the crowd by following fashion trends. And in that process of self-expression, we also use clothes to communicate our attitudes. Sometimes we don’t realize we are doing it. Other times, it is very purposeful. Overall, our clothes are very powerful in representing us to the world.
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