Money and sex are two big sources of manipulation, but another way in which we are influenced is by the way people dress.
Years ago, when I showed up to lead a wilderness hike, a look of worry spread across the face of an elderly student as he looked at my casual shoes, everyday pants and button-down shirt. “Are you sure you’re qualified to lead the class?” asked the man, a poster boy for hiking outfits, dressed in special hiking shoes, cargo pants, a khaki shirt and a hiking hat.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have a great class,” I assured him, and we did. He had judged me not by my qualifications, but by what I was wearing, something we all do.
This is, in part, because we all have long accepted that certain professions have come to require certain costumes. For instance, doctors wear white smocks and have stethoscopes hanging around their necks. A doctor friend once told me that at the hospital where he worked all the physicians dressed pretty casually at night. “We only dress that other way when there are visitors,” he said with a laugh.
We like to see cooks wearing aprons and big, white hats because that seems to be the mark of professionalism and excellence in that business.
Some costumes are absolutely necessary, such as the uniforms of firemen, police officers and military personnel. These very specific getups help others recognize they have the authority of a government agency that they work for.
Martial artists also have their unique attire, the generally white gi that allows free and easy movement while exercising. However, more and more I am seeing martial artists wearing simple gym clothes when practicing, often keeping the more formal gi for public displays.
I remember when ninjas were big and people were buying those black outfits in order to be inconspicuous. Of course, anyone actually wearing such an outfit was clueless about what the ninja were all about, since one of their skills was to blend into their society without being noticed.
This reminds me of the popularity of military camouflage outfits, which are designed to blend in with certain rural environments. Just as you might actually stand out in ninja dress, you don’t “blend into” an urban environment wearing a camo outfit.
Over the years, I have seen and met many individuals who wore long robes, sported long hair and believed themselves to be very Jesus-like, as if their hair and clothing somehow made them special. As most people know, simply putting on a robe does not elevate anyone to divine status.
It has been said that clothes make the man and the woman. That may be. But we also hide behind our outfits. Sometimes our clothing is a reflection of what we are inside, but quite often it’s not.
True, one cannot judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, however, many people do just that. In some cases, when we wear a uniform that represents something good and decent, it may actually cause us to do better and be better because we know people are now expecting more from us.
For sure, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even touched upon the folly of men’s ties, or women’s high heels, two of the greatest “fashion” atrocities of our day. Still, always be alert and discerning and do not judge the human “book” by the many different costumes with which it covers itself.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. He can be reached at PO Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or by visiting SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.