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“People think costumes are fun, it’s fantasy and it’s sort of frivolous, but it is an integral part of good story-telling.” —Sarah Jessica Parker
Dressing each morning, evening or simply to step outdoors with my dogs to take a walk always provokes me to consider what I am wearing. Maybe because I enjoy my own company, but being out in society at the same time or maybe because I simply love clothing and the beauty of a well put together outfit, but I recognize that what I wear is a means of communicating with the world without saying a word.
For example, if I step outside in the early morning to collect my paper in my robe, if someone sees me, they may discern I have just woken up. Contrarily, if I leave my home in a tailored ensemble that exhibits I have dressed to the nines, on-lookers may surmise my destination is somewhere of importance to me.
As I tuned into CBS Sunday Morning’s interview with Sarah Jessica Parker this past weekend, I took note of her quote above regarding beautifully made clothing. And as she reflected on Sex and the City and shared that there is a possibility of a third movie (“it is in the butler’s pantry”, as she said it), I couldn’t help but wonder . . . (too much?) about the power of our clothing.
As members of society, what we wear communicates just as much about what we feel our role in society is. And while our actions make a significant difference, we forget that while we may not come into contact with everyone who sees us, we unconsciously and consciously are influencing others around us in a variety of ways.
“We communicate a society’s beliefs, values and experiences through practices, artifacts and institutions. Where, in this case, the practices, artifacts and institutions are fashion and clothing.” – Malcolm Bernard
What I would like to suggest to you today is reducing the unconscious influence we may be wielding and harnessing our sartorial power of how we can more effectively communicate the messages we consciously want to share. After all, we’ve already been learning how to communicate verbally and with our body language, why not become a triple threat in taking advantage of what we do have in our control?
Let’s look at the many different ways we can use the clothes we choose to wear as a means of communication:
1. As armor
I’ve always especially been drawn to this analogy. Aisling of Trésor Parisien once shared with me that the clothing we choose to wear is much like our armor from the world where there are many unknowns on any given day. Similar to stepping out of our sanctuary where we can let our hair down and relax, when we do cross the threshold, leaving our home, knowing we have the necessary armor gives us peace of mind and supports our confidence.
2. As an appreciation
What we wear can also reveal what we appreciate. From a particular designer’s talents, to our love for a favorite band or event, clothing, as Lauren Collins in When in French reveals, can share what we love and perhaps, as was her case, open the door to meeting her future husband.
~SJP in Oscar de la Renta at the Met’s 2014 Gala~
3. To elevate
Clothing can immediately reveal someone’s status or the status of which they would like to be considered. Depending upon the setting, the appropriate attire worn with confidence can exude a powerful exterior that others, even if they didn’t know you, would lead them to assume you were someone of authority or importance in that institution. Often, when we dress for the part we want, we can at the very least give ourselves an opportunity to grab it. The key is to match what we say as well as our mannerism with someone who is what we aspire to be.
4. To assimilate
The wearing of denim is often a simple way to easily fit in no matter where you are. Not sure about the dress code for an evening out with new friends? Wear jeans. Often leaders who are trying to assimilate with their constituents will dress down in a casual setting as a subtle attempt to be considered one with the people they represent. It is a seemingly small gesture, but it projects an idea of casual comfort that is not offensive if worn in a manner that respects the mores of the situation.
~Duchess of Cambridge during the Canadian royal tour in 2016~
5. To express an identity
Last but not least, what we wear reveals to the world who we are. Whether it is the t-shirt over a 3/4 length baseball tee worn by Sheldon of The Big Bang or Carrie Bradshaw’s eclectic combinations of high fashion and consignment finds, we reveal a little piece of who we are, what we are passionate about and how seriously we want others to take us without uttering a word. The beauty is, as we all know, who we understand ourselves to be changes and evolves, and therefore our clothing most likely will as well.
Clothing can indeed tell a story, and just as it tells a story in movies, plays and on television, it as well tells the story of our individual lives and how we are doing at this very moment. Just as we need to continue to improve our vocabulary and our knowledge of the world we live in so that we can translate and understand all that surrounds us, understanding how and what the clothes we wear communicate is to, in many ways, become more fluent in another language. So perhaps you are multilingual and you didn’t even know it. 😉