Do Clothes Make the Man?

Source: culture.cult on Flickr.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
-Mark Twain

I like how Mark Twain finds humor in exploring the extreme sides of an issue. What makes this quirky observation funny is that it’s true, but outrageous in it’s extremity.

Is Your Wardrobe Worth it?

I believe the truth to the question lies somewhere on a line between the extremes of no clothing, and roomfuls of clothing, and the specific point on that line is different for each individual.

I think that many people are quick to say that who a person is determined by how they dress. And I agree with that.

But the question is ” Do Clothes Make the Man?”

Imagine going to a nice Hibachi restaurant where they cook the food in front of you with a string of juggling, flipping, and flame-happy tricks. Would you feel different about the restaurant if your cook was dressed in hole-y jeans and a white t-shirt? Or what about a tux? Or a ballroom gown?

Consider your significant other (or an individual you’d like to be your significant other). Now dress him or her in traditional Buddhist attire, in Amish clothing, and then in all-black Goth clothing.

The outcome is pretty hilarious (at least for me), but the observation reveals two important details about clothing:

The ways we dress create different types of social perception: When I see a bearded man covered in tattoos and piercings, wearing jeans and a wife beater, I automatically rule out corporate CEO, Certified Public Accountant, and many other professional occupations. And 99.9% of the time I’m right – This man has communicated that he couldn’t care less about the rat race these professionals are trapped in, and in turn, they put up their own walls barring him and people dressed like him from their profession.

Clothes are a form of communication: Because of this vestment phenomenon, whether you know it or not, your clothes are sending a message: “I’m independent”,  “I’m counter-cultural”, “I’m laid back”, “I’m easy”, “I’m aggressive”, “I’m professional”, “I’m intelligent”, “I just want to fit in”, et cetera.

Do Clothes Make the Man?

Back to the question: Do clothes make the man?

Because we are social creatures, much of our success comes from the people in our lives.

Communication is a vital part of those relationships: It can hurt them or it can strengthen them. And even aside from making or breaking, the way you communicate with people determines how you are treated.

So on the one hand, I think I have to agree with Mark Twain, although less humorously. If clothing is a form of communication, and communication helps determine how our relationships turn out, and relationships play a huge part in our overall success (whatever that may be for each individual), then yes, clothes make the man… On an external and perceptual basis.

On the other side of the issue, the internal values and character traits of a man are entirely separate from the way he dresses. While many of these traits can be influenced by others, and there’s certainly some crossover, the core of those elements come from internal decisions, not external influence. So even if clothing does have some kind of psychological effect on the person wearing them, the decision to wear those clothes was made internally by the individual to begin with.

Clothing and the Minimalist Philosophy

The hardest part for me is merging the understanding that clothing is a form of communication with the minimalist lifestyle philosophy.

What if someone wants to communicate that they are professional, reliable, and worth the time of day?

The minimalist philosophy is essentially “less is better”, which ideally means a small wardrobe.

Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?

This is a new area for me so I don’t have a complete answer to the question. But I’m fairly certain you can have both, at least to a degree. The question is, how much are you willing to give up, and how will it benefit you?

I’m looking forward to sharing my wardrobe cut and the advantages/disadvantages it causes – after I go through with it, I’ll re-post the question with the answer I’ve learned!

-Josh

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