Do the clothes really make the man?

Do the clothes really make the man? I heard that line recently. It rolled around in the back of my head for the last week or two. Just pondering it.

I know what the line is supposed to mean. I have been out in a high dollar suit before, dressed to kill. I know how folks reacted to me. It’s a very different encounter than I normally have. People are still friendly, because I didn’t change. But, they seem almost reverent with the suit. Like I must be someone important. It feels weird to me. I don’t really like it.

Obviously, our appearance has an effect on folks around us.

Years ago, I volunteered to help with some kids from the local juvenile system. These kids were sentenced to community service for various issues. They worked at the church with me and I spent quite a bit of time with them. One stands out in my mind.

He had a horrible attitude. He wouldn’t make eye contact. He sagged his pants and dressed like a thug. He was angry at everyone. Someone I could relate to.

One particular day, he was more irritable than normal. I asked him what the problem was. Something had happened at a store, on the way in that day. He was upset about how he was treated. He didn’t like people making judgements about him. Assuming he was dangerous. Avoiding him. Watching him, expecting him to steal stuff.

Yes. Seriously. He didn’t get it.

I asked him what he would assume if I walked in wearing a police uniform. Who would he think I was? He said he would assume I was a cop. What if I was wearing a military uniform? He would assume I was a soldier.

I explained to him that people are going to assume that anyone who dresses like a gang member is one. If the news, and tv, shows us one kid after another dressing like him and getting arrested, why would he be surprised? He was wearing the uniform that is associated with trouble kids. He dressed like everyone’s preconceived ideas of what a dangerous kid looked like.

He was emulating an part of society that is not generally sociable or friendly to the general population. He was voluntarily triggering negative opinions.

There are exceptions. Some people form opinions without any logical triggers. Prejudice hard wires some folks to make judgements based on things we have no control over. Being black, white, Asian or Hispanic just triggers some folks to make ridiculous assumptions. We just can’t win with some people.

The fact that I still work on motorcycles, cars and lawnmowers forces me into town with greasy and dirty clothes sometimes. Some folks look at me like I am pure, white trash. I look like a textbook prefect Georgia redneck on those days. Not much I can do about it most of the time. It would be unrealistic to expect to be treated like royalty, dressed like that. Just get what you need and go home.

Eye contact and a friendly smile will still diffuse most of those situations. A friendly goon is much less threatening than one that seems to be avoiding or hiding something.

This kid eventually understood what I was saying. He actually listened. His attitude improved and he became a little more pleasant to work with. He started shaking hands, making eye contact and holding his head up. We even had several intelligent conversations, not just grunts and weird facial expressions. Eventually, he even pulled those pants back up… Mostly.

He understood that he could either dress to impress the thugs and losers, or attempt to join society. He couldn’t wear a predominantly criminal dress code, and have anyone expect him to be something else.

He had begun to understand the power of the first impression.

So. Before anyone hammers out some response about how many good guys and girls, they know, who sag and dress like that; remember that I don’t care. There’s always an exception. It might be one kid in a hundred or a thousand, I don’t know. The fact is that most of us are in dress code for who we want to be or think we are.

Those rappers, the ones they worship and dress like, I have worked for plenty of them. My years in pro audio forced me to work in clubs and concerts that I would never have paid to attend. It was so bad that I actually passed up a thousand dollar day rate. Just because I couldn’t stand working with them.

The arrogance, selfishness and general disrespect for life is unbearable. The negative attitudes and treatment of women is just insane. That kind of attitude is available everywhere, it’s just highly concentrated in the rap industry. I have never experienced it worse in any other environment. Don’t use these guys as role models.

Do you think that I am judgmental? Try this.

Most women in minivans and comfortable shoes are mothers. Is that prejudice or profiling? Is it an easy assumption? Any moms offended when someone assumes that about you?

Most guys in suits and ties don’t get their hands dirty at work. Logical or not? Who wears Armani to work in a shop? Logical assumption.

We all create impressions. We all carry ourselves in a way that speak of who we are, more than we think we do. Our ideas of who we are, or want to be, is probably different than the idea of the guy who we just met. Or the one we cut off in traffic. Or the one we owe money. Or the one who waited on us at the last restaurant. Or the wife who is struggling to stay married one more day. Or the kids who are so disappointed with the way we treat them.

In my mind, I might assume that I am some great guy who has his act together. But what is the reality? Are we just rolling along, satisfied with the image we create, or does our heart and character matter to us? Do we really want a substantial life or just an image?

Do my actions and attitude draw people to me or scare them away? Do my actions and attitude fairly represent who I want to be? What role models am I emulating? Who has impacted my life enough to adjust my appearance or choices?

What kind of impressions am I making? It’s not all about the clothes, it’s a heart thing. There are plenty of sharp dressed men out there that are utterly despicable. There are plenty of guys in ragged work clothes that are pure gold.

The clothes don’t make the man, just an impression.

Get your heart right. Image won’t strengthen your family.