Dressing for Different Worlds

Thai scooters in Bangkok

THE AMERICAN MIDWEST is almost instinctively casual. My friend was bartending at a nicer hotel in Minneapolis when an older couple from New York sat down next to me at the rail and asked him for restaurant recommendations. He pointed them to me since I’d lived in the area longer, and after inquiring to their tastes, we had whittled down the list to a half dozen nicer chophouses. Before they headed back to their room, they asked me in passing what the dress codes were like. I had to laugh – if you behaved the part, I doubt there’s a restaurant in the upper Midwest you couldn’t comfortably stroll into wearing denim.

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As a consequence, growing up there, there was almost no call to own or wear particularly nice clothes. I mean, you had nice clothes, for nice occasions, but it was a costume, something worn uncomfortably alongside an apologetic half-smile. It was some time before I owned a comfortable wool sport jacket or encountered a situation where it felt right to wear.

Putting it on, I recalled the Mark Twain version of a quote about clothes making the man (a naked man looking pretty silly). I still wasn’t completely comfortable – I felt as though I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, subtly lying to those around me about myself.

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Two things struck me most, though. More superficially, I watched as people just accepted me and how I was dressed – they didn’t seem to notice that I was wearing an outfit completely out of character. More importantly, they treated me differently – the clothes I was wearing, how I appeared, how I held myself – they took it as natural, and they treated me as such. 

“Putting a jacket on didn’t change how I saw the world, per se, but it did change how the world saw me, and in doing so, it changed the world I saw.”

Thai fashion

This seed germinated for years, and as I mulled it, I more clearly noticed the doors that opened, and those that closed, with every costume change. I learned to inhabit different outfits, and feel at home in them, since I wanted to explore and, to see all the different worlds out there, you had to learn to step into them. There were many portals to different places, but one of the most basic, and most universal, was just what you wore. In a very quiet way, changing your shirt did change your world. It irked me how trivial it seemed, given how little I thought of what I wore (and still do!). But who am I to argue with reality? Whatever else I wanted out of the world, I needed to be able to see it first to do anything within it.

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Unfortunately, clothes are expensive and a hassle to carry with you. I missed the childhood simplicity of owning one pair of sneakers, a comfortable pair of jeans, and few pairs of socks without many holes. I hated the burden of ownership – it seemed anathema to exploration. You started focusing on maintaining what you owned, curating your styles, expressing your identity. This was a very inward-facing approach to the world, and it obscured the world I wanted to be out seeing.

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You can see where this is headed. Anywhere was built around the idea of clothes that open more doors than they close, to all the different worlds out there. We aren’t intrinsically founded in either fashion or in technical spec lists, or even in self-expression or identity signaling. We’re founded upon the idea of being able to slip between worlds, to explore. It’s a funny message to try and communicate to your consumer in this day and age: the world isn’t about you, and that’s part of what makes it so magical.

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4 comments

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Greta @ Pickles Travel blog

This is so so true! Us midwesterners definitely dress down… After traveling abroad I realized that shorts were not so cool and have taken to wearing skirts for summer travel- they dress me up and are still as comfortable as shorts (plus they are way more versatile!)

Steph Barrett

This is beautifully written! It’s not often you find apparel companies that encourage looking outward over inward. I SO appreciate that and I can definitely see this importance when travelling…. especially abroad. Absolutely wonderful!

Alissa Schrank

I love this perspective! Fashion matters!

www.weddedliss.com

Megan

SO INTERESTING! You make such great points :)

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