Appearance & Fashion
Our bodies come pre-wired to connect. They (we) are on high alert and ready to respond and build connections. But with billions of people milling around us, how do we increase the odds that we can find real connections?
We advertise. We tell our stories on our outsides, increasing the odds that others who share our interests (or faith, or heritage, or class, or musical taste, etc.) will find us – like radar. Across crowded rooms we notice – and migrate toward – or away.
ATTIRE - Something as simple as attire is actually never simple. It speaks volumes about our financial status or age or ethnicity. How we wear what we wear - snug or loose, jeans worn low - tells us even more. Society lays down all kinds of rules from formal to travel to beach wear.
DRESS CODES abound. Sometimes they are codified, but most often norms are established and reenforced culturally. Workplaces tend to have identifiable standards. Faiths define appropriate attire - such as Muslim or Amish. Gendered fashions. Even musical genres. Oh - and sports. Everywhere you go there is some fashion expectation to be considered.
HAIR and GROOMING - Our own unique texture and curliness is ready to be fashioned (and ready to resist our best efforts to control it). When we think about the amount of time and money we spend in our lives just tending our hair, we realize how important we feel it is. Bad hair day - carries universal understanding - just not at our best. Each culture or group establishes their preferred styles, so an astute observer may be able to tell the religious or musical differences in people passing by. Mission accomplished.
TATTOOS, SCARIFICATIONS and PIERCINGS. All cultures, from our earliest human days, have used paint, tattoos and body piercings to tell our stories. Who are we? What group do we belong to? What role do we have? Indigenous groups often weave their recognizable patterns into their contemporary aesthetics. And many city dwellers, yearning for a connection to their more native roots, introduce those same elements into their profiles.
MAKE-UP - putting on a good face. Our competitive nature sets us all up to leverage moments, access and visibility so we can make the best impression possible. Color and lines bring definition as well as simply being pleasing to the eye. Also, back in the 1970’s, Desmond Morris suggested in The Naked Ape, that some make-up is intended to provide “sexual readiness” cues that have been masked by our clothing or our upright way of walking. I’ll just say this. Picture orangutans or peacocks in full display. Ahem.
JEWELRY - Often jewelry is treated as a special act of love or appreciation, whether handed down from one generation to the next or presented as the ‘crown jewel’ of the proposal and engagement process. For eons different stones or metals have come to be representative of specific values or attributes. The Irish Claddagh ring is a good example. Since Roman times, it has been a symbol of friendship, love and loyalty, and it comes with its own rituals and traditions for how the ring is to be worn. Each ethnicity or faith has it own symbols and ceremonies. And, of course, jewelry is sorted out by gender. One might ask, “Why don’t men wear pearls?”
UNIFORMS - Let’s talk personas. Societies thrive when people work together efficiently - and that means dividing up the work. We each play a role - one of our own choosing if we are lucky. But, rather than having to wonder who is doing what, cultures make it clear to all. Ahhhh - a doctor or nurse. I can tell by the way they are dressed. Officers of the law? I know they have authority vested in them by the community - so when they speak, I know I need to listen. School crossing guards. Football linemen. Pilots. Servers at restaurants. They are all wearing their roles on their sleeves. Some groups have deep and complex systems such as the stars and bars on generals’ or admirals’ jackets. Some might be more subtle, like a cap or a pin. In general, when we interact with someone in uniform, we are interacting with their persona.
GENDER - Cultures and societies have often felt it was important to define gender roles. Here’s what men do and here’s what women do. To reinforce those definitions, they set guidelines about how men and women appear differently - so we can easily tell who is who. Sometimes these norms encourage migration toward more visibly masculine men and more visibly feminine women. But thank goodness there is currently more recognition of and appreciation for the spectrum in between where we all really sit. Gender fluidity isn’t just about finding people you love, it is also heating up the fashion scene. Ambiguity has become cool too.