If you are so tired, why do you decide to stand up from bed?
If you don't like your job, why do you stay?
If your dream school rejected your application twice, why are you sending an application for the third time?
It's fascinating to think about what motivates our decisions and behaviors. We have 24 hours every day, and for the most part, we have control over how we can experience most of the hours of the day.
A study performed by Duke University states that ever since the human species evolved to become Homo sapiens, our motivations to do something are primarily based on the following needs: Belonging, acceptance, strong interpersonal connections, influence, and protection.
There are so many books about each of these individual concepts. It makes sense if we do what we can to fulfill these needs. We look for belonging at school and in the workplace. We seek acceptance from our neighbors and society. We dream of solid interpersonal connections that, for some, are a fairy tale dream or a life-lasting friendship. We value protection so much that we have insurance for health, life, cars, crops, residencies, and even body parts for those willing to spend the extra thousands.
These five needs are the roots of most of our decisions and the conversations we have every day. Let's look at these needs through a Political Fashion lens. Thinking of how these translate into our relationship with fashion, our relationship with others, and our relationship with ourselves.
The world is a scary place surrounded by humans so different from each other. We are ready to judge, attack, and diminish, but we are not exempt from receiving the same treatment. Bullies who push people against the locker didn't stay in high school. Many of them are in your neighborhood, in your social circle, or maybe even running for public office. We look for a sense of belonging because it is a safe space. When we belong somewhere, we are safe from judgment and safe from rejection.
We do our best to belong as we say good morning to the person sitting next to us in class. We look around to see who we are similar to so we can form a safe social circle. But sometimes, we need a little push to identify this sense of belonging; this is where fashion steps in.
Uniforms are a strong fashion component that fulfills the need for belonging. In a stadium, football fans interact with each other as part of the group that supports a team. They recognize that they are part of something bigger, and this is why it brings so much joy to go to the stadium to watch the game.
The uniforms of the Marines, the US Coast Guard, and all military branches carry a deep history and meaning, but they also create a strong sense of belonging among the members as they navigate a variety of tasks and uncertainties serving the country.
So, how do we find a sense of belonging through fashion?
Groups like goths, demos, and punks follow a similar aesthetic and recognize each other's clothes and looks when interacting. There's a whole group that, similar to uniforms, creates a sense of belonging as there is more than one following the visual components of the subculture they decided to follow.
For those who don't wear uniforms, there are some unwritten dress codes that we follow in order to feel that we have fulfilled this sense of belonging. Some examples are the young teenagers who want a Chanel bag when they turn 18 because that's what their friends got for this milestone. The fashion trends that spread as a new virus in a school: Toms shoes, True Religion jeans, Tory Burch flats, or Telfar bags. (Don't need to start with a "T" to be a trend.)
Feeling like we don't belong can sometimes feel as if there is something off or wrong with ourselves. This feeling is so unpleasant that brands have leveraged it to make fashion a path to fulfill the need for belonging (spoiler alter: with no self-love, it's harder to find that sense of belonging through clothes).
It's hard to talk about acceptance without talking about rejection. Rejection is scary.
Rejection is receiving an email starting with the subject "Update on Your Application" and the message being "We decided to move forward with another candidate."
Rejection is not getting to the school of your dreams, the person you want to date, or not getting a loan or credit because your score is not good enough.
We react to the fear of rejection in different ways, hoping to fulfill our need for acceptance.
The tale of the high school girl who does her hair and makeup as the "cool girl at school" in order to get the boy's attention is as old as time. Sometimes we replicate someone's clothes or style, but not necessarily because we like this person. Maybe we don't even like the style. But we like the confidence that they portray and that, at least from the outside, seems to be a person who is accepted by the people around them.
This is one of the reasons why kids and young teenagers love dressing like their favorite singer. They want to receive the joy of acceptance that they believe Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift receive.
Strong Interpersonal Connections
Friends, Family, Significant Other. Interpersonal connections mean something different for every person.
But the common denominator is the need to love and feel loved. In Political Fashion, we've talked about how Cinderella's story tale has made several generations idealized love, and how the glass slipper influenced fashion, mainly due to the connection between the shoe and the love story.
Similarly, there are a lot of emotions in the link between a bridal gown and the bride because of the meaning that this gown carries for the bride.
