Do clothes make a person?

Can you feel good, feel self confident, even if your clothes are rather shabby?  There is the argument that you should be proud of yourself no matter what you are wearing. Clothes should be a nice "finishing touch", but ultimately its the person underneath that either shines with confidence, or shirks in the shadows.

To some extent it does come down to your attitude to what you wear. If you are financially hard up and aware that the clothes you are wearing have seen better days, then you will be self conscious and that awareness will affect you.

An easy "unhelpful thought" to slip into is mind reading. We imagine others are having critical thoughts about us, ripping our clothes to shreds in their minds and ridiculing us for what we look like – even tough we have no idea what other people are thinking.

Alternatively, some people are oblivious to the opinions of others and feel confident whatever they wear.  There are highly successful people don't give a damn about appearance or fashion, feeling good about themselves whatever they are wearing.

The Donkey Jacket that Wasn't

Some people can look shabby in even the most expensive clothes. A famous British politician, Michael Foot, died this week at the age of 96. A one time leader of one of our main political parties, he had many achievements to his name. Yet, sadly, every obituary flags up that he was lampooned and highly criticised was wearing a "donkey jacket" at a memorial service and

"looked more like an Irish navvy than a party leader".

This happened nearly 30 years ago, and ironically the coat he was wearing wasn't a donkey jacket (a type of coat worn by labourers) but a new, expensive coat that shouldn't have generated any criticism at all.  The problem was,  Michael Foot  had the gait, posture and general physical stature that always made him look somewhat shabby.

Whatever he wore, he never looked the part of a statesman, a great leader.  Yet when he spoke, he was one of the best orators this country has known!

An Englishman Abroad

Another interesting person was Guy Burgess. Infamous as a spy who defected to the then Soviet Union in 1951.  Seven years later he made contact with actress Coral Browne who was touring the country with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He persuaded her to measure him up and arrange for his tailors in London to make him some new suits.

This true story was wonderfully dramatised in a 1983 film, An Englishman Abroad.  I saw it on television again a few months ago and what stuck so vividly in my mind was how the rather pathetic, alcoholic figure of Burgess was transformed when was able to dress himself in elegant suits. Parading around in a country where everyone else was by default "shabby", you could see him suddenly filled with self confidence and stature.

Self Confidence from What You Wear

OK, so it was a dramatisation. But to me  still an accurate illustration of how wearing "the right" clothes can transform how you feel about yourself.  It may not make a difference for everyone, and (as with Michael Foot) may be only part of the equation.

One habit I have changed, to good effect, is stopping dressing down at weekends. I'd never been a great one for paying too much attention to clothes, and tended to slob around in very scruffy clothes when not at work.Trouble was, this ultimately was reflected in my behaviour and how I felt. 

After being dragged out shopping by my wife I made a conscious decision to look reasonably smart and take a bit more care about my appearance. If the weekend has purpose, why not dress that way (I should add I'm not the sort of person who spends much time gardening, decorating or generally getting dirty at weekends if i can help it!)

Does what you wear make a difference to you, or does your confidence remain consistent whatever you wear?

photo by cod_gabriel on flickr

Debbie March 6, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I feel better when i am wearing certain colors.  Pastels make me feel better.  Whether it is pinks, blues,greens, or yellow.  Those colors just make me feel like spring.
I do think when you have good self esteem it doesn't matter what you wear.  My hair can make a different in how i feel.  If I have bad hair cut I will not feel as good.
What does or should count is how you feel inside.  Say your swimming or mountain climbing.  It doesn't matter what you are wearing because your focus is on the fun you are having.
If clothes matter that much you need to work on the inside for your happiness.\

David March 7, 2010 at 10:40 am

Don’t get me started on hair cuts! I think their is a total gender difference here; to be its a necessary evil that makes little difference to how I feel (but at school usually led to ridicule). Whereas, IMO, a woman goes to have her hair “done” and the result can make her day, or totally destroy her!
I still think, even with good self esteem, what you wear can add or detract from how you feel.
Thanks for your reflections and comment

Corinne Edwards March 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

I like to dress up when I go someplace nice.  Like Debbie, I favor certain colors like red and a deep blue.
But at home – right now I am wearing pink sweats and I feel just fine.and my self esteem is not sufferiing at all.  I would not mind at all if you dropped in.
Besides, I just came from the supermarket.  The neigborhood is known in that area as gang infested.  Best not to call attention to yourself.,
I do believe that you act differently if you are out in the world and are dressed suitablly.
As Debbie said –
"What does or should count is how you feel inside."

David March 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

I think this keeps coming back to how aware we are of what others think of us, which has always been an easy way of getting your self esteem undermined. Rather than lose the habit of being aware of others opinion, an alternative is to be consistently proud of your appearance. I’m not saying that’s the best approach, but I’m sure many must do it. There is probably an element of this with me, if I’m honest! Thanks for your thoughts

Evan March 7, 2010 at 12:18 am

I tend to feel uncomfortable when I dress up.  Ideally I don't wear anything dressier than chinos and polos.  My preference would be to never have to wear anything dressier – though there are strong social codes about weddings and funerals.

