“I want to wear my pink polka-dot pants,
my dress with orange-and-green flowers,
my purple-and-blue striped socks,
my yellow shoes
and my red hat.”
from Ella Sarah Gets Dressed
written and illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Harcourt, Inc. 2003
When I was about seven, I longed for a pair of saddle shoes. Mom said “no” in a hurry. She said they were labor-intensive. Too much of a chance of scuffing. Too much polishing. Too much lace-tying. Mom was neat and tidy. I was not.
She bought me loafers and even gave me a penny to stick in each one.
I don’t remember a line about shoes in our school’s strict dress code, but lots of girls wore saddle shoes. We had to wear dresses or skirts that reached at least mid-knee. No pants, Blouses were tucked in. No t-shirts. Yes to belts or suspenders, though. My brother wore suspenders, but, I suspect he might have preferred a belt. No jeans. The back of a boy’s hair was not permitted past the top of his collar. No shorts for boys or girls. Men teachers wore ties. Women wore dresses or skirts.
Authorities such as principals, guidance counsellors, and school boards promoted school dress codes to add decorum to the classrooms, encourage politeness, and promote concentration, they claimed. If scientific studies backed these claims, they weren’t cited. When the late 1960s turned into the early 1970s, school dress codes fell by the wayside (pretty universally) in favor of allowing students their freedom of expression. There were limits, of course, but they were few and far between.
Societies have dress codes, too. Although our parents didn’t say so outright, we all understood that dressing up was expected when we went shopping or to our yearly doctors’ appointments or for the occasional restaurant meal.
Whole books have been written about the history of clothing and fashion. Seems like everything from a fig leaf to a formal frock can make a fashion statement.
According to the on-line site Brainfodder, our clothing choices say a great deal about us. They touch on how we perceive ourselves and how others see us. For example, do your t-shirts have slogans, pictures, advertising? Do you avoid synthetic fabrics in favor of natural fibers? Do your clothes conform to society’s expectations helping you “blend in?” or do you favor bright colors and flamboyant accessories help you stand out? Do you express your cultural identity with your clothing choices?
“Science even has a name for this phenomenon. The term coined about 10 years ago, “enclothed cognition” describes how the clothes we wear affect our behavior, attitudes, personality, mood, confidence, and even the way we interact with others.” (Brainfodder, emphasis included)
A recent study split men into two groups: suits and sweatpants. The result was the suited participants won over $2 million in a simulated business deal experiment. The sweatpants group ended up losing $1.2million! Studies continually show that wearing a suit, formal and structured, puts us in the right frame of mind to conduct business. And encourages others to see us that way. Hillary Clinton comes to mind.
Donning a white lab coat resulted in better intelligence scores when a subject was told the coat was a doctor’s lab coat than when they were told it was a painter’s smock.
Based on many social experiments, scientists report that we tend to match our actions to our clothing more-so than the other way round. Wearing gym clothes results in more visits to the gym, for example.
But people tend to be less open to socializing when dressed in business attire. Dress-down Friday encourages friendliness and creativity.
Recently the US Congress has weighed in on both sides of the argument. Senator John Fetterman (D-Pa) usually ignores the unwritten Congressional dress code. This week when he showed up in his typical sweat shirt, shorts, and sneakers, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer directed the Senate's sergeant-at-arms to stop enforcing its unwritten code. But Mr. Schumer said he would continue wearing a suit.
Republican criticism was quick. Two days later, 46 Republicans told Schumer, “The world watches us on that floor and we must protect the sanctity of that place at all costs,” and “Allowing casual clothing on the Senate floor disrespects the institution we serve and the American families we represent.”
Russia is continuing its assault on Ukraine. Hurricanes, tropical storms, and wildfires rage. Gerrymandering continues to proliferate. Politics is mixed in with our justice system, blurring the line between Religion and State. Book banning. Politicizing immigration. Exhibiting unfocused fear and anger. Gun violence. Anti-Semitism. Racial hatred.
The looming shut-down of the US Government used to be unthinkable.
Dress-down Friday would be a step in the right direction for Congress. A little creativity will go a long way toward finding compromise on so many difficult choices. A little friendliness could encourage acceptance of colleagues’ different ideas.
Fetterman and Schumer have the right idea.
Many years ago I read The Soul of an Octopus (Atria Books, 2015) by Sy Montgomery. It’s a fascinating look at octopuses through the eyes of a journalist and marine biologist. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (HarperCollins, 2022) is fiction. But similar themes of loss, finding unexpected love, starting over, and how it feels to be an octopus all ring True. Highly recommended.
-—Be curious! (and friendly)