The Importance of Appropriateness in Clothing

The Importance of Appropriateness in Clothing

Brighton Beach 1967

Brighton Beach 1967, H. Dacre Stubbs via State Library of Victoria

Just a quick post today. I am starting to get a tiny bit stressed about getting my book Build Your Signature Wardrobe finished and published by the end of this month, and it seems like there is too much still to do.  Anyway, I thought I would share some thoughts about the old fashioned notion of Appropriateness.  Many people reject appropriateness because so often it has the moral connotation of right and wrong.  I think this is because children’s lives are bound by YES or NO, there is no context.  We either are, or are not good, or polite or appropriate.

But in reality, appropriate is a continuum – what is right at home is probably wrong in the workplace.  What is right at the beach is probably wrong on the ski fields.

I recently read an article that mentioned some research where women were put in bikinis and given a math test, and oddly enough didn’t do well (sadly I can’t find my original article but it’s not hard to find something like this You are what you DRESS that gives you the gist of it).

The point of the article was that what you wear affects your confidence. If you consider for a moment being put in a tiny bathing costume (speedos for the blokes – or budgie smugglers as we call them here in Australia) you can well imagine that you wouldn’t be very confident sitting a math test with a bunch of people in white clothes observing.  It’s not the bathers per se, it’s that they are not appropriate for the context – if you were calculating the total cost of pies, Chiko rolls, coke, and iced coffee at the beach kiosk I think your math skills would be unimpaired.

Similarly, my article suggested that more formal clothing like a suit encourages more abstract thinking. And I think this is an example of dress that is appropriate for the context. You have the sartorial equivalent of your thinking cap on – a relatively distraction-free background. Not so good for relaxing at the beach though.

So in my opinion, appropriate means something more along the lines of fit for purpose.  And in clothing terms a much more useful basis for planning your purchases.  A bikini wouldn’t be as appropriate for a trip to the arctic as the tropics, and a fur-lined hat is much more appropriate for the arctic than the tropics.

I agree that bathers aren’t something that naturally springs to mind when clothes shopping, so let’s think about socks instead. You can get socks for all occasions: tennis, walking, running, hiking, cycling, skiing, golf, yoga, business, everyday, flight, slipper.  Or for conditions: diabetic, compression.  Different lengths: ankle, mini, crew, knee, over the knee, thigh. Socks with toes! Socks for wearing inside other socks. Socks made from wool, cotton, fleece, bamboo, Coolmax. Patterned, coloured, plain. There’s probably more but I have to stop somewhere.

While there is a range of socks that might be appropriate for me, I don’t want to spend a great deal of time choosing socks so in practice I only have crew length wool hiking socks. They have cushy soles and some compression which is great when my feet swell, and the wool wicks well. Because they meet my needs, these socks are appropriate for me.

Katy on the other hand dresses according to how she feels so she needs a range of lengths, colours and patterns to choose from, so the appropriate sock for her is different every day. Consequently, I buy one or two pairs of costly socks that I expect to last a long time, and she buys five or ten pairs of cheaper socks that she is prepared to dispose of when she gets tired of them. It’s the same thing, but differently appropriate.

Have you ever considered how appropriate your clothing is? Would you take appropriateness as low as you socks or stop at your suit? Does this change the way that you feel about your clothes?

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