Maybe it's because I'm an introvert – or maybe because I'm interested in what's inside rather than the wrapping.  But I don't bother with clothes much – mine or others.

David March 7, 2010 at 11:15 am

I take your points, and also as an introvert I’ve never been one for looking flashy or bringing attention to myself. But even if we are interested in what’s inside, most of the time (even unconsciously) people pay some attention to the “wrapper” they are putting on, it forms part of our outer shell?
This is pure conjecture from me, as I’ve never read any research on this subject. But if body language plays such a large part in our communication, I’m sure clothing contributes to some degree with that.
Thanks, as always, for your contribution to the debate.

RhondaL March 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

“Is it the clothing or what’s inside?” is sort of like the “chicken and the egg” question. Ideally, people don’t “judge a book by it’s cover,” but they do. (I should say, “We do.” It’s human nature.) On the other side of the equation, actors use costuming to anchor themselves into their characters.

I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “blink,” which is all about the snap judgments we make – for good or ill.
.-= RhondaL´s last blog ..Those Ubiquitous Movie Friesians =-.

David March 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Thanks for mentioning “Blink”, which I read only a few months ago but it didn’t occur to me to bring into the discussion. Whilst I don’t recall clothing coming into it directly, its very much about how first impressions count far more than we would consciously give credit. Thanks for commenting.

Daniel March 7, 2010 at 4:04 pm

there’s a novel from a swiss poet called “clothes make the people” it is so great
.-= Daniel´s last blog ..How to maintain your car after winter =-.

Sherri--Being the Change I Wish to See March 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm

I tend to dress for comfort unless required to do otherwise. I’m very uncomfortable and self-conscious when I have to be dressed in a “monkey suit”. I stick to sweats, jeans, chinos, T-shirts, golf shirts or cotton button downs most of the time.

Unlike many people, I hate new clothes. Both my sister and I wore hand-me-downs from our older cousins, clothes that were soft and had been worn hundreds of times before we ever put them on. Anything I buy new must be washed before I ever wear it. Washing it a few times is preferable. I also go for 100% cotton. Only a few synthetic materials don’t irritate my skin, and those are the ones made to be very soft.

I have a few pairs of jeans that have faded to nearly white and have holes in a few places. Some of my students asked me where I bought them and how much I paid for them. They wanted some just like them. They were sadly disappointed when I told them I bought them new, no holes and dark blue 10 years ago for about $30.

Apparently, one can buy jeans that are faded and have holes in them for around $100. I would have sold mine right then if I’d had something else to put on. I could have bought a new pair of jeans, worked on wearing another older pair out, and had $50-$60 profit.

Selling them didn’t work out when they found out my jeans weren’t name brand. I order from Lands’ End and have them hemmed to the correct inseam. I’m 5’2″ and getting pants the correct length is impossible off the rack. Mail-order pants usually come un-hemmed unless you specify an inseam and they don’t charge for hemming.

Great post!
.-= Sherri–Being the Change I Wish to See´s last blog ..Ugandan kill-the-gays bill part 10: “The Family” finally condemns the bill =-.

David March 7, 2010 at 11:00 pm

This reminds me of when I went to the Soviet Union in 1980, we were constantly approached to sell our jeans!
Like everyone else to date, comfort seems to be the determining factor for you, Sherri. I still hang onto the possibility that others still use clothes to reinforce their confidence?
Thanks for your comment

Benjamin March 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Hi David,

I love this line:

Clothes should be a nice “finishing touch”, but ultimately its the person underneath that either shines with confidence, or shirks in the shadows.

I completely agree that real confidence shines through in casual or formal wear.

Personally, I like to dress up occasionally, but I do my best to remember who I am beyond the clothes… I also do my best to extend that habit to other people as well.

keep smiling,

.-= Benjamin´s last blog ..Interview with Shinzen Young =-.

David April 1, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for commenting, and belated congratulations on your baby – for the next few years you’ll have to double check that your “smart” clothes remain smart before you leave home! But that’s an important point I hadn’t mentioned – not judging other people by what they are wearing.

Ted Hessing April 1, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Seriously loved the post pic! I think it reflects that, timelessly, the best clothes you can adorn yourself in are confidence and purpose.
.-= Ted Hessing´s last blog ..Office Pranks for April Fools Day =-.

David April 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

To think we all felt confident dressed like that once upon a time!

Nick May 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Hi guys,

I was married to a woman for 5 years and generally dressed well. Then one day we were off to an evening drinks do with some friends and she stated ‘ i’m not going out with you dressed like that !’.even though i felt completely comfortable in what i was wearing and not dressed in painters coveralls or something ..I believe she saw me as a reflection of herself to her friends.The issue was hers not mine. I found the whole episode completely distasteful as I preferred to give her a nice home and fine things to the detriment of my own personal clothing. ..The process of what someone wears is strictly personal (in my opinion)…..7 years down the line I have divorced the ‘control freak’ and dress how I please, to please me……I feel very comfortable in my own skin and clothes for the first time in many years.

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