When I was a kid, “fashionable” was not one of the words I would ever use to describe myself. My parents allotted a tight budget for my wardrobe and told me that it really didn’t matter what I wore as long as I got good grades. I carried this mentality through high school and college. A lot of my wardrobe had not changed at all by the time I was an adult, and I really didn’t think that I needed to buy new clothes as long as the old ones still fit.
Now, I work as a store associate at a luxury menswear boutique. My wardrobe quickly took a sharp improvement as I accumulated “single uniform, built-to-last heritage-based menswear.” This is fancy-speak for plaid button-ups, selvedge denim, sweaters and jackets. Not suits, not skinny jeans, just core essentials made at a very high level of production.
You may notice that after you get a haircut, you feel different. New hair feels like a new you, and you may notice that little things in your life change. A new haircut changes the shape of your face dramatically, which in turn changes how you are perceived by yourself and others. This is also the case with clothing, which is one of the first things that a person will assess when they interact you. Fashion, in this respect, is a language.
This language at times feels unfair, but the unfairness does not make the language less true. When I wear my “good clothes”, I know that I get better service at cafes, people tend to talk to me longer, and it is easier to break the ice with strangers. A lot of the time this frustrates me, because I think to myself “Was I not worth your time before I put on this button-up?” Of course the answer is I was always worth the time and attention, but the effort that I put into my appearance eased the process in the same way a friendly demeanor does. Sight is the first line of interaction, and by thoughtfully assembling your outfit, you are in turn helping others understand you more quickly.
Costumes and masks are all part of our performative lives. We “dress up” before a night out to help us get into a more exciting mindset. Putting on an apron helps bring the mind back to the kitchen after a long day of work. Our sweatpants tell us that the workday is over. For an important job interview, we may wear our lucky underwear even though no one will see it. Clothes change how we think and feel about ourselves, and this can be a huge tool in setting the stage for our days.
Since working in fashion, some of my friends have expressed that they would love to elevate their wardrobe, but are afraid to because graduating to new garments would almost definitely result in a change in lifestyle. Wearing good clothing creates pressure to live up to the attire that you are wearing. Similar to the mindset of “dress for the job you want”, any kind of shift in your personal style preferences will demand a change in how you interact with others. I still feel like an impostor when wearing hand-grade boots and Japanese denim, because Connor one year ago was comfortable wearing jeans he had since middle school. Now I am expected to be a credible style guide, which is both thrilling and, well, work. But through in being in tune with the friction of a different appearance, I am able to grow and learn in a completely new direction.