How do we dress for im­por­tant events at a time when ex­pec­ta­tions are rapidly shift­ing?

As tra­di­tions wane and con­ven­tions shift, get­ting dressed for an event has never been more con­fus­ing.

Fashion (Canada) - - CONTENTS - By CAITLIN AGNEW

Im­por­tant life mo­ments like wed­dings, fu­ner­als and job in­ter­views used to come with a set of un­spo­ken fash­ion rules that var­ied ac­cord­ing to cul­tural back­ground or job arena. But as a re­sult of glob­al­iza­tion and so­cial media’s un­yield­ing reign, to­day’s so­cial struc­tures are rapidly evolv­ing, up­end­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of all sorts and leav­ing many of us scratch­ing our head as we stare into our closet ahead of an event. Is it more im­por­tant to dress as con­ven­tion would dic­tate, or are you bet­ter off wear­ing what makes you feel like your au­then­tic self? In the era of the in­di­vid­ual, that an­swer is en­tirely up to you.

Char­ac­ter­is­tics like so­cial class, pro­fes­sion, mar­i­tal sta­tus and mood can eas­ily be com­mu­ni­cated by the way you adorn your­self. But like run­way trends, “these con­ven­tions are tem­po­rary, re­ally; they come and go,” says pro­fes­sor Carolyn Mair, a char­tered psy­chol­o­gist and the au­thor of the 2018 book The Psy­chol­ogy of Fash­ion. For ex­am­ple, dress­ing up—or down—is no longer a clear iden­ti­fier of so­cial class. Thanks to the ca­su­al­iza­tion of so­ci­ety that has grad­u­ally taken hold over the past two to three decades, it is not un­usual to see ripped jeans in an ex­pen­sive res­tau­rant or sneak­ers at the opera.

In her new mem­oir Un­canny Val­ley, au­thor Anna Wiener writes about wear­ing a shift dress, heeled boots and a blazer to her first job in­ter­view at a tech start-up in Sil­i­con Val­ley fol­low­ing her ca­reer in publishing. “I felt like a narc,” she says, de­scrib­ing how she felt af­ter spot­ting the com­pany’s em­ploy­ees in a truly ef­fort­less uni­form of jeans, sneak­ers and T-shirts. “I shrugged off the blazer as dis­creetly as pos­si­ble and stuffed it into my tote bag.” Dress­ing down for a job in­ter­view may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but Mair ex­plains that self-ex­pres­sion through dress is con­sid­ered an as­set in cre­ative in­dus­tries like fash­ion and tech: “They value, want and en­cour­age dis­rup­tion. They want peo­ple with ideas that rock the boat.”

But in in­dus­tries built on the prin­ci­ple of sta­bil­ity, proper pre­sen­ta­tion is a crit­i­cal re­flec­tion of some­one’s ex­per­tise—and that doesn’t al­ways leave much room for self­ex­pres­sion, cul­tural or other­wise. Sarah,* a part­ner at a law firm, says that what mat­ters most at work is that out­fits con­vey com­mon sense. “I think the big thing is show­ing that you’re ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing that the work­place is not about you,” she says. “Your ap­pear­ance can re­flect on your em­ployer, and we want to see that you can show good judg­ment in that re­gard. I don’t care if you’re wear­ing a cheap suit—but it should be pressed, for in­stance.”

Still, as her of­fice be­comes more di­verse and more women like her are given lead­er­ship roles, Sarah says there’s now room to de­vi­ate from the hyper-con­ser­va­tive uni­form (blue suits, red ties and dress shoes) tra­di­tion­ally worn by her se­nior male coun­ter­parts. While she does have a se­lec­tion of black Hugo Boss suits re­served for for­mal events like court ap­pear­ances, for day-to-day she chal­lenges her in­dus­try’s norm by wear­ing bright colours, prints and even dark jeans with a blazer—and any re­ac­tions she has re­ceived have been pos­i­tive. Hav­ing de­vel­oped a sense of con­fi­dence since be­ing called to the bar in 2012, Sarah no longer con­forms to out­dated ex­pec­ta­tions of how women were once ex­pected to dress for work. “I’m not go­ing to make my­self un­com­fort­able to look a cer­tain way in the work­place any­more,” she says, re­fer­ring to sky-high heels and fig­ure-hug­ging skirts.

Life-chang­ing events such as fu­ner­als and wed­dings come with their own set of cloth­ing con­ven­tions, which are of­ten rooted in val­ues and be­liefs. Mourn­ers in many parts of the world con­vey their grief via som­bre black ensem­bles, whereas Hindu funeral-go­ers favour white. Chinese brides don tra­di­tional red dresses for their wed­dings, as the colour is con­sid­ered to be a sym­bol of good luck and hap­pi­ness. And West­ern brides typ­i­cally choose to wear white, though many are opt­ing to buck that tra­di­tion, too. As for the un­spo­ken rule that wed­ding guests should not wear white (to avoid com­pet­ing with the bride), that di­rec­tive is also start­ing to fade. When Sarah got mar­ried, she wore a long se­quined white dress with a veil and her mother wore a white silk dress that she’d bought while on hol­i­day in Europe. Sarah wasn’t both­ered by it and says that how her mother felt was more im­por­tant than be­ing the only one in white that day. “Hav­ing some­thing spe­cial to wear at my wed­ding was im­por­tant to her,” she says. “I thought she looked beau­ti­ful.”

We largely have so­cial media to thank for our di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of dress, which has fos­tered the growth of global com­mu­ni­ties. “If you’re trans or if you have a non-bi­nary iden­tity or are look­ing for fash­ion­able mod­est dress, you can find an on­line com­mu­nity,” says Ali­son Matthews David, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and Mas­ter of Fash­ion pro­gram di­rec­tor at Toronto’s Ry­er­son Univer­sity. And con­nec­tiv­ity and internatio­nal mi­gra­tion have re­sulted in var­i­ous style con­ven­tions reach­ing all cor­ners of the globe. “What we’re see­ing now is so much in­flu­ence from around the world,” says Mair. “Peo­ple are be­com­ing much more in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic in what they do and are hav­ing much more say in what be­comes a con­ven­tion.” It has re­sulted in a self-ex­pres­sion ex­plo­sion that can be su­per­fi­cial (a tote bag printed with the name of the barre stu­dio you fre­quent) or a core part of your iden­tity, like your sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or her­itage. Now, for ex­am­ple, a Mus­lim wo­man can share her cul­tural and re­li­gious be­liefs and sat­isfy her sense of style through the chaste fash­ion items that are be­com­ing more fre­quently of­fered by high-end brands.

For 25-year-old Mar­cus Rick­etts, cloth­ing is a con­duit to con­fi­dence. “Any­thing that helps you feel like your­self will def­i­nitely give you an ad­van­tage,” he pro­poses. At a re­cent in­ter­view for a po­si­tion at a cloth­ing store in Toronto, he wore a black T-shirt, khaki pants and a pair of Air Jor­dan 1s while an­other can­di­date ar­rived in dress shoes. Both men were hired. “For me per­son­ally, it’s not about whether it’s ca­sual or for­mal,” says Rick­etts. “It’s about how you feel in your skin and what you’re wear­ing.” In to­day’s un­cer­tain times, self-con­fi­dence is the ul­ti­mate ac­ces­sory.

(*Name has been changed.)

Peo­ple are be­com­ing much more in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic in what they do and are hav­ing much more say in what be­comes a con­ven­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.