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Dress Like It Matters
Mom with a View

Dress Like It Matters

What we wear affects our behavior and self-image.


We were at the airport again. And for the nth time in so many years, our children were redistributing the items in their suitcases to meet the airlines' restrictive weight requirements.

While our kids were busy deciding if they could do with five bottles of shampoo instead of six and whether they could possibly leave that extra pair of black loafers at home, my husband struck up a conversation with the airline clerk who was assisting us.

"Mr. Morrissey," he began, "do you enjoy your job?"

Clearly Mr. Morrissey had been waiting a long time for someone to pose this question because my husband got an earful. "I certainly don't. I've been doing this job for 25 years. It used to be that people thought flying was special. They got dressed up to get on a plane and they treated us with courtesy. Now it's become so routine. People board the plane in grungy attire and their behavior matches their clothing. They're rude and demanding. I can't wait to retire."

Unfortunately (or fortunately) we were spared a further expostulation of Mr. Morrissey's views on air travelers because at that moment our children succeeded in rearranging and even shutting their suitcases, only sacrificing two plastic hangers and a shower caddy in the bargain.

Sometimes behavior change has to occur from the outside in.

But something Mr. Morrissey said struck a resonant chord and got me thinking. I agree with him that there is a connection between attire and behavior. I believe that the way we dress affects how we think about ourselves and the job at hand -- and that we behave accordingly.

If we dress for work in formal clothing, we will treat our job very seriously. If we dress in beach wear, it's harder to concentrate. We feel differently about ourselves. Our whole attitude becomes more casual. I used to make sure to dress up for exams in college because it helped me treat them seriously.

If we greet our spouse at the end of the day in "sweats," it has an impact on our attitude towards our relationship. Are we making it a priority or treating it cavalierly? Are we thinking of our mate's needs or our own? Are we choosing our own comfort at the cost of our marriage?

If we as women wear very little clothing, are we able to still think of ourselves as dignified and deserving of respect? Or do we adopt the casual attitude towards ourselves and our bodies that our clothing seems to suggest?

I'm not even speaking of how others react to us (although that may affect how we think of ourselves). I'm just talking about our own response. How we dress affects our self-image, like it or not.

If we decide that Shabbos is best spent in pajamas, how does that impact our attitude towards that holy day? Towards the experience of entertaining the Divine presence? Surely differently than if we put on our finest clothing.

Mr. Morrissey made another interesting point. "People used to think flying was special." We dress up for events/people/experiences that are special. But nothing seems special any more. Not our jobs (Aren't we lucky to have one? Don't we want to behave responsibly?). Not our marriages (see preceding comment in parentheses!). Not our Shabbos. And worst of all, not even ourselves.

Sometimes behavior change has to occur from the outside in. To recapture that sense of precious uniqueness, we have to dress like it matters -- our careers, our marriages, our bodies and our souls. It's a small change that can make a big difference. Think of it as a great excuse to go shopping!

August 11, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 22

(22) H.E.Brown, June 11, 2016 9:47 PM

Dressing properly.

I agree. Was a time when people dressed properly for the occasion. Not any more. Why because they're a bunch of slobs. You see very few any more that dress right. Travel, funerals, weddings, shopping, etc, etc. They dress up like it's Halloween.

(21) devorah, July 17, 2008 1:32 PM

in agreement and appreciation

i have always felt that "behavior change has to occur from the outside in" i like the way the article was written and the way the subject was approached.and since it is now thursday evening,
i wish a good shabbas to one and all.

(20) Leo, August 19, 2007 2:19 AM

don't try to look smarter than you are

dressing up is appropriate and necessary in business and in your relationships (with self, spouse, and G-d). but don't try to wear cuff links if you are an intern, and don't "pretend" that you care about an event or occasion more than you care about how you "look" at it. follow the middle path - formal, but not flashy. too often we see people "going all out" to make a statement with their attire louder their own vocabulary will allow them to describe it... thanks for the thought though!

(19) Ahuva Malka, August 17, 2007 1:17 PM


With stories like this, why does Hollywood insist on doing re-makes with very crass overtones???? People like this should be honored in movies and on television. Instead we get non-stop news flashes on immature spoiled rich girls.

(18) Joe M, August 17, 2007 1:15 PM

Thank You!

As a Human Resources Director I see it all the time: those employees who dress professionally act professionally and are treated accordingly. They're also paid higher! Those who dress less professionally are treated (and paid!) less seriously. Take your pick! And thank you for a very honest article.

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