Post 28: “The emperor's new clothes”

August 21, 2016

 

Uniforms. They are everywhere. Police officers, shop assistants, schoolchildren all wear them. What's the point?

 

They're usually to create a group identity which functions both within the team setting (school, work, battlefield, operating theatre), and outside too by ensuring that others can recognise the brand. Uniforms instill a sense of discipline by equalising everyone, there's no competition between logos and labels. At the same time, in many industries there are items of clothing to denote rank or experience, to develop aspiration as well as inform others of the role undertaken/earned by the wearer.

 

The uniform of a police officer us expected to deliver the conflicting messages of hostile warning and reassuring comfort. “I am here to deter your criminal tendencies” and “I am here to keep you safe”.

 

In the theatre, the uniforms are costumes. Great costume designers do an immense amount of work to create a look which tells the story of the character who is wearing those items. It is specifically designed to enhance the plot and to allow the actor to fully immerse themselves into its truthful delivery.

 

When we choose what to wear each day we are fitting in to all of those paradigms. We are deciding on the uniform that will show our brand identity (mum, business owner, person relaxing at the weekend), and sell the character we wish to portray to others (I'm a bit quirky / I love to match as it makes me feel calm / I am incredibly sporty).

 

Today I was wondering whether the calculation we put into clothing is a costume / disguise or a message / communication? What are we trying to say when we get dressed? I am like you? No one is quite like me? I believe in practicality which is a useful skill? It's important for you to know that I prioritise the money I spend so that you can see where my clothes are from? We are self-selecting a uniform.

 

In societies where they have tried to oppress or dehumanise certain groups the methods have often included removing these identity-expressing choices. Depersonalising people, making them “other” by forcing them to dress the same or wear a specific item (brand identity / immersing in a role). Whilst creating this kind of anti-uniform a more elaborate clothing would be provided for those from the favoured societal group. This creates an “us” and “them”.

 

The truly bizarre thing about all of these ideas is that, underneath it all we are just versions of the same thing. When you strip it down to the bare essentials, the only uniform that remains is personality.

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