I always say: To be well dressed you must be well naked. —Oscar de la Renta
My alarm goes off at 4:00 AM and the first thing I do is reach for my clothes. I get dressed quietly, in the dark, one of the benefits of having a monochrome wardrobe. I don’t have to worry about whether colors or patterns match. By the time I get my shoes on, though, I’m sensing a nip in the air. Checking the weather app on my phone, I see it’s only 60°F outside. I pull on the sweater draped on the back of my office chair, attach the leash to the dog’s collar, and out we go for our morning walk. 4:00 in the morning and I’m already dressed. There’s something wrong with this picture.
Chances are, especially if you live in the Midwest, you don’t think of not getting dressed. Even when we tell people we’re not feeling well and aren’t getting dressed today, we’re still wearing something. Running around naked always sounds fun until one actually does it. Then, we discover our skin sticks to things in uncomfortable ways. Little pointy objects we’d never noticed before reach out and grab at us. The slightest breeze makes us shiver. And those damned mosquitoes are a constant nuisance. Okay, time to put on some clothes.
Fashion retailer Uniqlo, which is just starting to make serious attempts at the US market, thought this might be a good time to ask the question: Why do we get dressed? The question is at the center of their very first global ad campaign and it smartly addresses a question with which many of us wrestle every morning. Why are we doing this?
We Have Our Reasons
Whether one believes ancient mythologies of how we were created or prefers the scientific explanation of evolution, we find that we’ve been covering ourselves pretty much from the moment we learned to walk upright. Even now, high school students are taught the five main reasons we get dressed: protection, adornment, identification, modesty, and status. We break each of those down into subcategories based on things such as tradition, social class, occupational requirements, religious intervention, and comfort. We want to look acceptable even when we’re drenched in sweat.
Fashion is a $1.2 trillion industry built on one primary concept: we need to get dressed. Different labels offer different answers to the how, what, and how much of it all, Some take the quality route. Others go for practicality. Still others are nothing more than utilitarian in their scope. Our reasons are as many and varied as the styles of underwear found in our drawers. As much as we might complain, we actually like getting dressed and can be damned picky about it.
This careful choice of clothing is what Uniqlo is trying to tap with this campaign. Despite being one of the largest fashion retailers in the world, they’ve had trouble getting a foothold in the US market. The campaign focuses on both the diversity and quality of the clothes the store carries. Here, take a look at their new ad:
Not So Easily Defined
While quality and selection are wardrobe choices are important, they’re not the only reason we choose to wear what we wear. Color, for example, not only reflects certain styles and trends but also reflects our mood and our physical condition when we get dressed. If you’re feeling a bit depressed, you might choose to wear something pink because it cheers you up. On days you need to tackle tough situations you might choose black or a dark navy because they give you a sense of power. Maybe you just really like a particular shade of green. We all have our reasons.
Some have expressed fear in the past that fashion styles are erasing our sense of nationalistic or cultural identity. I can see where someone might feel that way. Look at the ad and one notices that, while the two main characters are both white, everyone else is Japanese. This is Uniqlo’s way of staying true to their roots in Japan. At the same time, though, we notice that everyone is wearing a distinctly Western style of clothing. Remove any racial identity and we might have trouble discerning whether this is a scene in Japan or Moscow or Paris or Minneapolis. Large retailers do tend to create a homogenous fashion palette that leaves all the customers with a certain sameness to their look.
Shoppers have proven, though, especially in recent years, that they want more say in how they put a look together. Advertisers might style a look one way, but everyone tends to put their own individual twist on things. How we look when we’re dressed says something about us individually. Uniformity is passè and, for many, insulting. We are not likely to wear head-to-toe Chanel but a certain coat or handbag might be the perfect touch for a look pieced together from discount stores and second-hand shops. How we put ourselves together is a complicated matter for some people.
How You Should Get Dressed
Style experts, who seem to be getting younger every time I blink, tell us to utilize the three F’s when getting dressed: Feel, fit, and flatter. Granted, that approach seems a bit simplistic if your occupation requires something specific, whether it be a suit for the boardroom or dungarees for working with heavy equipment. Such restrictions can make the flattery element challenging but if the feel and fit are on point then the look is probably going to be flattering anyway.
Fit is probably where we fail most often. As our weight fluctuates between seasons and levels of activity, we find ourselves trying to squeeze into clothes that are too tight or trying to find creative ways to hold up something that’s a touch too large. People at either end of the spectrum, either very thin or very large, have the most difficulty finding something that both fits and flatters. Retailers like Uniqlo best serve the mainstream. Anyone with special challenges can find getting dressed more like a nightmare.
Perhaps the question of why we get dressed is one we should ask more often. Too often we pull on whatever is close and convenient with no regard to even how it feels, much less fit or flatter. We all might be happier if we considered the reasons we wear what we wear. Certainly, it would make our society more interesting and less like a homogenous blur. Express yourself in what you choose to wear.
Even if you’re only wearing underwear.