When we want to create strong interpersonal connections, we care about what the other person thinks of us. This explains why we dress differently to see our parents versus the clothes we wear when we go to the club.
When we are dating, we are often overthinking the clothes we wear and the way we look, because we want to do everything in our power to build strong interpersonal connections.
On the other hand, we also celebrate when we have found these strong, mutual, and loving relationships / interpersonal connections. We can see this when couples wear matching clothes for their honeymoon or order matching outfits with their kid(s), celebrating that their family is growing.
Our happiness when we have found these relationships is such that, sometimes, without verbalizing it, we express it through our clothes. Our need is being satisfied. Our heart is fulfilled.
Our need for protection, mixed with American consumerism, opened a big market. From waterproof phone cases and bamboo boxes to keep bread away from humidity to jackets puffier than they need to be and sunglasses larger than our faces, we are constantly dressing to fulfill this need.
As no one has ever died from overprotection, it's common to go above and beyond fulfilling this need when we want to feel safe or protected. The resilient layers of the car's windshield that are so thick you can barely see from the outside to the inside. The promises in political campaigns to keep people safe from x, y, or z are part of every election cycle.
This need for safety or protection triggered the toilet paper shortage in March 2020 at the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic, when people bought more rolls than they'd ever used for a year just to be extremely sure that they wouldn't run out of toilet paper during the stay at home orders.
Our need for protection in clothing has rapidly changed in the last decade, as there have been different climates that we must had to adapt to. Hot weather, freezing winters, powerful rains, and never-ending snow storms. These are all existing threats to our safety that we protect from through fashion.
Another clever way in which retailers sell us the idea of protection is when they present us clothes as the solution to a challenge we may be facing, or we may be unaware we are facing. "If you don't buy this shapewear, your body posture will worsen, and by your 40s you may need back surgery."
Our personal stories shape the reason why we are looking for influence in the world. We may be motivated to confront the social injustices that we have experienced firsthand. We may be looking for wealth because that is something that has motivated us for a long time.
Influence happens when we are able to communicate a message effectively to other people and we are able to shape their perception of something or someone. Throughout history, we have seen people with a strong influence who have used them to fight for the rights of a community or unite them. But there have also been those who used their influence to commit genocides and divide people against each other.
Influencing people is not always manipulation. As manipulation has a negative connotation of tricking someone for self-interest, influence can happen for the good of a larger group.
How does influence look in fashion?
Fashion is a visual representation of how influence flows in the world. The clothes we see on the red carpet are the clothes we see in the stores. The sneakers Cristiano Ronaldo wears become highly demanded sneakers. The clothes Zendaya rocks for a premiere inspire a fast fashion collection available in weeks that produces millions of dollars. Celebrities and world leaders influence the cycles of fashion for the masses, regardless of whether intentional or unintentional.
On the other hand, for those looking to fulfill their need for influence, there's the famous saying, "dress for the job you want, not for the job you have". We want to convey the message: "I am able to perform well at that job, and I want other people to see the eagerness I have to grow professionally."
When Hillary Clinton was the First Lady of Arkansas, she used to wear big glasses, minimal makeup, and boxy clothes. People perceived that she didn't look approachable or "First Ladylike". This was when Clinton went through a makeover, kept the glasses at home, and dressed with the femininity that is associated with First Ladies as her husband was on the ballot looking to preserve his power.
There is more than one path to dress for obtaining influence as it has to do with the people who we want to influence, or who have the power to give us that influence. Sometimes, that is the Electoral College; other times, it's the HR Manager at the department store. We must play our cards well to obtain this desired influence.
People don't need to be powerful politicians or celebrities to have an influence on people. If we are able to shape the perception of just one person, then we are influencing.
And many times, this micro level is more than enough. This explains our need to feel that we are right during an argument or why we want to change people's minds to be more like ours or persuade them to get into our same interests. "Don't go to that coffee shop. I didn't like it." "Listen to this artist; it's good, and you will like it." "Don't go to the movie theater, it is a waste of time and money. Just stay home and watch something on Netflix".
So next time you choose to wear a certain color, brand or texture. Think deeply about the reasons why you are making this decision. What need are you trying to fulfill? What other steps are you going to take to fulfill this need?
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