What is an appropriate dressing?

This post is different from my previous posts. This morning I woke up with my phone blaring series of frantic messages on a popular social media site. That set me thinking about what makes an appropriate dressing. Are shorts appropriate for college - which is primarily an educational institution? Are short dresses considered appropriate as an office wear? How about micro mini for office or a revealing evening gown for traditional wedding ceremony as guest? How about opinions like "wear what you want", "I will wear what I feel comfortable in" and "I dress for myself ". Whom do we dress up for? What makes a dress appropriate or inappropriate?

"Aap rupi bhojan, pari rupi shringaar" an idiom in Hindi which means - one should eat for self, dress for others. I think this is what the crux of thing is appropriateness in dressing up is defined by whom one wants to impress / signal / communicate. It's also defined by the location / event one is attending.

First, whom do one dresses for. Anyone who thinks or says that they dress up for self is not aware that we all dress up for others. We dress up to impress. To make a statement or to blend in or to stand out. We dress up for others. Simple. Our clothes signal a message. These messages are picked up to form an image of ourselves and usually provide a guide to others to form a perception about ourselves. No one dresses for self ... subconsciously its dressing up to impress or signal a message be it opposite gender / same gender or section of society.

Now, the question of
what defines appropriateness. Each culture / society has its own set of guidelines on what it thinks as appropriate. These said or unsaid guidelines are defined by many layered interconnected factors ranging from cultural history, climate, religious influences, sociological, economic conditions and more. What's interesting, these norms are not sacrosanct and are prone to change. Once showing just heel by women was inappropriate, today these norms are no more valid in many countries.

Pradnya, a young photographer and student of architecture feels that "One should avoid too bright colors, subtle colors are always appreciated. Dress simple, but dress should fit well and should be ironed. Always wear clothes in which you are comfortable not for the people who are asking for it. If a dress is really pretty but if you're not comfortable then it might not look good on you. Being confident about whatever dress you wear is important so that one can carry any sort of dress."

Those who do not follow these norms saying they don't care about society, they are still sending a message and communicating to the society. Over the time this act of not conforming to any norm itself becomes a sub norm. Those who follow these 'non-societal norm' will follow the new norms. For example, it may be a norm for certain social gathering where all are expected to be dressed conservatively, shorts and t- shirt will be seen as not appropriate. For many teenagers attending such gathering shorts and t- shirt will make an appropriate dressing norm to be followed. Here teenagers may be following unsaid teen norm of dressing. Namx, a preteen student, feels that one should not get influenced by peer pressure and should dress as per age, environment and occasion. 

Certain dressing norms usually are read as mark of respect for self and for others. Like taking an effort to dress up for formal dinner. Wearing clothes that are modest while educating self at seat of learning signal respect towards educational process. Covering up at place of worship is regarded as respect towards almighty in many cultures. I chanced upon blog by actress Stella Damasus, in which she addresses the issue when dressing up or rather down goes off the line. 


Our sense of power structure and law of attraction is inbuilt in our mind owning to our cultural and social evolution. This becomes a broad framework in defining our social norms and individual choices in dressing up or down. 

Social and cultural customs define the appropriateness in clothing. Like for traditional ceremonies adorning traditional wear is considered appropriate. One can get bit experimental while clubbing or partying. Certain old established clubs define strict dressing norms for both genders as their and their patron's image is linked. Professional norms about dressing for work is defined by industries. Certain industries have relaxed work wear like fashion, advertising, art and entertainment, sectors like banking / financial /legal /educational services have more formal approach about dresses.

These social and professional norms are defined based on simple yet mostly ignored fact that clothes do talk about you. They form the most important aspect of image that one wants to portray. Most of us are not clear about this image that we want but politicians, royalty, actors, singers, sportsperson, corporate leaders invest a lot of time and effort towards this aspect. Yes, it’s true that one should not judge a book by its cover but cover does have an effect.

Not conforming to norms in dresses at workplace may lead to being passed over for promotion, not being taken seriously to even being side-lined. The subtle science of picking up messages that clothes send result in forming an opinion that, fortunately or unfortunately, stays for long time. HR training in many corporate talk about dressing for success. This highlights that appropriate dressing plays a crucial part in building up career apart from skill set and hard work.

In social context, the image stays on longer and that forms a perception about the person. As far as societal norms are concerned they are generally in state of flux ... they adapt, they change and they reinvent owning to many factors. Society changes and so does its rules of appropriateness.

Quotes from Google search. 

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