Recently I was told by a friend of mine that compared to other societies, the majority of Americans do not put as much thought into their appearance. The conversation led to how people think of fashion, style, and clothing on a higher level. Having experienced an array of societies myself, such as Pakistan, London, New York City, and small towns such as Pittsfield, Mass., I am always intrigued by how people present themselves and how they judge others.
In Pakistan there is a strong sense of tradition in the shalwar kamiz which is a baggy outfit defined by shared colors of the pants and shirt. The ultimate message is simplicity and uniformity. There is little room for experimentation, and when one does experiment, sidelong glances from folks are endless. The majority of people wear this outfit not only because they may not be able to afford or are interested in brand-name clothing, but also because they do not crave that attention of appearance that most young people are intrigued by.
When I moved to the relatively small town of Pittsfield, I witnessed and became friends with people who did not care about how they looked. Their lack of effort into their appearance merely because they did not “want” to shocked me, because although they lived in America, the land that absorbs cultural fashion, I realized there were people who were ignorant of brands such as Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent. So when I brought my tastes of clothing out of my sheer interest and passion in fashion they rarely — if ever — recognized it. I would often contemplate my reactions to this. Sometimes being around people who are not interested or aware of your outward appearance can be disappointing, BUT on the other hand, it offers that person the initiative to hold on to that “thing” which makes them so original (whether in his/her mind or not) and embrace it. In a sense, lack of recognition on the part of my peers strengthened my individuality.
When I traveled to New York City and when I moved to Boston, the situation completely flipped. The overflow of recognition from people who had been exposed to street-wear brands such as Stussy or designers like Hyden Yoo forced me to re-address how I conceive individuality. The recognition and lack of recognition, both, were revelatory experiences in that outward appearance should not be shaped by society’s standards, but by the individual’s state of mind. Whether you want to wear sweatpants and a hoodie to class or dress up every day should first and foremost be the product of the individual, for the individual. Although this is a tough statement to live by, those who follow it can only suffer a “superficial” death.