It is said that one should dress how they want to be addressed. Although in modern times the ripple effect of that adage has built a culture of prejudice. For some looking at this article the first thing their thinking is, “What’s the connection?’, “Can it really be that deep?”. If you’re party to that approach let me ask you a series of questions. There’s no right or wrong answer, just the truth. Maybe after going through this article, you’ll realize that you need to make a paradigm shift, maybe not. The most important thing is to understand the sociological value fashion plays in terms of prejudice, and what may be learned from it.
If two people walked into a room, one in a t-shirt, jeans and fairly new sneakers, and bleached blonde hair, another in a well-tailored suit briefcase in hand, dress shoes polished, who would you think is financially more successful? In a group of ten, you’d be lucky to have three or more siding with the blonde figure. Want why? It’s hardwired into us to associate certain factors of life with the way individuals present themselves, which includes their fashion choices. As human beings we appreciate surety, in fact, we love it, at least until it becomes too predictable. Part of our innate desire for surety is the desire to put individuals in boxes. This helps us predetermine how we’ll treat them, or more importantly, how we value them. We apply these instincts when viewing the presentation of others. For example, a guy sees an attractive girl in a club. She’s dressed up nice, her makeup well done, she has on high-end designer shoes, her hair is on fleek. All these factors put her in the attractive box, as far as he’s concerned. His attractive box denotes that if she’s taken all this time to look a particular way it likely means a set of things about her personality, her occupation, maybe even where she’s from, her family as well. Although this may be a regular harmless occurrence it still counts as prejudice. If this example doesn’t strike a chord I’ll try another.
Picture this, a young man in his early twenties walking to the supermarket after work. He has on dreadlocks a t-shirt, jeans and a pair of nice sneakers. He works as a photographer so he’s his own boss, however, due to the nature of his work he has to lug his laptop around, as he needs to edit pictures. The Photography market in Nigeria is booming, so he’s been able to do well for himself. Instead of fancy cars or phones, he splurges on designer watches. On his way to the supermarket, he spots a police car. He has nothing to hide so he carries on, but gets stopped by the two policemen anyway. The first thing they say, “ How small boy like you manage carry that watch? Abi you teef am?” To cut a long story short he ends up parting with N5000. Why? It’s the only way he can prove he’s not a thief, then a scammer after the policemen search his bag, discovering his laptop. The question here is, is the photographer at fault for wanting nice things like his watch? Some may say that he should have been aware of his environment. So does that mean he needs to augment his personal style to stave off harassment from those who are there to serve and protect? What about the lady who wants to wear shorts because the weather is so hot, but her parents give her a hard time because they feel the neighbors will view their child as a prostitute for wearing such short things. What’s the solution there? Although there’s always a compromise based solution for each matter, wouldn’t it be better if we re-assessed the whole situation?
The anti to prejudice is an open mind. For now, it is important to be aware of the cultural norms that give life to these prejudices. The thinking may be wrong, but once you’re aware you need to act accordingly. Still, an open mind directs individuals to cautiously assess the value of an individual by engaging with them rather than relying on unsubstantiated evidence to draw inaccurate conclusions. Remember, Mark Zuckerberg’s daily uniform is a grey shirt and jeans, Steve Jobs was known for his black turtleneck. Who would have known that these would be the sartorial choices of men that have in one way or the other changed the world? Think about that and ask yourself how often you draw abstract conclusions about individuals based on their presentation only to find out your prejudice was all wrong.