The school where I work has a pretty standard private school dress code: jacket, tie, khakis and nice shoes. During COVID times, we’ve loosened it up quite a bit in due to masks and other things that needed policing. It just didn’t make sense to keep a strict dress code at the moment. As we start to look forward toward the coming school year, there is some debate about “getting that horse back into the barn.” Is our traditional dress code representative of the modern business culture? Is the tradition worth keeping? These are important questions to ask because as a school, we are a teaching/learning institution. Is our dress code teaching anything? Are our students learning anything from it?
In one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, Neo is first introduced to the idea of his being trapped in a computer program. His clothes, hair and overall appearance is something that Morpheus calls “Residual self-image.” While I’m not going to try to convince you that you’re stuck in a virtual simulation (YET), there is a lot of power in the way that we see ourselves or fail to see ourselves. As a pretty standard jeans and t-shirt kind of person, I am sending a message out into the world and to myself. The world’s perception of me is beyond my control, I can influence it but cannot do much to change other than by changing myself.
Therein lies the problem or more accurately: the opportunity. The world is fickle. It changes its likes and dislikes regularly. Fifty years ago walking down the street with bell-bottom pants sent a message about you. Now it sends a totally different message to the world. Since the world is going to change the way that it feels about you based on arbitrary rules of fashion that are environmental, season and person specific; perhaps the best that anyone can do is send signals to themselves because at least those can be consistent and understood.
The opportunities within this space are infinite. Clothes, hair, accessories, facial expressions and so many other components can be added to your “dress code.” This does not have to take extra money, effort or time. It is a simple alignment between who you want to project into the world and the ingredients that you use. For example: I wear mismatched socks on purpose. Some people would consider this a faux pas but it has been a powerful self-signaling tool that I’ve used for years. I stole it from Seth Godin but the idea behind it is this. A company called Little Miss Matched sold millions (possibly billions) of dollars of socks by doing something that no one else would have considered. They sold socks in a pack of three and none of them matched. This unorthodox but brilliant strategy was able to make them stand out and succeed. Doing the standard thing would have probably led to mediocrity or failure. No I don’t wear the actual “Little Miss Matched” socks. I don’t have to. The only person who needs to understand is me.
Can you undermine your outward signaling through your self-signaling? Abso-fricking-lutely! So it is up to you to decide where and when you need to signal to others while signaling to yourself. Since you set up the rules in the internal world in which you live (or at least you should), it’s completely possible to send yourself signals while meeting all of the arbitrary requirements of the fickle outside world. A special pair of boxer shorts can act like Superman’s cape whenever you need it to. The message is yours to choose! “I am confident in who I am!” “My creativity is inexhaustible!” “I am capable of stepping up to the next level!” “I’m sexy and I know it!” Wear it wherever you go! Even if you’re not particularly wearing anything different, put in your face, walk and posture. The only one who is usually stopping you is you! So send the message to yourself that you’re going places!