We are how we dress

My husband refuses to wear ties to work.  Funerals, occasionally, but never work.  And fair enough.  Why should he conform to the homogeneity of the corporate world?  Sure, he runs his own business and has no one to answer to, but still; he’s taking a stand and I applaud him.  Men without ties look great, anyway (see Exhibit 1, below).

pitt Similarly, I pretty much refuse to wear high heels these days.  I’ve gone so long without wearing them that they feel foreign to me now.  Plus, I walk like a transvestite in them.

When I was younger and an employee at the Red Circle Boutique (Target), I got hauled over the coals for refusing to wear the proper girl’s uniform, opting instead for drill pants and Blunnies (Blundstone boots, for those of you who aren’t yobbos like me).  I should mention that I was working at the off-site warehouse, at Mitchell, so my cry of foul was well founded.  They were following rules which did not make sense to me, so I chose to challenge them.

I hate dress codes for social functions too – even weddings.  I once went to a work party where ‘no jeans’ had been written on the invitation.  What was this?  A school note about an upcoming choir performance?  Needless to say, when the evening arrived, my denims were sitting snug on my lower half.   And guess what, the world didn’t end because I broke the code.

Mind you, I do naturally conform to society’s expectations most of the time.  I hate it when my son insists on wearing tracksuit pants everywhere; I try and get him into jeans if we’re going out to dinner.  And much as I support my husband’s decision to work sans tie, I do try to dissuade him (unsuccessfully) from wearing his Grosby slippers down to Coles (down, down, standards are down).

It was with this background in mind that I read with interest a recent article by Jane Goodall called ‘Cracking the dress code’.  In this article, Goodall talks at length about Julia Gillard’s dress sense, suggesting that Germaine Greer’s now-famous advice that Gillard should ‘get rid of those bloody jackets!’ (not to mention the big arse comment) was not as superficial as it might first have appeared.

For though the feminist movement tells us that what a woman wears is of no consequence to their character and hence should not be mentioned, Goodall suggests that Gillard’s unflattering style of clothing says something about her modus operandi as PM more generally.

Certainly during her Prime Ministership, Gillard faced recurring questions over her authenticity.  The public search for ‘Real Julia’ was relentless.  Is it possible that Gillard’s clothing was yet another indication that she was not being herself?  Was wearing jackets that didn’t fit, as Greer pointed out, a sign that she wasn’t keeping it real?  That she was dancing to someone else’s tune?

Goodall reminds us that by contrast, Margaret Thatcher was always ‘on message’ with her dress code (that is, what she wore was a carefully calculated choice and evolved over time to reflect her changing agenda).  Gillard’s, however, remained stagnant; designed to ‘project a sense of stalwartness and personal consistency’ — and that could have contributed to her public image problem.

If Gillard’s energy had been allowed to shine, through dressing more naturally, would she have impressed us more?

Giving Peter Garrett as another example, Goodall points out that ‘human presence impresses through a subliminal correlation between appearance and energy‘.  Garrett impressed in his sweaty t-shirts as front man for Midnight Oil, but not so much in a jacket and tie.  Perhaps he too, in life, has not remained entirely true to himself.

We should all remain true to our characters and that includes what clothing we are willing to wear.  Women often bemoan the fact that they are judged on how they look, but often fail to counter this by rebelling against society’s ‘acceptable’ standards.

Goodall raises a question about ‘the relationship between male and female dress codes and the ways in which power roles are culturally defined.’  She says that women need to cut loose from the male-inspired corporate mould and thereby start to project courage and a sense of sustained inner conviction.

In a nutshell, if you want people to like you and believe in you, you have to be yourself.  And this extends to how you dress.

It is a shame that Gillard couldn’t have been more flamboyant, both in her dress sense and her personality.  I am afraid that on both counts, she went for the safe option.

Do you think what Julia Gillard wore is relevant to her performance as PM?  Do you adhere to the ‘corporate look’ for work, or do you allow yourself the freedom to express your personality through clothing?

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

2 Responses to “We are how we dress”

  1. Bearded Bow Tie Guy July 17, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I go for bow ties at work. That really confuses them. But no one should wear high heels, they’re orthopedic suicide.

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