Dress is an important part of our everyday lives, and it has important influence on how people perceive us in all usual settings. The way we dress is accountable for the very first impression we make on people when we encounter them in a habitual or unusual setting. This is a way to make sure that one gets at least a glimpse of the person’s socioeconomic status, class one belongs to, personal preferences and style, and perhaps even professional characteristics. That is why dress became such an important component of everyday routine and contributes so strongly to the initial impression.
To test how important dress is in everyday life, it is important at times to give up the usual routine and dress in a style that is not habitual for a person. I ventured this when I put on evening dress when going to a supermarket. The reaction of people to it told me that it was an important fashion statement that was treated with a respective change in attitude.
There is certainly no exact dress code for going to a supermarket. In most cases, people will wear what they prefer, regardless of the time of the day. However, it is understood that a trip to a supermarket is different than a visit to a formal meeting or a party. Therefore, there developed a certain unofficial dress code. The visit is a casual event and as such has to be accompanied with casual clothing. The emphasis is on comfort and being casual, not on impressing people with look and style. At the same time, tt is not surprising when somebody comes back home from work and drops in at the local store, so people in business suits are not a wonder.
In my case, I decided to make sure that I do look festive enough to differentiate myself from even the regular business crowd. To accomplish this, I put on a tuxedo borrowed from my brother who was invited to a wedding the next day. Borrowing my father’s studs and shoes since we are the same size, I crafted my look in such a way as to make people know that I am in for a wedding or something of the kind. I also made some changes to my usual hairstyle, putting it in place with hair gel.
With this look, strikingly different from anything I had tried before in my life, I appeared in the local supermarket. It was about 11 a.m. on a weekend, and the store was getting rather crowded with families and singles. To set the stage, ours is a rather affluent and also busy community that treats shopping as a necessary thing rather than a pleasant pastime. Normally, people just scurry by without noticing anybody or anything. This time, however, they distinctly paid attention. Some of them stopped to let me pass, in the meantime seemingly appreciating my tuxedo and the rest of accessories. Others just stared from a distance, feeling uncomfortable to approach me in person in order to steal a glance. I believe I was the greatest sensation with elderly people who probably had more time to spare, not having to rush home for some urgent assignment, or needing more external stimuli to make their lives more impressive.
As I entered through the front door, a couple stopped on their way out, looking at me with visible surprise. Frankly speaking, I felt like a kangaroo that was brought to the place for the amusement of the people. It was the realization that I was only doing it to complete this assignment that helped me feel better; otherwise, demonstrated responses would have made me feel much worse. Sometimes, people would when I passed them to check if I was really wearing a tuxedo. Their surprise in many cases bordered on excitement as in a response that one demonstrates to an exciting movie or some other kind of show.
While the reaction was visibly noticeable, I was not able to specify exactly whether it was favourable or unfavourable. I would say that I saw both on the faces that surrounded me. Some seemed struck and unhappy with something that changed their daily routines and almost indignant that someone had violated the unwritten law that supermarket is a territory with a casual dress code. Others accompanied me with looks indicating that they perceived seeing me as a good sign. It looked as if they recalled their own feasts or perhaps wedding, and felt that by meeting me they got a touch of the cheerful atmosphere of common festivities. These faced had a dreamy look as if people were recalling some pleasant associations.
I would also like to add that I did arouse a different reaction in different departments of the store. The trip was not only an exploration of human psychology; it also had a practical purpose since I intended to do some shopping for the family. My shopping list included potatoes and carrots as well as cereal, milk, and yogurt; but to make my purchases look more in tune with my look, I also got a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. I would say that people were less inclined to stare where I was shopping for chocolates and wine. I tested if my assessment was right by turning to an old lady and asking her what in her opinion were the best sweets in the department. She enthusiastically responded to my question and began to point out different varieties to me, sharing her tastes with me. Perhaps they thought I was making some final purchases on the way to the celebration place. On the other hand, where I had to buy potatoes, the youngster in a tuxedo produced a totally different impression. People were amused and intrigued, and I saw on their faces that they were puzzled by such a conundrum.
