Categorized | Culture, Most Recent, Society

The Importance of Appearance

In traditional societies, clothing reflected ones rank and place in society, and identified one. Its function was not merely to clothe a naked person but also to  beautify him or her. While it always reflected ones outward place it also reveals something on ones internal character. Thus clothing was both protection from the elements and an expression of spiritual and cultural identity. Our dress was always meant take these notions into account, and even into the modern era one sees this inverted in the notion of extreme individualism and clothing and presentation which on the surface “defies convention”. Yet even here man cannot help himself, and our clothing often continues to reflect sociopolitical associations, be it a subculture or a brand. The “goth” or the “punk” is easy to spot, likewise for the “hipster” but these bourgeois fad fashions are as empty as they are ugly.

At the same time, it is commonly said today that one should not to judge a book “by its cover”.  In the context of modernity, this should seem ironic, since those same people who voluntarily don a certain mode of clothing, do so consciously with the intent of flaunting their connections to a certain movement or subculture.  It is true that in ancient tradition one often sees the wise old man or hermit represented as appearing as a beggar, but these exceptions had purpose in and of themselves.  However, for those of us who constitute the majority, the fact is appearance does matter, whether or not we pretend otherwise. Just like one can determine the ripeness or rottenness of a fruit based on its appearance, one can usually draw conclusions on one’s inner character from how they present themselves.  Indeed one can certainly see the decline of social values and cultural vitality in the declining standards of dress. To quote James Cutsinger’s Advice to the Serious Seeker:  Beauty does not produce virtue, but “it favors in a certain way a pre-existing virtue”.  If nothing else, dress reflects one’s inner character and the degree to which on guards his appearance has been a topic that has been touched on by many societies.

President of the United States in public - present day

President of the United States in public – present day

Since the 1960s, the proverbial man in the gray flannel suit and hat was seen as a sign of the stuffy, repressed conformity of the 1950s and all the decades prior. The disregarding of standards of dress was seen as breaking this conformity and “expressing our individuality” in line with much of the other social movements of the time. Books and film have often showed a man removing his tie or not wearing a suit as a sign that he no longer was in “bondage to the system”. While there certainly is truth to the notion that there was conformity before this time, there is uniformity today as well; the uniform of today is sloppiness. Careless and immodest appearances, tacky hair styles, unisex outfits and disorderly fashion trends characterize the appearance of the modern person, especially in the post-Christian west, and are a wonderful reflection on the chaotic, dissolute nature of modern society. “Breaking with conformity” in modern times never extended beyond changing one uniform for another. One can go to nearly any westernized country in the world and find people dressed uniformly in sloppy, western style undershirts with advertisements on them, blue jeans or running pants, sports jerseys and shorts. Women no longer wear skirts and feminine clothing, except for the most formal occasions and even then there are now masculine “pants suits” for women which in any other age would have been seen as cross dressing.  Moreover, even 50 years ago one could travel to different parts of the world and find unique styles and forms of dress in every nation or region, yet today one can travel far and wide and in most places traditional dress has either disappeared or now become a “folk costume” or “national dress”, reserved solely for some particular cultural festival. If dress reflects on the inner character of a people and a society, what does our dress say about us today? Walking billboards and distracting pictures and advertisements clutter our clothing. This again, is but one symptom of a deeper illness, but it demonstrates the decline in and disregard of uniqueness and the falseness of our praise of “non conformity”.  There can hardly be an argument raised with the statement that the world today is an uglier place than it was years ago, both inside and out.

Still, there is truth in the criticism of dandyism and over emphasis of fashion, the fetishism of designer clothes and brands is certainly nothing more than decadence at its worst. Every year our trends become more vulgar than the trends of the year before with more revealing, vulgar clothing.  Even a quick perusal of the clothing -catalogs of the previous decade would be sufficient to demonstrate this fact.  Going back even further, a breadline during the Depression era or even family photographs from the times of our grandparents and great-grandparents generations juxtaposed with a photo of a crowd today illustrates the point perfectly well. People generally dressed more appropriately in public, regardless of their social standing or economic class. They made the effort to look put together, despite the fact  that doing so was far more difficult in their era than in ours. There was more pride in appearance, and this extended beyond class lines. There were always vulgar trends then, just as now, but these were by and large on the sidelines and not nearly as accepted or widespread at the turn of the last century than now.

A mugshot from Sydney, Australia in 1924 shows a man who was clearly of the lower class, yet undeniably dressed more appropriately and decently than most men today. One can see examples similar to this in virtually any old mugshots.

Men waiting on a line at a soup kitchen in the 1930s demonstrating proper dress despite their circumstances.

In a previous article, we touched upon how dress can affect how people perceive one’s ideas. A labcoat or a military uniform convey knowledge or authority in our subconscious, to the point where paid actors often don the former in commercials to endorse a product. Their qualifications are irrelevant, as the viewer already connected them with knowledge. Since we strive to distinguish ourselves from the democratic way of thinking, we should consider dress and presentation the best advertisement for our views. Distracting pictures and sloppy clothes advertise only chaotic, democratic thinking, rather than the sort of aristocratic message which we support. Let our clothing reflect our thinking and inner character, orderly, neat, and traditional, we are the best advertisments for our ideals.

About Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson is a New York City resident with a degree in history and interests in philosophy, theology and entomology.
  • Ascetic

    Ugly indeed. What is hated is beauty or the aesthetic quality of one’s identity. It is a symptom of cultural nihilism. A disease of self-hatred that extends to the conditioned liberal belief that no one is better than anyone else. Hence, it doesn’t matter what you think, do, or…look like.