To Judge By Appearances

In New English Review Dalrymple examines one of the most outward signs of propriety, attire:

The impression that the bohemianisation of dress is intended to make is that the wearer is such an individual, whose real inner me is so unique and valuable, that it is quite unnecessary for him to make any effort to cover it in the rages of mere outer smartness. Do not judge a book by its cover, this form of dress proclaims, or almost shouts; inside me there is the Summa theologica.


Our current way of dressing is a sign of our egotism, of our habit of living in a kind of portable solipsistic bubble that goes everywhere with us, like a shadow. ‘I am not going to make an effort just for you,’ proclaim our clothes. On the contrary, my life is so full of importance, so beyond the right of anyone else to have a say in it, that I shall just put on the first crumpled apparel that comes to hand as a matter of principle.

2 thoughts on “To Judge By Appearances

  1. Amos LaDuke

    It is a rare thing for me to disagree with Theodore Dalrymple but I find that I must on this occasion.

    I’d like to make clear that I don’t dress in a way that most would call bohemian. I simply don’t iron clothes or polish shoes. My clothes are likely to look worn, even threadbare on occasion, and aren’t fashionable. But they are not full of holes and they don’t expose tattoos or piercings – I have none of either – or show inappropriate parts of my body (of which I have the usual number). I wash myself and use deodorant and shave before appearing in public, although I may miss a bit of stubble on occasion.

    I do not know how others see my manner of dress but I imagine it is not particularly favourable. My clothes are rarely ironed, although I have an iron and know how to use it. My shoes are often scuffed, even though I have the equipment and materials needed to shine them.

    Frankly, I just don’t like ironing and polishing shoes. It is tedious and I’d rather spend my time doing things that I find enjoyable. I will make an exception for a wedding, funeral or job interview but rarely on any other occasion.

    My clothes are rarely new and even more rarely stylish. At present, I simply can’t spare the money to buy clothes but even when I have money, I don’t buy clothes unless I have to, as a result of existing clothes wearing out or being inadequate for a task.

    I abhor the whole notion of being fashionable in dress. I long ago gave up on trying to look like the rest of the herd and keeping up with fashions. Fashion is almost entirely irrational. It makes no sense to me to discard or mothball a major portion of my wardrobe simply because the “fashion elite” have decreed that pant legs need to be narrow this season or collars need to be a different collar than the rest of the shirt. It’s nonsense and I won’t do it. Nor will I imitate the herd so that I too can look like a pimp from a rap video.

    Does the herd feel threatened that I don’t conform to their style. Perhaps. I can’t say. People rarely say anything to your face if they find your appearance not to their liking. They seem to keep that to themselves and make assumptions about your character based on that appearance. Does this reflect badly on me on occasion? I expect it does.

    Do I care that people form opinions about my competence in my field or my character on the basis of how I dress? I’m of two minds about that. Frankly, I find it appalling that someone would hire or not hire me on the basis of my manner of dress rather than my ability to do a job. I don’t care a flying fig what they think of my choices of clothing or whether my shoes are polished. But I find it worrisome that I might be denied a job that I can do well simply because an interviewer finds my manner of dress not to his or her liking. That strikes me as deeply unjust.

  2. Clinton

    Your point is well taken. I don’t see how there can be any objective justification for keeping up with contemporaneous clothing styles. And a refusal to hire someone based on the characteristics of dress that you mentioned is obviously shallow, and also simply a bad business practice.

    But I have to say, it doesn’t sound as though you dress poorly. One’s clothing not being up-to-date isn’t such a faux pas for a man, even from a purely fashion standpoint, because men’s fashions don’t change quickly, and simply not ironing clothes or polishing shoes doesn’t sound so slovenly. I couldn’t agree with you more on those tasks, especially ironing. It is such a laborious chore, and yet the dry cleaning and pressing services are so expensive if used regularly.

    Honestly, I highly doubt anyone is as dismissive of your dress as you think. No one expects every single person to be up-to-date and always well turned out. And especially where men are concerned, people easily overlook such things and even expect them. I don’t think we are under the same pressure in that regard as women are.


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