The Uniform

My daughter sent me a picture recently. It was her and her roommates on a rooftop at some party. I asked her what the theme of the party was.

She said “what theme?”

And I said: “Well, you’re all in medium fade jeans and black tank tops. You’re all wearing white sneakers. And it even looks like your apple watch bands match.”

She responded: Nah.” No theme. That’s just the XYZ University started pack for weekend evenings.”

And I laughed. Because the group of kids most responsible for screaming about individuality and having 50 ways to express one’s sexuality is also the group most likely to become conformists.

And my daughter sent me a group shop of other people, and I saw what she meant: a bunch of young women in almost the exact same outfit. The guys all in jeans and graphic T shirts and sneakers…

So what makes these kids do this? Is it a feeling of belonging to a community? Or are they actually too scared to show who they really are?

I have friends who, like me, wear black most of the time. And then when they go on vacation, they attempt to figure out the style of the place they are going and adapt their wardrobe to that place. (FYI- I get that if you go to a tropical resort you may have to change up your style as your furry boots and wool turtlenecks might not work) I mean going to someplace with the same temperatures, but having a different style/look than you normally do.

Do you do this to blend in?

or

Do you do this to not stand out?

Are you adapting because you want to fully experience the place where you are, to add to the interest of your trip? Or are you trying not to be seen at all?

Now I fully admit that the style and look of the clothes my daughter wears is the same in DC as it is in NYC- her favorite clothes here are her favorite clothes there. So maybe this is just how Gen Z dresses…but I really don’t know

But now think about yourself: Do you dress in the clothes that make you feel confident from the inside? Or do you dress to feel accepted from the outside?

I know I feel more confident in my battery of black dresses and shirts and sweaters. I like the solid neutral palate that I can dress up with fun accessories. That’s my look and I’m sticking with it, no matter where I go or what I’m doing or who I’m with.

So how do you dress? As you like it, or as others do?

The Fit

We use clothes to help us fit in.

Period.

Even if we are brimming with confidence, many of us feel the need to look the part. One of my NYC friends will be attending a wedding in ruralish North Carolina this fall. When I was talking to her the other day, she was already obsessing. And the wedding isn’t till October.

“I have nothing to wear!” She whined.

“How about that cute black dress” I asked

“Gee. I won’t stand out like a New Yorker at all in that…”

And this went back and forth for awhile, her ruling out every dress she owned and me asking her to video chat her closet to me so I could talk her off the wall. She became obsessed with wanting to fit in, though she had absolutely no idea what fitting in would entail. I asked¬† her “what about the nice navy, just wear it with a chunky heel neutral shoe”, because I’m betting outdoors will be involved in some way. She started trolling clothing websites no matter what I said. And I could already envision her putting the new dress up for sale on her local Mom website because she was going to buy a dress she didn’t like just because of her need to be part of the group.

This is where dressing for yourself and dressing for the occasion and location collide.

Sure- we have some sort of inbred desire to be part of the group. I’m going to say it’s probably something to do with our evolutionary need to survive- fitting in is sort of like camouflage- if we blend in we won’t get hunted. And by hunted I mean talked about. No one wants to walk into a room and feel that everyone is talking about them. And if we don’t feel comfortable in what we are wearing, if we feel out of place, we’re going to think that every conversation entails people saying “Can you believe she’s wearing that?”¬† Every time someone looks at us we think they’re staring with disdain and derision. If we don’t feel like we’re part of the group we’re going to check the mirror about a thousand times, pull down hems, readjust sleeves….and be miserable…

I get wanting to fit in via clothes. And traveling to a different environment cements this in. I can tell a tourist in NYC by their clothes. Just like you can tell I’m a tourist when I visit someplace else. Different parts of the country have different dress codes. But how much do we accede to regional dress? If we visit the southwest do we immediately put on cowboy boots? If we go south do we wear pastels? Do we automatically shift to our environment? Change the camouflage? Seek to fit in?

I will tell anyone visiting NYC in the spring to have waterproof shoes and layers. But that’s not to fit in: that’s about being comfortable with the varied weather patterns that NYC presents. I would never tell someone to just pack black. To me fitting in means being ready for the weather.

When we visited different parts of the country last summer I did not bring “Southern” clothes or “Midwest” clothes. I brought my clothes. My collection of black, grey and olive t shirt dresses. My comfy black sandals. My white sneakers. I did bring a function over form bag that I don’t normally use at home, but that was because I really needed the function. And I didn’t care that people knew where I was from before I opened my mouth and my accent spewed out. I was OK with my way of dressing. I am OK with my way of dressing.

When you travel, you travel. The person that you are. Just wear what makes you comfortable and happy. The rest will fall into place.

Though really- there’s nothing wrong with a nice pair of cowboy boots…