Monday, September 26, 2016


    We are a remarkable species. With no biological protections to rely on like sharp teeth, long claws, or poisonous venom we have managed to expand across the globe to every kind of land, every kind of climate, facing every kind of natural threat. We have done so in very large part by our extraordinary skill at creating associations in our brains and using those connections to help us understand and navigate this place we call home.  In terms of how this skill relates to Attire, we have built up over millennia of time an endless stream of associations that direct our response to the people we see in our world.
    I have written before about our responses to colors.  Some of these have become so deeply rooted in our psyches they seem to have become hard wired, like our physiological response to red.  Others are culturally derived associations like the relation in Japanese culture of white with mourning, as opposed to black in Western culture.  What is interesting to observe in action, (and I see this every day in the answers to my blog posts here and on facebook), is how very difficult it is for us to get around these connections, once we have made them.  They act as a sort of unspoken set of laws we carry in our noggins.
    If for example we come from a culture where a brilliant pink is a color traditionally reserved for women and girls, it can subtly shift our perceptions of a male we see.  Where black leather carries potent connections to danger and sex, that un-worded point goes into the quickly growing list of things we observe as we assemble our final impression of who and what we are looking at.
     When there is a cultural association with a particular garment type as being appropriate for a certain activity, we find it hard to see it in another context. As an example, this past week I posted a contemporary menswear design for a coat that got more than one negative response because it looked too much in shape like a bathrobe.  We have trouble, once we have these bonds created, not implementing them when we see someone in our world, or view an outfit on a runway.  It is an act of will to step around it.  And since we do the huge majority of this kind of relating wordlessly and without conscious thought, that act of will becomes even more difficult to achieve.
    What I see then, is that this fantastic skill we have at creating and using the links we devise is a double edged thing.  Yes, it does give us valuable information. Yes, it does give us tools with which to build our understanding. Those very tools can misinform us, or cloud our rational judgement just as readily as they can aid it.  Very often the assumption we make based on these internal rules as build is erroneous.  The man in pink probably simply likes the color.  The person in leather may be the kindest and most gentle of souls with nary a nefarious thought.
    The biggest part of the inherent danger in these things is that it happens nearly instantaneously.  Before we are aware the connection is already in place, diverting us from whatever truth might be actually getting conveyed.  So it is wise to check ourselves, to reconsider and step back form our own judgements a moment before we deliver our assessment.  I find I am no less guilty of this than anyone else, and must make a deliberate effort to set these considerations aside.  It's work, real work to do so.

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