I also noticed two desires in people as they saw me in my unusual clothing. The first was to approach as much as was allowed by a sense of decency in order to steal a glimpse and try to figure out the situation: what is this man doing here in his strange and inappropriate attire? These people seemed motivated by the investigating interest, feeling themselves for one brief moment like Sherlock Holmes. Others were repelled by the strange phenomenon, a little scared and unsure about what is going on. These people were looking at me with surprise and often even fear in their eyes and seemed willing to distance themselves. Their impulse was noticeable as they bypassed me on the way out and almost involuntarily kept their distance when letting me pass.
When I was paying at the cash desk, the sales assistant did not pay much attention to me despite my look. In fact, she focused her gaze on me; then she turned away with a sigh of fatigue. She seemed to act as if people around her had made her tired, and she was behaving with a forced effort that kept her going despite her obvious tiredness. She acted as if she refused to be amused or excited by the special look of one of her customers.
A different reaction was demonstrated by one of the customers. A man in his 50s, he glanced at me, then asked: “Going to a party?” I did not want to engage in lengthy explanations, so just nodded. He wanted to probe further and asked: “A wedding?” I thought I needed to respond in order to be polite, so we spent some time talking over the imaginary wedding as I had to invent the whole story to follow my first lie. As a matter of fact, I followed the story paralleling the actual wedding to which my brother was going. It is interesting to note that this conversation was provoked only by my clothing and nothing else as I did not demonstrate any special friendliness toward the man that so abruptly started a conversation with me.
Overall, I believe that I gained more respect than lost as a result of my dressing up. People immediately identified me as belonging at least to the middle class if I was invited to parties where such dress was the norm. In fact, this fact did not have a huge meaning as many people could afford to wear a tuxedo that was most probably borrowed rather than bought. However, the fact that I went to parties that required a certain dress code that included suits immediately placed me in a position in which people could spot my socioeconomic status.
On the other hand, they also saw me as a chancy, temporary guest in these surroundings where they belonged as expressed by their casual clothing style. It was as if I had come from a different world where everything was less usual and conventional. I was given respect because I associated for many with somewhere they would want to be that afternoon – partying with friends rather than going home to cooking a usual dinner with supermarket foods.
Speaking of ways in which this respect was manifested, I believe that I could see traces of it in the way people looked at me, in the very act of distancing from myself. When I came to the cash register, one lady waited to let me take my turn first, and I doubt that she would have done had I had my usual denims and a shirt on. It seemed that people recognized the urgency of my task and were willing to step aside to let me pass first in order to save me time going to my destination.
On the other hand, I could also catch the looks that most probably identified me as a strange person who acts in an unusual way, and this motivated these people not to accord me the respect that I gained from previous, respectful public. These people seemed to think that it was an odd decision to drop by at the supermarket in this nice attire while there are specialised stores available. They seemed to equate my poor judgement in the selection of clothes with personal shortcomings, and therefore took it as a sign of lack of social skills or intellectual ability.
I would also like to say that many people, especially those who were busy getting all they wanted for supper, never paid any special attention. I estimated them to make about half of the visitors. If they did feel surprise, they did not demonstrate it. Perhaps, they were also engrossed in their own thoughts or shopping or just thought that a tuxedo was an alternative fashion for grocery shopping these days.
My experience going in a tuxedo to a grocery store inspires one toward making some conclusions. First, dress is associated with status. When a person puts on more expensive clothing that everybody in the crowd can afford, this raises the prestige of that person. Second, dress has many associations with special events. For example, a tuxedo for many is connected with a wedding or other festive event, and the image of these events is projected onto the person. In this case, festivities are a joyful occasion. All people have been at some, and these memories make them look dreamily at a person wearing festive clothes. Moreover, it evokes envy since people want to swap places with the lucky person who will undoubtedly have fun tonight.
Putting on a different kind of clothing from what most people wear has meaning because it is associated with a certain set of social norms, attitudes, and values. Besides, clothing associated with certain rules also known as the dress code. It is a part of social interaction and as such its violations are taken by people as meaningful. Many will think that people either want to prove something to the public or want to make a statement of some kind. Coming in a different type of clothing is also perceived as a sign that the person does not belong to this group and is only a temporary intruder who will soon disappear from this place. Overall, changing one’s clothing style for a brief period does have meaning and can teach people many different things.
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