Mimesis, as may permissibly be defined, refers to the art or practice of imitation of other people’s appearance, voice or personal views or opinions. It may be a useful and revelatory exercise, for all of us, to stand fully dressed, for a few moments, before a full-size mirror, and candidly ask, the following: “How much of this is me?”
Societal and personal pressures and concerns, the need to be accepted and respected, the desire for inclusion, the influence of interactive communication, the influence of the media (most particularly, the advertising industry), economic considerations and perceived status,” keeping up with the Jones’s,” and self-image, are among the numerous considerations, which play, far too significant a role, in how we choose to dress, look, communicate, and, all too often, sadly, how we think.
The late, Fred Rogers, (“Mr. Rogers”) the compassionate, empathic and loving host, of the highly respected, children’s television program, “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” in one of his trademark, well-remembered programs, sang, (along with the other children in the studio) to a young boy, manifesting the cruel and heartless symptomology, of cerebral palsy, “It’s YOU, that I like, not the clothes you wear, or the way you do your hair…” The unforgettable, saintly, Fred Rogers, reminding everyone, that it is the essential person, that matters, not his external trappings. This mini-essay, is an attempt to speak to the essential “person,” beyond, or behind, what may be his required, external, persona.
The great, English, 19th Century philosopher, John Locke, espoused the “Social Contract” theory, in which man, contractually, surrenders (exchanges) certain of his natural liberties, for the many benefits of living in society. A salient and admirable feature of the societally healthy member, nonetheless, is his continuing, individualized, perception of his own personal identity, as well as the personal desire to be guided by his own normative reason.
Legal rights and issues aside, the question at hand is, how much tailoring of one’s persona, is fairly, or properly, to be performed, in order to be deemed an acceptable member of society. What are the limits, on the one hand, of liberty and spontaneity, or on the other, of mandatory conformance to societal folkways. This question might well concern, in addition to the present emphasis on the subject of attire, acceptable behavior, speech, dress, style, family relations, reaction to stimuli, speech, work ethic, even political theories and current politics. How much “self-hood” is required to be to be stifled, or eroded, in one’s aspiration for societal acceptance.
In the context of employment, there are certain conformities which seem to be exempt from the realm of dispute; a librarian does not show up for work in a diving suit, a lawyer does not wear a baseball uniform to the office, a grade school teacher dresses up like Spiderman, does so at her own risk, a clergyman does not come to Sunday service in a Tutu, and so on. Each professional calling, has its own range of traditionally expected, dress codes, generally, but not uniformly, adhered to. A business suit, a sports Jacket and tie, is the expectation for office work. In some cases, merely,” sports-neat” is acceptable.
In private life, there are dress expectations, depending upon the person and the event. The extent of expectation, may vary with the activity, with age, with nuanced notions of tradition and propriety, and, possibly, within the category of some personally intended, reactive, impression. Empirical experience tells us, that most styles of dress will vary with the subjective fantasies of the dresser, or the impression intended to be made on others. The majority of people, seem to dress, to “fit in,” with their peers.
A cogent guide to the question is, eternally, first, how we see ourselves, and the extent of our confidence in that personal perception. A secondary, but, rather crucial, consideration is, how big a stake, we are willing to invest, in that personal assessment.
How many of us dress and comport ourselves, as a conceived, fantasy (mimesis) of an admired movie star, a famous athlete, an employer, or in the manner felt, to be “expected” of us, or, possibly, also, in revolt against authority, escape from reality, or, lastly, unwillingly, but in accordance with perceived style.
Doesn’t anyone dress anymore, just to feel comfortable?