“It’s all about personality man… women don’t care what you look like.”
Is it? Or is this another feel-good rationalization that will sabotage men for generations to come…
Some men seem to think that style is nothing but superficial beautification. Others seem to fall into the other extreme of thinking image is everything—that it defines them.
Style is a language.
It is a mode of communication.
To say that style is just beautification of the superficial is like saying words are just the decoration of pages. On the other hand, our style is not our identity.
The relationship can be best seen in the way a word defines the associated object/concept. The word is never truly equivalent to the object. It is just a representation, a communication of it.
Michel Foucault: “This is not a pipe” (It’s only a picture of a pipe)
Like the English language, there are always better ways to express the same message.
It’s like describing yourself as “happy” vs. “first-paycheck-meets-last-day-of-high school joyful.” Some styles just get the message across better. Others are just antonyms. There are many men out there dressing in the antonyms of their desired selves.
The crazy thing about the language of style is that it communicates whether you are aware of it or not.
Every single piece of clothing you put on is saying something about you. You might be putting on your “favorite” business casual outfit thinking your communicating “cultured,” “modern,” and “seasoned professional,” but you may actually be sending the message of “out-of-sync,” “antiquated,” and “amateur.”
How many judgments and presumptions can you make about the guy in the above picture?
I bet you can write a paragraph about the dude’s life, including what his love life must be like, etc. You are conscious of this judgment making process now, but most of the time you are doing this unconsciously, labeling people, and making sweeping generalizations.
If you’re guilty of this, just imagine how others must be doing the same to you.
You see, the human mind is always trying to MAKE SENSE of the world.
This often means making assumptions as an attempt to bridge the gap of information that it often experiences. When we see someone we’ve never seen before, the mind will do whatever it can with the information that is presented. That information is often presented in the form of appearance or image.
The common language of style exists whether you decide to acknowledge it or not. With your dress, you’re essentially “speaking” the language of society & culture, and conveying your characteristics through “words” that are commonly understood. Over-sized pants say something. So do red ties on presidents.
“OK, but who cares what others think? Why not just be confident?”
You should care.
Unless you live in a cave by yourself, you should care about the messages your conveying through your style and clothing. To disregard it is like being OK with wearing a sign that says “loser” on your back. If you’re constantly sending messages anyways, you might as well learn the language and utilize it to work for you and not against you.
Guys: think about how often we judge women on their appearance. We often go as far as judge the very caliber of women from a mere glance, before they even say a word. I’m guilty of it. It’s as if I can “size up” a girl before I even meet her. Women do the same, with 10x the scrutiny.
Using the archetypes of style
There are countless style archetypes. There’s the “Rock Star,” “Preppy Ivy League,” “Urbane Cowboy” to name a few. All these looks have loaded messages. These are like sub-languages. They have the benefit of carrying a preloaded message–almost like canned “pick up lines.” If done right, they can be extremely powerful means of expressing a certain trait or message. However, there is always the down-side of not completely understanding the “sub-language,” botching the entire look, and coming off as a mumbled fool.
“Oh… but that’s not me”
When you dress into a certain archetype or stereotype, it’s not to pigeonhole your personality into a certain mold. It’s about a “tool” for communication. It’s about speaking the language of society, popular culture, and conveying your characteristics through “words” that are understood. This language does not define you. It is NOT your identity. You image or “look” is simply an expression of yourself through the medium of clothing.
As an exercise: look yourself in the mirror right now, and ask yourself:
If I saw someone dressed the way that I’m dressed now, what kind of inferences would I make about that person?
Write down some of the words or assumptions that come to your mind. When you do this, really detach yourself from your appearance, and be honest. If you saw a guy dressed like this on the street, what would you guess about his career? his social life? his love life?
Are you saying the things you want to say with your style? Are you fluent in the language of style?