Appearances and Dressing Up

“I’m putting on my top hat, Tying up my white tie, Brushing off my tails.” ~ Fred Astaire

Or, as defined by my dictionary:

Dressing Up: (vb)  To put on glamorous or stylish clothes, to put fancy dress on, to disguise


As some of you may know, I wasn’t exactly rocking the festive spirit this year. However, there are traditions for Christmas Day with my family that can be ignored, one of these being putting on something smart/dressy/pretty for the main part of Christmas Day from present opening right through to the evening. So, in a manner of a knight preparing battle by donning his armour, I put on my little black dress, added heels and lots of glitter, and I was good to go.

 (The antlers were a late addition for Christmas dinner so I could avoid the paper hats.)

We all do this. All the time. We dress ourselves according to situations. This is a response to expectations of society but also the expectations we put on ourselves. Because, although some like to argue otherwise, appearances matter. Yes, beauty may only be skin deep but how we respond to people when we meet face to face is first based on appearance.

For example, if you see someone on the street who’s clearly unwashed, with messy, scruffy clothes & several days growth of beard you’d react differently to if you saw exactly the same guy but clean-shaved, suited & booted, with a slight hint of expensive aftershave, wouldn’t you? Of course you wouuld! We might then, in conversation, treat these two entities in the same way but our initial reactions would be quite different.

Job interviews are another area in which I believe most of us dress in a certain way, partly cos we believe it is expected but also because it helps us feel prepared. However not everyone seems to think like this. @J0annepsi was tweeting about an assessment/interview day she attended recently. The letter stated smart dress so that’s what she wore.. There were other applicants there in combats and Converse. What sort of message does that send out to your prospective employer; I can’t read instructions? I am going to ignore what you tell me to do? I’m not actually that bothered about this job anyway, perhaps?  I’m aware of someone who lost out on a job due to flashing a bit of boxer short inadvertently (it’s in my blog here). I’d worry if any of those combats and Converse people got the job.

Clothing and how we style ourselves can often be a form of protection. I was at a guy’s house one time & he was telling me some stuff that was uncomfortable to hear. Nothing dodgy, just a news story he apparently had some inside information on, & it made for unpleasant listening. I made him stop partway through, went upstairs, put on a pair of fabulous spike-heeled boots & then listened to the rest of it with my feet up on the table. Eh voila…

It was a purely psychological act. I didn’t like what I was hearing so I wanted to be better armoured to deal with it.

Appearance can also be a tribal thing, a way of saying to others that we are like them. Every town I’ve ever lived in has had it’s share of goths, emos, trendies etc. All dress in a certain way, sometimes identically. It’s a way of feeling as though we belong. Though my favourite example of this was being asked one Friday night by a bunch of guys if I knew where there was a pub for “people like us”. They were wearing leather waistcoats, Black Sabbath t-shirts & all of them had long hair. I pointed them down the road to the local rock pub as I knew exactly what they meant.

This is obviously a fairly light-hearted look at this issue. I don’t normally advocate further reading on anything I blog about but the thoughtful dresser by Linda Grant is a very interesting read on this subject. It has the true story of how a woman’s hat saved her life in Nazi Germany. It’s a fascinating book; If you know me, I own a copy and am happy to lend it out.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this. As always, I am interested in your thoughts on this matter so do drop me a line in a comment box-shaped postcard.



8 thoughts on “Appearances and Dressing Up

  1. Your blog made me ponder this topic more. I have recently moved from a village where appearance was extremely important.

    I knew of one mother that would dress up to take her child to the village school, change to do the gardening, and change back at end of school. Another, when I popped in with some papers she had needed, her husband answered the door and said she was not in. Halfway through the conversation, she appeared too. She did not like people seeing her in the clothes she cleaned the house in, and he had therefore tried to cover up the fact she was in.

    I am afraid that I found the whole charade rather bizarre. I love to dress up, other days I enjoy wearing comfortable slobby clothes, but think it is a sad that people become ruled by it.

    • How incredibly paranoid! An ex of mine’s mother would never leave the house without putting her lipstick on but that’s taking it to a whole new level!

      I just wear what I like. Always have and probably always will!

  2. Crikey, talk about hitting the nail on the head… From disguise, to chameleon and, ultimately survival. Remind me to give you some more examples 🙂

  3. In my company, we have a dress code. Nothing particularly fancy – just collared shirt, no jeans, no trainers, and so on.

    It is, however, slightly poorly drafted. And various employees take it completely literally. The response to “no trainers” being simply to take them off and work in socks; and the response to “suits to be worn for client visits” being, as directed, to wear a suit – in one case, a home-made one. Mercifully I have specified “collared shirt” rather than “no t-shirts”. Once, an employee “forgot to bring a tie” on a major business trip, as I “hadn’t told him to pack one” – I also hadn’t reminded him not to pack, say, a hand-gun, or his dog, but fortunately he’d figured that out for himself.

