If you want to study human psychology, start with dogs. Imagine psychology as a series of if-then-else patterns, where you say or do something to a human they might react in hundreds of different ways and dogs might just have a handful. So when we dressed up my childhood dog Patrick in an old shirt and he looked particularly happy, that wasn’t just him smiling for the camera.
I recently bought ten white dress shirts for steal.
My professional wardrobe for the first eight years of my career up until one month ago consisted of plain polo shirts with the occasional awkward dress shirt that would be either too small or too expensive for me to consider wearing normally. I’d rotate through my polo shirt colors as any good artist would. Nothing to it. Polo shirts are also more in the business casual side even with a white undershirt. Trying on one of the button downs was a revelation so I bought the remaining stock and felt vindicated with the remarkable response during some meetings.
Let’s talk about superficiality.
Ideally we shouldn’t have to worry about playing dressing up for others. While it’d be nice to be like dogs, where they just wear their fur coats, we have hundreds of different clothing options and psychologically clothing can represent our personalities. That’s rather daunting. You know when you go on a job interview and you don’t feel comfortable? Just how often do you wear that suit and tie or that professional dress? Those external objects are incongruent with our internal identities so we feel uncomfortable. Why not just practice wearing those fancier clothes until it’s routine?
How about Patrick?
When we dressed up Patrick in that shirt, we’d make him feel comfortable with some treats and an overabundance of attention, quickly sneak one arm of the shirt in through one arm, the other, then pat him on the head to reassure him that he’s such a good boy. That photo was his standard smiling expression. He’d switch over to a serious face before smiling again. So he wasn’t upset over the process even though it wasn’t part of his normal wardrobe. He also probably couldn’t conceptualize something being fancy that would need to be treated carefully, even if he was smarter than the average dog.
So those white dress shirts.
Now I’ve been noticing just how many celebrities wear these types of dress shirts with Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters being an example. Police and security do, too. They’re authoritarian. So when I went to that symphony, I wore my comfortable worn-out black work shirt, even if by now I’m already comfortable with upping my wardrobe. The thing, though, is that I don’t think it’s just the external factor. I deserve to wear nice things, to look as cool as I feel, and to have a sort of Shield of Praise around me.
Patrick saw that shirt as a way to get what he wanted.
So, too, should we when considering clothing.