Mark Twain suspected it, Gottfried Keller wrote a book about it and now the globalisation’s mitrailleuse affirms it. Clothes make the man, as in the quotation, the novel, the article.
My personal attitude to dressing up has always vacillated between disdain and indifference, so the findings of a study quoted by the article above seemed to confirm my suspicion about the superficiality and vainness of clothes. In short, the study shows that people wearing fashionable clothes are more often recommended for jobs, afforded a higher salary, and surprisingly also given more money when collecting for charity. The point though is that this behaviour is entirely dependant on the visibility of the brand label. The same persons in the same clothes minus the brand label, fail to live up to the label-induced performance.
In this everybody might find their views confirmed. My personal scorn certainly feels exonerated, but it is unclear what exactly follows and whether several issues are intermingled.
First of all, my mother was manifestly up to something when she sowed crocodiles onto off-the-shelf polo shirts, for the social recognition seems to turn on the label, not on the cloth. This seems one of the issues that ravaging bankers and other brand-wearers fail to grasp.
Second, I should also note that a person might dress well one day and come back totally shabby the next day. I have to admit that I will judge her differently, although she is clearly the same person and this tells me something about my supposed indifference to superficialities.
Third, the powerful incentives for dressing up, shown by the quoted study above, need to be considered. It seems that above all the mediocre and deceivers have an incentive to blend others with their dress, since they do not have anything else to show, hiding incompetency behind glamorous garment. .
Finally and on a sidenote only, the UN has also its own share of “dress to impress“, although on the account given there it seems that its impressiveness in the gown field equals the one in its core competencies.
What to make of all this?
First, dressing up for success seems to amount to something of a zero-sum game, as the following example shows. Nowadays a strict dress-code is imposed on staff in Swiss banks, as reported some time ago in the media. The banks in question are quoted as saying that “proper dress inspires confidence and underscores professionalism in customers” when asked about the measures.
One wonders if an incompetent staff will turn into a competent one, just by virtue of dressing well? The question also begs itself what difference it will make if all banks enforce such rules, thus supposedly increasing their customer confidence across the board. The only explanation that comes to my mind is that perhaps less people opt for keeping their savings below the pillow, due to this newly acquired assurance. What is clear is that dress inspired confidence is an illusion.
Forcing people to dress up might, on the contrary actually backfire since it will, on this account, be harder for customers to spot the rotten apples in a bank or elsewhere.
Second, how can my attraction to some flavours of dress be explained, while I am clearly repulsed by others. I think that the motivation behind ones acts can help explaining these reactions. I appreciate individuality, clothes that underscore personality and that do not merely serve to transmit a precooked image of professionalism or beauty. On the other hand I dislike uniform dress, like the clone armies marching up and down my work places cafeteria, clad in colourful cloth, yet vain and characterless.
In my view assessment of people should be based on merit not on superficialities such as clothes, which put reason and facts on the back-seat and my and others decent style can be interpreted as begging to be evaluated based on merit rather than on appearances.
Since the study quoted above clearly shows that such fair treatment has not imposed itself, it is time for some affirmative action.I shall thus postulate my own rule by which I will give dressed-up persons in implicit moral malus while giving “normally” dressed ones a bonus and call on likeminded people to consider doing the same