Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I'm "That Kind Of Person"

One of the things I enjoy about the Pacific Northwest is its fashion casualness. I think of myself as a t-shirt and jeans "kind of person" and there are few places where my clothing of choice doesn't pass muster. In my travels to other places, however, I've occasionally come across establishments that forbid people dressed like me: "Dress code strictly enforced."

A part of me is offended. Well, if they're going to be like that, then I'll gladly take my business elsewhere. It feels like a kind of discrimination, something this white, middle-class male doesn't experience all that often. I could, of course, simply put on a tie or a collared shirt or whatever and they would admit me. My clothing is not me.

Or is it?

I sometimes wear a ball cap to school. And sometimes a child, in the spirit of fun, will snatch it off my head. Anyone who has had this happen to them, knows the feeling of violation. "Hey!" is my automatic response. "I don't like that." And then I add, because I believe it to be true, "No one ever likes to have their hat snatched off their head." I've put that hat on my head for a reason. It's the classic bullying move, especially when it turns into the humiliation of "keep away." In other words, I assert, we're all the "kind of person" who doesn't like their hat being messed with.

Indeed, this probably goes for every article of clothing we wear. Except in very special circumstances (like being on fire) to snatch at someone's clothing is a violation of their bodily autonomy. By virtue of having elected to wear this or that, we have declared it to be a part of ourselves. And by the same token, when some stuffy restaurant insists that I wear this or that, they are at some level also challenging my sense of self.

Our clothing is important even if we declare that we're the "kind of person" who doesn't care about fashion, and not just because it protects us from the elements.

We dress to impress. We dress for success. We dress to provoke. We dress to attract. We dress to express ourselves. We dress to deceive. We dress to influence. We dress to tell the world that we're "that kind of person." When we're caught in our underwear, we feel embarrassed. When we're caught fully undressed we feel exposed.

When our children are very little, we select their clothing for them, so what they wear is more an expression of us than them, but before long they begin to have an opinion, often a strong one. On any given day, there will be at least a handful of kids who arrive at school "in costume." Some version of a princess is probably the most common around Woodland Park, but you can almost always find capes, wings, and various types of headgear as well. Our daughter had a collection of crowns and between the ages of two and five, she would not leave the house without one. 

But even the kids in t-shirts and jeans are, in a way, trying on a costume. "Teacher Tom, look at my flower dress!" "Today I'm wearing my Thor shirt!" "These are my Teacher Tom pants!"

We can properly see these costumes as aspirational or imitative, aspects of a child's efforts to play around with aspects of their world in an instinctive effort to understand them, but we can also view it as the beginnings of their efforts to come to grips with the relationship between clothing and self. 

Does changing our clothing change us? I know many people who insist that it does, that if they are dressed a certain way, they "feel" differently and therefore behave differently. I've even known people who insist that wearing certain underwear changes them in some way. We all have our own take on this, but it's not something we're born with: it's something important that we've had to learn.

I'm not a fan of dress codes, especially for young children who are in the midst of learning about the transformative magic of clothing. When adults impose clothing upon children, we violate, in a very real sense, not just their bodily autonomy, but their right to become, for a moment a day or a lifetime, the "kind of person" they want to be.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Ready for a book that makes you want to underline and highlight? One that makes you draw arrows and write 'THIS!!!!!' in the margin? Then you are in for a treat." ~Lisa Murphy, M.Ed., author and Early Childhood Specialist, Ooey Gooey, Inc.

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