I consider style to be an integral part of presentation of self. We all have private selves that few people get to know or see, and we all have public selves that we must share with strangers and the observing world. Our public selves may speak, walk, emote, and interact differently from our private selves. Those are behavioral choices we make, actions we finesse in order to convey certain aspects of our personalities. How we hold our bodies influences presentation of self, as does how we engage in eye contact, tone and volume of speaking voice, and expressive gestures. Dressing also contributes to the public self that we craft, and the clothing we choose to wear and the ways in which we wear it can broadcast certain beliefs, traits, or preferences that we hold.
And that’s important. We must dress every day in order to participate in society, and taking as much control as possible over what we’re presenting about our public selves can feel empowering. We have to do it, so why not make it intentional, creative, even fun? There may be things we can’t control about how our bodies look, but there are some things we can control about how we dress, accessorize, and present those bodies when they’re clothed.
And it’s also dangerous. Our external appearance gives observers the tiniest sample of who we are, the surface level of our identities, a carefully selected but woefully inadequate picture of our true selves. It can be frustrating to realize that most strangers will only see that one dimension, and may choose to judge us based upon such limited information. Even more so that what we WANT to convey may be misconstrued or misinterpreted by observers based on their own beliefs, experiences, and prejudices. Or when outside forces make it difficult or impossible for us to present the visual selves we wish to.
Personally, I consider dressing to be a presentation opportunity. An imperfect one, to be sure, but one worth some energy and consideration. I will never be able to control exactly what people think of me, and I don’t aim to. But by dressing in ways that make me feel grounded, strong, comfortable, and like my best self, I can rig the game in my favor. When I feel grounded, strong, comfortable, and like my best self, I can focus on the other aspects of presentation that are less visual: Eye contact, tone and volume of speaking voice, expressive gestures, emotion and interaction. Dressing well allows me to worry less about how I look and concentrate more on how I act.
Dressing and visual appearance are inadequate in representing a whole person, but that doesn’t mean they should be entirely discounted as strategic means for expressing and presenting the bits of ourselves we actively wish to share.