With APEC visiting this week, my team took the opportunity to dress in casual clothes. The theory is that we are less likely to be pelted with fruit by ratbag protesters.
My team, as befits a bunch of actuaries, is not much into dressing especially well. So the chance to dress down was welcomed by all.
But I was looking around this morning and realised that the language of our clothes was “we are a group of business people who have chosen to dress casually this week.” Not, as we might have vaguely hoped, “we are a group of people who might be one of you so please do not pelt us with fruit”. In truth, there was absolutely no hope of that. Our clothes very plainly sent the message, “we normally dress in business clothes, but we’ve taken the chance to dress a bit more casually today.”
I’ve never been particularly into clothes, but I’ve painfully realised over the years that your clothes always have a message embedded into them. Look at someone in the street, and the way they have dressed always identifies them as part of a group of some kind. My weekend clothes identify me as part of a group of mothers in the suburbs who don’t really care what they wear. My work clothes identify me as someone who has taken care with their business clothes, but really is only superficially interested in dressing well.
For me, it was quite liberating to think that my clothes always made a statement. Even though my statement is that I don’t care much about my clothes, it’s a statement I’m happier consciously making. I can choose my clothes at work depending on how much of my real self I wish to share with everyone else.
One of my favourite scenes in The Devil wears Prada was the scene where Miranda forensically dissects Andy’s (before) outfit and points out just how much of what she is wearing has come (via many links in the chain) from the fashion magazine and industry she really despises.
We live in a rich, gilded, age, and one of the things about that is that we have the freedom to choose our clothes based mostly on how they look, rather than what we need them to do for us. And all our choices have meaning, even the anti-choices.
I suspect that if APEC gets nasty (pretty unlikely anyway, particularly for me, given where I work in town, but you never know) my team will be saved from fruit pelting protesters not because they aren’t identifiably business people, but because they are identifiably daggy business people, and thus not worth bothering with.