Sunday, December 23, 2007

Clothes Maketh The Man?

Recently, on 14/12/2007, 《早报现在》/ZBNow (for those who are not aware of this yet: ZBNow is equivalent to a Chinese version of the Straits Time Life section) had a cover page feature which discussed about how, with the influx of American and European clothing lines such as Esprit, Timberland, Topman and Zara, the local fashion scene for men may perhaps transform from a “desert” into an “oasis”.

Also contained within this article were comments by two local male stylists about how local men were “boring” and “conservative” with regards to the clothes they choose to wear. Specifically, both of these stylists remarked that local men seem to, considering how they typically wear either a combination of T-shirts and jeans or T-shirts with bermudas, be wearing “uniforms” and thus lack individuality in their fashion style.

Well, perhaps I am reading too much into this article but it seems to me that two implicit assertions were perhaps made by it; assertions which I think many out there may mistakenly and perhaps unconsciously believe in.

The first of these two implicit assertions would be that if a man dons himself in stylish and/or fashionable clothing, he would be in possession of a certain level of individuality and confidence (the article interviewed this founder of a European clothing line which recently entered into the local market and he remarked that if and when men dress up stylishly, they would naturally be more confident).

And the second assertion, which may be derived from the first, would be that the more stylish a man’s clothing is, the higher his level of individuality would be and vice versa.

To put it simply, the two implicit assertions can be presented as two simple equations.

Implicit Assertion No. 1: Stylish clothing = individuality

Implicit Assertion No. 2: ↑/↓ stylish clothing = ↑/↓ individuality

Hmm… I do not know about you all but in my opinion, these two assertions are evidently invalid.


Well, in my viewpoint, stylish clothing is not equivalent to one’s individuality. It is only a means to expressing one’s individuality (and it may not even be the only and best means of expressing one’s individuality).

Here, allow me to illustrate what I mean by recounting to you all a short story involving Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China.

Hui Neng was once approached by a visitor asking him to explain the meaning of a certain passage in a Buddhist sutra. Hui Neng, being illiterate, requested the visitor to read the passage out aloud so he would be able to explain it to the visitor. The visitor, after learning that Hui Neng was illiterate, asked him how it was possible for him to understand the teachings contained within the sutras when he was illiterate. Hui Neng patiently explained that, similar to how a finger pointing towards the moon is not the moon, though words in a sutra may point to the truth, the words themselves are not the truth.

Hence, likewise, although stylish clothing may be used to express one’s individuality, it is not equivalent to one’s individuality. It would be of no utility to confuse and lump these two different and separate things together as being the same thing.

Also, bearing in mind that stylish clothing is only perhaps one of the many means that one can employ to express one’s individuality, it may be observed that knowing how to dress stylishly is not an end in itself. It is perhaps only an intermediate end, in that it serves as a step towards achieving a greater end (which, in this case, would be the expression of one’s individuality).

Moving on, keeping the above discussion in mind, it can also be seen that although a higher level of stylishness in a person’s clothing may suggest a higher level of individuality in that person, there is no direct link between looking more stylish and having a higher level of individuality.

Just think about it: would I, through a complete mimicking of Johnny Depp’s or Sean Connery’s choice of stylish clothing, thus be able to exude a level of individuality that they two exude? I seriously doubt so. In fact, I would think that, if I really choose to imitate their choice of clothing, those around me would perhaps just perceive me as another “wannabe”. I could also feel so awkward wearing clothes, which I may feel uncomfortable in, that my own sense of individuality (and confidence) would, instead of increasing, diminish.

On the other hand, I suppose that even if we take Johnny Depp or Sean Connery out of their usual stylish clothing and make them wear what the two local stylists mentioned above deride as being local men’s “uniform”, i.e. T-shirts combined with jeans or bermudas, they two would perhaps still be able to appear stylish and exude a high level of individuality (and confidence).

Hence, in conclusion, I would say that it is not clothes that make the man, it is the man who makes the clothes (both in a literal and non-literal sense). I would thus advise you all to not be too obsessed about trying to look stylish (and I would also strongly discourage you all to buy expensive branded stuff in an attempt to look stylish); there are much better ways to spend one’s time, effort and money on. Just buy and wear whatever you all feel comfortable in; comfort is primary, looking stylish is perhaps incidental and may even just emerge when one feels comfortable in what one is wearing.


Considering that Christmas is only two days away, here's wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year!

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