440: Dress Up

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
440: Dress Up

When did you last dress up for something?

Full episode script

In an interview for the Washington Post in 2015, historian Deirdre Clemente from the University of Nevada – Las Vegas talked about how much fashion has changed just in the last 100 years, with Americans becoming known for extraordinarily casual dress, and how that casual look has spread, to some extent, throughout the world.

Quoting Clemente’s comments to the Post:

“There’s this fashion theorist who wrote in the 1930s about how in capitalist societies, clothing serves as this way to jump in and out of socioeconomic class. Now, he was writing at a time when people were still really trying to jump up, and could feign wealth. You could buy a nice-looking suit and make it seem like you were a lot more wealthy than you actually were then. But in the second half of the 20th century, what we’ve seen is people doing just the opposite. Americans have come to dress casually in a way that is very interesting as a historian. When you look back at old pictures of students, it’s jarring. We used to dress so formally, just to go to class.

“People like to say that casual dress isn’t about freedom, that it’s about laziness. But that’s hilarious, especially to me as a historian, because it simply isn’t true.

“There’s something called collective selection. And what it is, is the idea that no longer is it the rich people telling the poor people how to dress, no longer is it that the poor people want to wear what the rich wear. Nowadays it’s a group decision.

And though it is a group decision, it still has impacts on our individual thinking. A study, also from 2015, looked at five different cognitive impacts of wearing more formal clothing — the type college students would wear for a job interview, specifically. As a group, those five studies found that wearing more formal clothing put people in a mindset more willing to take action, feeling more part of a group, and changed how information was processed. In short, the more formal the clothing, the more it impacted how someone processed information about the world.

So – changing your clothes does have an impact on how you view the world. And it’s kind of nice that we can, sometimes, jump in and out of that — if you choose to.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.