The Language of Clothes

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.

  7 comments for “The Language of Clothes

  1. September 4, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Last week (the week before school starts) there was an emergency meeting of the parents of kindergarteners attending our public school. Almost 50 new k-garteners enrolled in the two weeks before school, sending class sizes skyrocketing, and the school administrators wanted to talk to us about it.

    About 80 parents — mostly women — attended the meeting. And I noticed that *every* woman but one was wearing clothes exactly like what you’ll find in my own closet.

    How about that.

  2. September 4, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Maybe wear clothes with fruit stains from child-rearing so it looks like you’ve already been pelted.

  3. September 4, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    I remember walking past what was about the firs tof these protests in London years ago. I was working back office at that stage and so was in casual clothes, but, like you, “business casual”.
    The mob was busy wrecking the McDonald’s store I often got my lunch from (healthy, as always) and really did not care about me. I was obviously not one of them (my hair was not in dreads for a start) but they were busy making a statement, not trying to hurt passers-by.
    That said, the staff inside the McDonald’s were all hiding up the back, looking very scared.
    The attacks were fairly brainless anyway. If they wanted to hurt world capitalism there were much better targets than a McDonald’s store – the bank I worked for at the time, for example.

  4. September 4, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    I’ve actually had to go through periods of keeping practically a wardrobe in my office – a suit first vists to one college, jeans for the arts based one, “smart casual” for another and plain old scruffy for my actual workplace.

  5. potentilla
    September 5, 2007 at 1:24 am

    If any of you do turn up in convincing anarcho-chic fruit-pelting disguise, would it be frowned on? My guess is it would. The HR guy at the company I used to work for was quite specific that dress down did not include “the sort of clothes you might dig the garden in” although admittedly he used to be a commander in the Royal Navy.

  6. September 12, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    I hope you got through APEC without anyone giving you hassle! The wall around the city centre looked scary! I was relieved I no longer work in that area.

  7. September 13, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    Potentilla, I think the anarchic clothes would have been frowned upon, but I don’t think anyone actually had them to wear, either (or maybe I’m too harsh on my fellow actuaries).

    Helen, APEC was a complete fizzer. Nothing at all happened where I was, and I actually went into town on the Saturday, forgetting that it was the day of the big protest, to find them, as they were getting ready, totally outnumbered by police. I’ve seen bigger protests in Macquarie St on a weekday from people protesting about totally obscure issues.

    The wall was a bit blade-runner-esque, though – the one time I went down that end of town it felt quite bizarre.

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