Why we wear what we wear
We don’t wear clothing just to keep warm or to avoid shocking the neighbors. Our garments show a lot about who we are and what we do. They are signals as to how we want to be perceived and treated by others.
What I wear almost always indicates the season and mood I am experiencing on a given day. Black says I just want to take the easy way and be safe in my selection. Sweaters indicate I want to be cozy and a bit relaxed. A business suit shows I am ready to go and mean business. Washable fabrics make it possible for me to do the unpredictable and perhaps messy chores of life. And a no-iron blouse really means I just didn’t want to bother with the fuss of grooming that day. You get the idea, and I bet, even without knowing it, you also have clothes that reflect your mood and intentions.
Clothing can send messages between cultures as to acceptable behavior. Clerics can immediately be spotted by their collars or robes and be addressed accordingly. Religious groups establish clothing that serves as symbols of their commitments and beliefs. We see a member of the Amish community or Buddhist faith and we already have some guidelines for our expectations. Police personnel wear clothing that allows them to carry all the equipment they need, be identified for help or give a warning to ‘shape up.’ No words are needed here.
School uniforms are worn to reinforce the feeling of being part of a specific group with its camaraderie, pride and discipline. Logos on sweatshirts and T-shirts announce that we have been to a certain place or event. They also may make a statement about what we like or think is funny. They are walking billboards that allow us to make public comments without ever opening our mouths to strangers. I see them as an attempt to connect to others in an impersonal society.
Ball caps are worn by all kinds of folks these days, not just guys who swing bats. They announce what we belong to and what we support. They are like name tags so that people can read something about us as they pass by.
Often, garments that are worn as a type of uniform grow out of practical conditions and become symbols of a certain lifestyle. Camouflage clothing enables combat troops to go unobserved during military maneuvers, but it now is used to make everyday items look ‘groovy’ to hipsters. One has to wonder if those civilians who surround themselves with ‘camo’ items secretly desire to be rough-and-tumble folks. Blue jeans may fall into this same category. Does a business executive in a city skyscraper really need the durability and washability of denim fabric? Perhaps both of these examples tell us of human yearning to have a life that is more connected to the earth while living in a society that has become very cut off by concrete and technology.
Recently, at a meeting of the Historical Society of Harrison County, a planning consultant discussed options for a county museum. She talked about the need to make guests a part of the experience, not just viewers of artifacts in cases. Our story as a community of historical interest goes back to its time as the first state capitol. One suggestion was to use the whole downtown of Corydon as a living museum, replete with interpreters in period costumes. Why worry about wearing costumes? They make a visitor feel like they are experiencing the event or place. We all learn and find understanding when we can relate to a situation, rather than just hearing facts and figures.
Next time you get dressed, think about the statement you are making to yourself and others. As for me, I think I will go put on a pair of elastic waist blue jeans and a sweatshirt. That is a comfortable get-up, and probably best describes who I am anyway.