Are you Heading for the Heels

Are You Heading for the Heels?

People dress up to fit in, says a team of psychologists after studying the habits of over 2,000 women in 180 American cities. We didn’t really need science to tell us that, but it helps to have academic backing. Especially when it also says (what you probably knew in your gut but didn’t acknowledge) that people make a sartorial effort to fit in only when they’re hanging out with rich and powerful people. When they’re the richest in the room, they dress to stand out.

Remember the glorious story about industrialist Dwarkanath Tagore, Rabindranath’s grandfather? A man of much wealth, with interests in shipping, insurance, banking and mining, he was known (and much-envied and aped) for his sartorial opulence. So when he walked into a soiree in a white outfit bereft of ornamentation, all the other guests—who were dressed to the nines, in anticipation—were gobsmacked. Till they looked down at Dwarkanath’s feet. There on his slippers sat diamonds that could give the Kohinoor a complex. Having stolen everyone’s thunder, the Big Man joined the party.

The good doctors from North Carolina who drew the conclusion about people dressing to fit in couldn’t have known the Dwarkanath story. But they too focused on feet for their project. Tracking the purchase of high heel shoes by peripatetic women, they found that heel sizes change as girls go places; that they adopt local trends when moving to a wealthier city but ignore them when they shift to a small town. In other words, when a woman moves to Manhattan, she buys heels to match those worn by other women in the city—showing a desire to belong. But when she moves to Ohio, she stays with her big city heel—revealing her intent to maintain her individuality.

It’s not just shoes; people want their entire look to serve as a conduit to the right circles. And it’s not an American phenomenon. Meerut apes Delhi’s style; not the other way around. Heroine of the day, Kangana Ranaut became très chic, très hip when she moved from Mandi to Mumbai. Now that she’s on top of her game, she plays by her own rules (think shoulderless gown in Rashtrapati Bhavan). A return journey, stylewise, is unthinkable—even if Ranaut were to move to Murshidabad, or Mount Abu.

The men are no different; whether it’s in the ties they wear, or the watches and cars they buy. A friend who’s moved from Delhi to Yellagiri after retirement has taken his BMW with him. He likes the fact that his is the only convertible in the area. When young executives copy their boss’ suit, it’s not just about the clothes. By aping him, they are trying to get the boss’ approval and attention in a tacit way and bolstering their own self-esteem.

Because life is about social affirmation. On the way up, people thirst for status and respect, and try and get it by mirroring the habits of those they perceive as superior. Once they’ve got where they wanted to go, they strive to stand apart. Heading for the heels is just the first step.

Courtesy: The New Indian Express

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