Conventional wisdom says that how we dress is a reflection of who we are – a way to introduce how we want to be seen without speaking a word. But is this true? How we dress shows our fashion decisions and how we apply them to the roles we play in life. Some clothes indicate confidence, others creativity, while still others show how playful or apathetic we feel. Even the appearance of people who disdain fashion delivers a message. But does our style of dressing reveal who we really are?
“Vain trifles as they seem,
clothes have more important offices than to merely keep us warm.
They change our view of the world
and the world’s view of us.” - VIRGINIA WOLF
Since we left the Garden of Eden, how we dress introduces us. Want to understand more about our selections? Let’s start with the choice we make about color. Imagine a favorite sweater appearing in your closet in a rainbow of hues. Which color would you choose for work, for play, for a restaurant dinner, or for walking the dog? Does a bright color make you feel alive or too conspicuous? Which color makes you feel best?
For me the answer is easy. I definitely choose black – and yes, it is the absence of color! When I was younger, my hair and personality were colorful, yet there’s a shy aspect to me. Black feels like the option that offers balance. Now that my hair is grey, black allows me to enjoy edgy styles while implying discretion and elegance. Choosing black makes me feel… …me. What color makes you feel like you?
Sometimes clothes can simply be a functional convenience – like when we dress in a bathing suit to go swimming, or put on a slicker to keep us dry in the rain. Sometimes we dress in recognizable costume. As a Management Consultant I wear tailored business clothes to work – although I add a highlight of color with orange suede shoes or a red briefcase. As a Grandmother I choose leggings, comfortable sneakers, and casual clothes for play. As a Minister I dress according to the situation: wedding, baby naming, or memorial service. As a Counselor I wear relaxed clothes to create easy rapport with clients. And some days I just mix it all up!
Even though we may vary our dress for different roles and different activities, each of us has a “look” we’re comfortable with. Georgia O’Keeffe’s message speaks for me:
Once we get dressed in the morning, clothes become our home away from home. Comfort matters. Fit and function matter. We want what we’re wearing to feel like a second skin. There’s fashion genius to the ease of stretchable fabrics and the convenience of pockets.
Clothing is meant to support our intention to be alive and engaged – to speak the language of you: kind, discerning, fun, free, and loving.
“Clothes as text, clothes as narration,
clothes are the story of our lives.
And if you were to gather all the clothes
you have ever owned in all your life
you would have your autobiography.” - LINDA GRANT
Being well dressed feels good whether the style we choose is casual or formal, trendy or staid, sloppy or elegant, conservative or sassy, understated or flashy, chic or pedestrian. And we form a first impression by noticing how others dress. But let’s be careful – it’s dangerous to assume we know a person’s character or values from their way of dressing. The meaning we attribute to people’s choice of apparel can be confused by many things - especially our lack of familiarity with different cultures. A good example is the intention behind the coverings we wear on our heads. There are huge differences for the wearers of a hijab and a fascinator, or a yarmulka and a baseball cap!
Contrary to conventional wisdom, how we dress does not reveal who we are. We are much much deeper than any surface appearance.