Do Clothes Matter? More Adventures with Body Dismorphia

My husband got a job! Woohoo! (this will be the supplement to his own massage practice). He had a bunch of interviews last week, which means that we had to go shopping on Monday night to get him an interview outfit. It ended up being more of a shopping extravaganza than we expected. My husband very, very rarely shops for clothes. He would like to do it more often, but when it comes down to spending money on clothing or on other things, he will always choose other things. This means that he often lets clothing disintegrate way too much before replacing it. Hence, he was, until Monday night, at a place where almost everything he owned was completely worn and tattered. We ended up getting him 3 shirts, a hoodie, a pair of shoes, and a wool coat. He walked out of the store like he had a new lease on life. After his first interview he told me that for once when he walked into an office, everyone there seemed to respect him. He felt that it had a lot to do with being dressed nicely (I suspect it also had to do with him being a professional in the field that is practiced in that particular office!).

We both need further wardrobe infusion; and we have set aside a bit of our tax return for that purpose. Despite the fact that this runs counter to our attitude throughout our 20’s; at this point in time Dave and I are both convinced that clothing does matter. Both of us have observed enough at this point to have noticed the difference in people’s attitudes towards us when we are dressed nicely. Is it shallow that human beings base so much on physical presentation? Probably. It shouldn’t matter. Can we help our snap judgments based on personal presentation?  Maybe. But I’m leaning towards “no.” Not without some consciousness training. Our brains are wired to pick out traits that denote health and social dominance. In our society, those traits aren’t always inherent to our bodies or minds. They are  often purely ornamental.

I spent most of my 20’s stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that “business casual” is an acceptable requirement for work. My attitude was based on 2 things: 1. clothes don’t actually hold any bearing over a person’s performance of their job, 2. business clothes are expensive, and few people make enough money in their 20’s to afford work clothes AND casual clothes. I still think that both items are true. However, I now know how it can hold a person back in their career to show up to work looking less-than-polished. People will judge you; whether they mean to or not.

The paradoxical thing about my attitude at the time is that I did actually really like clothes. I had a personal style, it was just much more casual than what was appropriate for work. So, I did actually care about my appearance. Just not at the office. I like clothes because of personal expression. Dressing oneself can be a pretty creative act. It can be a lot of fun, and can have a  profound effect on they way we see ourselves. I still love looking at clothes…on other people, that is. I fear that I have lost any zeal for actually dressing myself.

Sometime around the age of 23 I recall having a conversation with a friend that included the phrase: “please don’t ever let me go out in public wearing sweats.” Fast forward 7 years, to my frequent uniform: yoga pants and a tee-shirt. This decade’s sweats equivalent. Furthermore, most of my work clothes are ill-fitting and/or really old. Most of my casual outfits consist of jeans, a tee-shirt, a hoodie, and tennis shoes. When I have to go out for social events I panic about what I’m going to wear. I know that I would feel a lot better about myself if I liked what I was wearing. Sadly, I have realized that I have lost most of the sense of personal style that I once had.

Shopping now is kind of a wilderness experience for me. I feel lost. I feel uninspired. I feel frustrated. I have had very little luck during recent shopping trips. I just haven’t been able to find anything that I like that also looks decent on me. Part of me feels like the problem is that I have never adjusted my personal style to the change in my body size. I still like clothing that really only looks good on women who are smaller than I am. This could be somewhat true. There are some things that are exclusively for the size 8 and under. However, I often see outfits on women who are my size, or larger, that look really cute, and would totally fit under the category of “things I like.” This leads me to suspect that part of the problem is that, once again, I am not seeing what is really there when I look in the mirror.

So, what do I do? I guess that I’m just going to have to take what I know intellectually about shapes and colors that flatter me (the “shapes” bit is mostly stuff that I’ve picked up from What Not to Wear. Hey, it’s instructional!). And buy things based on actual fit instead of on what I see. This could be kind of tricky! But I’m going to have to go for it.

What do you have a personal philosophy on clothing? Do you think it matters?

3 responses to “Do Clothes Matter? More Adventures with Body Dismorphia

  1. They do matter but only because everyone else seems to find what you wear important.

    When I was in college and looking for my first real job, I spent $500 on a suit (a fortune back then) and bought something that made me look real snazzy. I also found that same respect that your husband did. I still find that when I don the ‘ol suit people ignore the furry beard and gruff tone and see me for someone other than they would otherwise perceive me to be.

    Now, as for the rest of my wardrobe, it’s the same as it always has been. Jeans and t-shirts or a golf shirt. I have three pairs of khaki pants I wear to work and I rotate between then and the 8 or 9 polos I have.

    I also don’t believe in spending a lot on clothes and happily get by with my once a year shopping trip to Old Navy to clear out their clearance rack.

  2. Growing up in rural MN, my wardrobe consisted of jeans and t-shirts. That’s what I wore to school, that’s what I wore on dates, that’s what I wore EVERYWHERE. I owned a couple of dress pants, and was always so self-conscious wearing them. I always felt like I was SO dressed up by wearing a pair of black pants.

    My junior year of college, I was put in a dorm room with several Europeans. Throughout the year, my fashion sense changed. . . big time! The Europeans had the opposite of my wardrobe. My wardrobe was a bunch of jeans, with one or two dress pants. There wardrobe was a bunch of dress pants. . . with one or more pairs of jeans. . . Jeans they would only wear when doing laundry, or studying. But never to classes, etc.

    Slowly throughout the year, my perception of clothing started to change. It was a very unintentional change. Meaning, I didn’t purposely try to dress like these roommates of mine. But by the end of the year, I was dressing differently.

    Through this experience, I realized that Americans in general have very different ideas of fashion than say, Europeans do in general. I became a less casual dresser, and now, my favorite outfits are mainly dresses and more business casual attire. I can wear whatever I want to work, yet I still choose to wear suits. They make me feel good for some reason. They are flattering I feel.

    Maybe I’m naive in thinking that I dress up for myself, but I really feel like it is. I feel like I dress in a way that makes me feel good about myself. But. . . deep down (maybe not so deep) I dress a certain way because I like the perception it gives me.

    Now when I travel to Europe, I take pride in fitting in. I take pride in not “looking” like an American. (You know, the light colored jeans, the white socks, etc) I don’t know if that makes me snotty, but I’ve just really adopted the European view on clothing and appearance, and it seems to be working for me.

    Oh, and one final note. . . I LOVE the show What Not to Wear. Love it. 😀

  3. Pingback: My Time has Come « chaos to clarity

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