Do the Clothes Really Make the Man?

Ever since man strapped on his first loincloth millions of years ago, fashion has been a part of life. Clichés like “dress for the job you want,” “the clothes really make the man,” and “every girl’s crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man” emerged into the lexicon for a reason. They are used to explain fashion choices and styles and the psychology of the human creature. Many assumptions are made about a person based on the clothes they wear. They send signals to others about the person, what they do, and who they are. It truly does force the question, though: “Do the clothes really make the man?”

Do the Clothes Really Make the Man?

What Our Clothes Say About Ourselves

It’s no secret the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and the homes we buy have more than just practical functions. If they were only practical tools we used to survive, then no one would spend millions of dollars on a home to keep the rain off their head. They are also used as forms of self-expression that signal status, group membership, individuality, and personal taste. Through our clothes, we send each other silent cues that signal how we expect them to treat us. This works because we make quick assessments of situations and people, then file them into categories we understand. This is called “representative bias,” and it is the tendency to not treat everyone as an individual but to generalize based on things we see that are similar to traits that we already understand. We look at an elderly woman walking with a cane and assume she’s not a yoga instructor. We also look at a man in a uniform with his name on the shirt and a huge keyring on his belt and figure he’s not the CEO of Pepsi Corp.

How We See Ourselves

Dressing to impress our friends, colleagues, and a potential love interest can clearly influence how others see us. What’s not so clear, though, is how our clothes influence us. Physical objects like clothes can be used to change our mindsets and allow us to change into roles that are unfamiliar by first dressing the part. We embrace objects such as custom-made shirts, suits, and expensive ties that project a certain lifestyle and knowledge. Then we begin to behave in the way we expect a person who wears such things to behave. The transformation has begun without us being aware of it. This theory is known as symbolic interactionism, and it may answer the question, “Do the clothes really make the man?” If this theory holds water, then dressing for the job or lifestyle you want may subconsciously change your behavior over time.

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