Making a Fashion Statement

Yes, I definitely work at one of the more creative and, by association, liberal work environments. Especially when it comes to dress codes. Hell, the CEO wears black shirts and torn jeans all the time. Apple’s know for being the place not to wear a tie when interviewing. I know this from having conducted interviews myself, but more personally, from the reaction of the shorts and hawaiian shirt clad manager that first interviewed me. Fortunately he saw beyond the tie and quickly learned that I was a parrot-head at heart.

What strikes me as interesting, though, is when I see somebody on campus, or even out & about in daily life, who’s dressed in something clearly extreme and relatively bizarre. I’m not talking about somebody wearing white after labor day…. I’m talking about the bright green spiked hair guy with the bolo hat, plush yellow jacket, blue Doc Martins and WWII sopwith camel style aviator hat complete with goggles poised above his forehead.

What’s up with that?!?!

One’s initial impression might be that they’re an avant-garde artistic type. He’s the guy you see standing at the back of an art gallery amongst whispers that he’s the creative genius behind the exhibited piece in which a bent & rusty nail has been hammered through a wilted rose petal, and into a crumbling cinder block, entitled “Closure”. Perhaps they’re the lead singer of a Sex Pistols cover band named “the Bollocks”. Or one might imagine that he’s the modern day wunderkind at Chiat-Day, a 21st century Darin Stevens, the whiz kid that struts into an executive level pitch session to the biggest potential client and closes the deal with a 4 minute dissertation on a revolutionary marketing approach that will promote Schooner tuna as “the Tuna with a Heart”. (and yes, that does make two “Mr. Mom” references on this website… see if you can find the other one.)

That’s likely exactly what they’re trying to convey. And that’s what I suspect is really behind the decision to adorn oneself with such clothing to begin with. Consciously setting out to set a specific impression. AND that’s exactly when they loose me. I can only roll my eyes at the transparent effort to be ‘seen’ in a certain light, and I feel sorry for the fact that image is so important to some people that they go to such extremes to present and maintain an image for the sole purpose of recognition and acceptance, and not out of a personal, self aware objective. In other words, I think most people that wear relatively artistic and abstract clothing choose the clothes specifically with eliciting that response in mind, and not as completely independent selection based on their own interests without any thought being given to the perception of others.

I have to admit that I did this myself in my own personal history. I spent close to 5 years working in the IT department at a distributor of hair care products in the SF/Bay Area, and my fashion sense was dramatically transformed during that period. I walked in wearing a chocolate brown 3 piece suit with a thick head of ‘product free’ hair, and walked out at the end of my time with short, bleached-blonde ‘Billy Idol’ spikes, wearing trendy woolen and textured all black clothing, sporting a single diamond earring and classic ray-bans. Yet honestly, it was far from my own personal choice or interest, it was mainly the manifestation of continued pressure to conform to the expectations of the industry and environment. I caved into the pressure. I held out for some time. But one of the (few) perks of the place, outside the occasional opportunity to share a spliff with the CEO and other random late-night workers in the warehouse, or having the ability to ogle and drool over a parade of drop dead gorgeous saleswomen that covered the various northern California territories when they descended on the main office for the monthly sales meetings, was the fact that every 4 weeks, a subset of the internal staff, all fully trained and licensed hair stylists, would be available to cut your hair. And after many efforts of resisting the ‘just let me do something more creative’ statements as I took the chair, I capitulated. And it just snowballed from that point forward. I got caught up in the surroundings, the acceptance and the myths. It was actually a great time in my life, and I have some wonderful memories of friends, events, some casual and some more serious relationships, and a great deal of personal growth. But I also struggled with the fact that appearance, in that more artistic and liberal environment, played such a pivotal role, that failing to ‘fit in’ meant being an outcast.

In addition, once I was out of that element, I became aware of my choices being more for show and approval and less for my own ascetic desires. I, no… my wife actually, would be the first to point out that I’ve gone too far to the opposite extreme, wearing very dated shirts, tattered and worn out shoes, and plain generic blue jeans. It’s true. Although I was doing computer work at the time, I was still living in the ‘fashion industry’ for some time, and once I got some distance from it, and ended up at Apple, I embraced the extremely casual style allowed there.

Don’t get me wrong, with a little more time, financial resources and a few inches off my waistline, i’d likely be more inclined to have a more diverse and slightly better selection of clothing on hand. I think the general ‘bar’ on appearance in our society has been lowered to such an extreme that it’s being tripped over on the way to the stretch pants and logo’d t-shirt isle at Ross. My wife’s got a great eye for fashion and has picked up some nice items in our past. I just gotta be able to fit back into them. :-/

I expect that there are truly people that sincerely do opt to step outside of the moderate range of ‘acceptable’ standards of dress, and I sincerely do accept, respect and encourage their decisions and actions to do so…. but only if it doesn’t mean squat to them to know I feel that way. Then, and only then, when the fact that recognition or interpretation is not attached to appearance, do they ‘qualify’ as artistic in my book. When somebody wearing, by typical standards, some funky and extremely unusual set of clothes, can go through the day without a single double-take or stare from a passer by and not notice the lack of attention it got them, they they’ve earned the right to be called honestly individual.

Most of the time, at least from my own perspective, I sense that the dramatic apparel such as those I see on occasion are just a part of a ‘costume’ worn in order to play a part or portray a role, and that’s just insincere, and kinda sad.


Written by gsm

06/06/2007 at 8:08 am

Posted in  Journal 

2 Responses

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  1. You do know that since you brought this up your kids are going to be the wildest dressers in their class in high school.


    06/06/2007 at 4:16 pm

  2. Regarding your years with the spiked hair and the earring, I was gonna say something. Oh wait, I probably did!

    I totally agree with you about people playing a part and having to hide behind a costume. Sure the tattoo is all about “being yourself” but when every other person in the room has one, have you really come that far from high school, where you worried about being laughed at because you wore the wrong clothes?

    I wonder how much time people waste in their day trying to put on the costume, not to mention the resources (money and effect on the environment) that go into creating/obtaining the costume. And if there aren’t better ways to spend the time and resources.

    I don’t advocate wearing the same black shirt/pants daily, but sometimes I want to tell people “make an impression with your thoughts and actions, not by dressing like a tramp”.


    06/16/2007 at 11:12 am

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