    If it were a problem from a professional point of view (which occasionally it is) then I’d correct it. Mostly though, it’s just funny, so I let it be. Not least as the key error is in fact my own, by poorly setting the rules. And the response to these rules is simply a typical, if rather male, techno-workers’ response to a completely unfamiliar set of directives on appearance. If in doubt, consciously or subconsciously, then apply the only frame of reference you may have – in this case, that of the slightly nerdy yet absolute logic of the software engineer. Their appearance is not right – but, at least on their own terms, it’s not wrong either. Sometimes, this is as good as you’re likely to get.

  4. Very interesting piece, we all are armoured in some way in how we dress whether it’s for work, leisure or cleaning! I can go out to shops with or without make up! When I go out whether it’s for dinner, cinema, club I cannot wear jeans as it makes me feel under dressed n not feeling the mood for the event in question! We all have a way of putting on a show with clothes, make up n whole appearance! As for work I used to work in a bank n we had to dress smart n on days were it was a struggle I felt it affected my mood! So I think if we normally dress a certain attire for work, leisure or going out it portrays to others what message we are giving eg if ur in work clothes eg fireman u see they have special equipped clothing we see a person doing a dangerous job to protect the public n he is dressed correctly n giving the right impression! So if we are dressed in a certain way ie Goth, Punk, we give a perception of what we are like as a person our likes n that my motto is “never judge a book by its cover” u never know what truly lies beneath the exterior until u meet n get to know that person regardless of what u do or don’t wear! Hope it Makes sense what I am trying to say The article was welll written n it made me feel like I was sitting there beside u it was that clearly descriptive thank u for sharing it with us xxx

  5. NB: The following comment was written supposedly with tongue-in-cheek. It is perhaps a little more honest than I anticipated and probably says much more about me than I intended it to.

    It was Mark Twain who said “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. Being an incredibly shallow person, appearances and how people dress has always given me a “first impression” of people. Occasionally, I’m wrong but not often. This doesn’t mean, however, that the smarter they are, the better I will think of them. I have made instant judgments on people who have dressed more expensively than they need to for the environment they are in (usually negative) or persons who have dressed completely at odds to what might have been expected (usually positive – I like a rebel!).

    Actually, I would have said (had I been Mark Twain) “Shoes make the man. Naked feet have little …” You can tell an awful lot about a person from their footwear. I instantly feel superior to any man I am talking to if they haven’t polished their shoes! I get that from my Dad. He did National Service and was always insistent we never left the house without getting the Kiwi or Cherry Blossom out (your older readers will understand these brand names) for a brush-up first.

    Suffice it to say that one would never see me out in public in trainers. In fact, there is something rather ridiculous about a man over 40 wearing trainers in public … and don’t even get me started on baseball caps!

    You are absolutely right about the psychological aspects of clothing. Attending the police station to give legal advice is a very good example of this. Often when acting as duty solicitor you are off to see a complete stranger, often facing very serious allegations, and have to win their trust very quickly. I believe what you wear can be extremely important in breaking down any barriers between you and your new client. A suit can sometimes be a little imposing for people who may have preconceptions about … well … suits. Too casual an appearance, though, can make a person think you are not that professional or, even worse, you don’t really care. I have seen other lawyers at the police station and have been appalled by what they are wearing – low-slung jeans with exposed midriff (and that’s just the blokes LOL), or tatty track-suits that look as if the wearer has just climbed out of bed. Often we HAVE just climbed out of bed, but … hey … get dressed first!

    Another aspect of the psychology of dressing is when you dress deliberately to either “fit in” or to make a point of not fitting in. Goths, for example, do both – dress to fit in with their mates, but also to make themselves stand out from the general populace.

    I do this too, to an extent. If I am going somewhere – to a meeting, or conference, say – and expect to be making some controversial and / or unpopular comments (not that unusual with me) I shall deliberately dress to make myself look somewhat different from the rest. So, if I suspect most people will be wearing suits I put on jeans (but remember … never trainers LOL). If the meeting is likely to be casual, I’ll wear a suit and usually a somewhat garish tie. No idea why I do this save for the fact it gives me a feeling of “me against them”

    Dress sense. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. You either know what items of clothing work well / look good or you just think you do. Let’s be honest … how often do we look at someone and think “Did you look in the mirror before coming out? Did you actually think that looks good?”.

    One shining example comes to mind. A girl of my acquaintance was getting married and we were invited. Lovely girl – bright, bubbly, beautiful. Absolutely no dress sense whatsoever. Often saw her in colours that clashed dreadfully, or clothes that just looked wrong on her. I therefore wondered whether the wedding dress would be a monstrosity. It wasn’t, fortunately, but then she later changed for the evening do. No expense had been spared for the wedding and the reception. No expense had been incurred in the bride’s “going away” outfit – a white t-shirt with a print of a tiger’s head on it. The outline of the tiger’s head had the occasional sequin sewn on. The colours of the tiger’s head were beginning to fade. A black mini-skirt that had clearly been washed several times too many and was more dark-grey than black. The astonishing thing was that people were arriving for the evening do and telling her she looked nice. They were lying to her. She looked like she was just popping out to hang up some washing!

    I’ve rambled on, as usual. Anyway, another great post and very thought-provoking (as you can see LOL)

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