If the shoe fits…you are it

It’s Wednesday afternoon. Sitting beside my mother in 5pm traffic, I notice a young man on a skate-board across the street. Perhaps he’s worrying about his mother who’s ill, he could be on his way to visit grandma in the old age home, or even pondering the worth of his own life…but I don’t consider any of this at first glance. My eye simply sees his loose fitting cardigan, rolled up skinnies and laced veldskoene and I know everything I need to about him. Must be a hipster; probably on his way to some obscure Art exhibition in a wine cellar down Long Street.

First Impressions. It takes just 39 milliseconds within meeting someone to form one based on a quick assessment of their clothing and other physical aspects.  Our brain likes to make these assumptions.  It’s our instinct to stereotype and generalise.  Putting people into groups makes things easy to understand and accept. She’s wearing bright colours, she probably talks the hind leg off a donkey, his vest reveals his bulging triceps, he must be an arrogant jock and so it goes. These generalizations save us time and may even determine how we interact with someone.

Many people trivialise fashion as nothing but ‘fluff’ we don to impress or intimidate others. But I think there are deeper meanings behind our clothing choices. One study done at the University of Kansas; looked at the accuracy of first impressions of emotional attachments, demographics and personal character based on preference of shoe.

By merely looking at the photograph of someone’s footwear, observers were able to determine whether the wearer was extroverted or introverted, conscientious, insecure, or emotionally stable. (Note to self: Must walk through wetlands in new fellies, don’t want anyone to think I have attachment issues because my shoes are in too good a condition.)

Even if you’re one of those people who resist the pressures of society and mass-media by refusing to acknowledge the importance of clothing in deriving a sense of self; you are still making a statement about your personality. People will still make presumptions about the kind of person you are. So even if, in an act of rebellion, you pull on your tomato sauce stained slacks and your now ill-fitting Matric jersey to buy milk; you’re talking to the world: “It’s Sunday, I haven’t yet had my morning coffee, get the heck out my way.”

So if you ever feel shallow for spending 23 minutes trying to decide between the nautical jacket or the military coat, don’t. Because you’re not simply choosing which one looks the best for the occasion; you’re also sussing out which smidgen of ‘you’ will be revealed visually at that moment. Perhaps today’s meeting demands a bit more of a commanding military officer you than a “hello sailor” flirt.

Fashion quote of the day:

“Clothes, Old Boy…I bought my first dinner jacket, tails and morning suit second-hand…When I first went through the door at Lady Colefax’s in my new Savile Row suit, I knew I was going to make it.”- On asking asking Noel Coward how he took on the lives of the characters he was playing.

“it’s overdoing it to wear tie, socks and handkerchief in the same color. I take ruthless stock of myself in the mirror before going out. By the way, don’t say ‘mirror’ say ‘looking-glass.’ ” – Noel Coward’s advice to photographer Cecil Beaton.