At one point I was struck by the overwhelming similarities between people, effected simply by their dress. There is surprising conformity. Suddenly I realized…
Everyone is in one uniform or another. And, all the time.
What do I mean by uniform? Well, in this instance it’s our clothing, which also serves as a personal statement.
People dress for either
We put on the clothes we believe suitable for our activity, or those that help us portray who we are/ wish to be. And dress choices speak volumes about our lives.
In the Western world (and indeed most other places) personalized clothing selection is squarely embedded in each culture and micro-culture, providing people possess the resources (i.e. they are sufficiently affluent) to warrant the investment and are so enabled to buy and wear what they choose.
Although we might believe we dress to uniquely identify and express ourselves the majority effect is still surprisingly great conformity as defined by what we are doing with our lives.
And there is also great uniformity in the various regions of the world as to what clothing types and styles are available; a result of low-cost, mass production and widespread distribution.
Military and service professionals dress in specific and like clothing to identify themselves and make them obvious members of defined groups. Armed Services, Police, Nursing, Judiciary, Fire Department etc. professions all support this classification.
But there is also the less specific and unregimented dress of those such as house painters, mechanics, medical practitioners, attorneys, office workers, engineers and scientists, etc. Yet they still dress uniformly enough that we usually know when we see one. There is a general expectation and understanding of how they might be dressed.
In practice the preponderance of people strongly align their attire (and even manner) to the prevailing and dominant image typically already well-defined and accepted within their culture.
Why would we do this? Why should we do this? There can many reasons, but they generally revolve around our needs to:
And most people will readily accept and trust an individual when their appearance more closely conforms with and aligns to established cultural norms.
In addition, most humans have a strong inherent desire to fit in; young children are notoriously mortified if they look different or draw unwanted attention related to any differentiations.
There are also those who wish to stand out. They dress differently, sometimes even flamboyantly; whatever it takes for them to separate from the herd.
Actively making yourself prominent and differentiated by affecting the way you dress is in its’ own way also, wearing a uniform. In effect you are donning the unconventional clothing style (or uniform) of the group that seeks (or needs) self-identification.
It’s long been accepted that people are pegged or evaluated by others during the first seven (7) seconds of an encounter. More recently, respected researchers have claimed these assessments are probably made even more quickly (I have seen 3 or 4 seconds quoted and even “in the blink of an eye”).
And Trustworthiness is now believed to be a primary in these first, rapidly-formed opinions; likely as an inherent survival mechanism.
However quickly we make judgements it will be founded upon snap views of an individual’s discernable Facial Expression, Stature, Gestures, Gait, Apparent Confidence and Dress/ Appearance.
Clothing throws out loud and clear messages within all cultures. It is a large part of the image captured in a glance.
And following initial contact the human mind works feverishly to confirm and re-enforce first impressions at almost any cost (often regardless of subsequent observations and data).
So, our Dress can be useful to initially sell ourselves favorably and promote an image.
Hence the dress for success movement to which so many professionals and workers adhere.
It is uncommon to see people entirely ignore trends or even discount unwritten conventions for attire. If individuals want to be perceived a certain way they will dress according to prevailing cultural expectations.
It is extremely difficult to modify someone’s opinion once they have locked into their perception of who you are. So, most individuals should think twice about diverging strongly from accepted norms.
When people have opportunity to dress differently than the expected manner they seldom do. Again, human wisdom is to align and generally support established expectations; why create unnecessary downstream battles where unwanted first impressions must be undone?
Personal image and branding is crucial to the psyche of most all individuals. Being unique can be rewarding but not if it be at the expense of unintentionally appearing strange or too different.
In business, even the most minor divergences from or updates to Corporate Image are heavily scrutinized and reviewed. This attention to detail is gleaned from understanding the basic human desire for things to appear as consistent, expected or preferred.
Each of us can easily update our image by tampering with our established Dress Code. But do we want to do this? Should we? What are the ramifications?
Many changes we might make to ourselves can be for the better, but when making appearance modifications we’d be wise to align intended upgrades appropriately. Care is required to avoid jarring inconsistencies in new renditions of ourselves.
For example: A white-coated GP might not want to suddenly change to a Tie-dye T-shirt and blue jeans work–clothing arrangement; he/she would run the risk of making existing patients nervous if appearing less professional, newly erratic or even unpredictable.
Consistent and steady change is often a wiser migration unless a shock factor is intended or required.
So, following these thoughts and discussions do you recognize your uniform? Does it match the image and value(s) you want to convey? Do you conform too much or indeed too little to the image you desire?
Take a close look at that uniform. Consider what it says to both new and established colleagues, friends and family. Perhaps it’s time you made a change.