We Are What We Wear…Or Are We?

Logosmall TV







Birds display their plumage; so why shouldn’t humans? It’s a natural form of sexual attraction. But when we walk around with advertising on our clothing – from Polo shirts to Louis Vuitton handbags (which I had to look it up to be sure they still make them) – we are buying the appearance of wealth as a means of showing status and sex appeal. In a culture that worships money, paying more for a designer shirt presumably stimulates self-confidence and is more appealing than a plain one.

A listener to my Montreal radio interview last week, Nusrat J. Mirza, wrote me, “…a lot of young people, especially girls and quite a few women as well…spend ridiculous amounts of money to buy and wear expensive brand-name stuff to show they are wealthy.”

She implied that the old adage, “we are what we eat,” could be changed to, “we are what we wear.” The same could be applied to owning televisions and watching brand advertising.

The average American home now has more televisions than people. More than half the homes in the U.S. have three or more. A friend of mine who teaches elementary school in a very poor part of Vermont told me that when she visits families, there is always a TV playing in the background. I suspect this is true for most homes in America.

I have never been attracted to buying designer clothes, and I rarely turn on my 17 year-old, 13″- RCA TV (featured above.) My husband and I generally watch the news on it about 4 times per week and sometimes catch part of “CBS Sunday Morning” after feeding the horses.

I would argue that while designer clothing can be fun as an accessory or a badge of belonging, and a TV is a way of staying connected, they each run the risk of becoming a cover for emptiness. The truest form of belonging is finding connection to community from a place of self-worth within.

I would love to hear your answers to some of the following questions:

1. How do you feel when you wear designer clothing?
2. If you don’t wear it, why don’t you like it?
3. How many TVs do you have in your house and what’s the ratio of TVs to people?
4. How often, or how many hours per day, do you watch it?
5. How do you feel after watching TV, versus talking with a friend?

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12 Responses to We Are What We Wear…Or Are We?

  1. Alice says:

    Very interesting post, Eileen. I certainly agree that belonging is not an outward show of wealth , but instead a connection to those around you.

    1. How do you feel when you wear designer clothing?
    I would be constantly worried I’d spill something on it. I worry about this when I spend over £50 on clothing, If I could afford designer I would probably be neurotic.
    2. If you don’t wear it, why don’t you like it?
    I can’t afford to and I think I would feel pretentious doing so if I could.
    3. How many TVs do you have in your house and what’s the ratio of TVs to people?
    One TV, but a laptop/computer per person.
    4. How often, or how many hours per day, do you watch it?
    Not at all, it’s not my TV.
    5. How do you feel after watching TV, versus talking with a friend?
    Sleepy – conversation is awakening, TV is draining.

  2. Elaine Naddaff says:

    Hi Eileen, Thanks for writing another stimulating article on your blog.

    I have to say that I agree and disagree with you on your thinking about clothing labels and media/tv watching. It is worth noting that socio economic breakdowns are relevant in the discussion of clothing labels. Yes, labels do show “status and sex appeal”, but in my world I do not draw that conclusion. I see clothes, as being appropriate for the weather, clean and proper! That is not to say that I do not admire the beautiful Scottish mohair jackets and coats, the classic Burberry line, the comfortable
    Rockport shoe and the sentimental Marimekko fabrics! Clothes tell a story. I remember, when my husband and I were engaged, he asked me how I would like him to dress?!***… Taking him seriously ( a big mistake ), I said he should wear L.L. Bean clothes. We skirted… He spent on Brooks Bros.clothes and a Mercedes– big labels. He kept these material goods, FOREVER. They were the earmarks of his success on Wall Street. His success was ruined, marred and damaged by a non label sister who shunned “the labels”, the Ivy League work ethic, the complexity of a striving brother and her dated sibling rivalry complex. Labels of all sorts.

    THE “MEDIA”.
    Growing up I was, always, disdainful of gossip. It was in my blood. I found it interesting that later in life, I worked in an industry where facts were sought after, yet abused. Gossip, too, was a high priced item. I was never scared away by gossip in the communications industry.

    I think you are pulling “my” leg about your media habits. I bet you watch everything on your Apple computer– including the news, documentaries and other programs. Am I correct? Is it that your 13″ tv has been replaced by your 14″ Apple computer? Certainly, you know how to integrate technology, innovation and respect for nature and the arts with the underpinnings of capitalistic sentiments and non profit enterprise.

    I like your romantic notion about community. My self worth does not come from having found
    community; although, I have looked for it and did not find it. I found love, again and I loved love, nurtured love and walked IN and OUT of the back door! I see “community”, differently than you.

    I wish you would write your column three times a week. HAPPY SPRING.

    • I love your answers Elaine. And of course clothes tell a story. My husband has always been very careful to choose appropriate clothing for the event he’s going to. I tend to think about it at the last minute but I enjoy thinking about what would feel right for whatever occasion. As to my apple computer, I really don’t watch a lot. I probably should watch more. I occasionally watch Downton Abbey on Hulu if I’ve missed an episode, but as for TV it’s the news, CBS Sunday morning and once in a while, 60 minutes. Maybe 6 times a year we look at movies. I prefer to read letters and emails and talk on the phone or go for a walk with a friend! I hope you find community for yourself. Whether in a place of worship or a quilting club, a book club or a hiking group. It is so helpful. Best wishes to you.

  3. Phyll says:

    Great blog. A) I don’t wear designer clothing unless I happen to find something I like at a resale shop; 2) I don’t believe in “wasting” money on designer clothing. Anything extra goes to my pony and our carriage & tack; 3) I have 2 very old TV’s that I bought used for under $100, one even has a built-in VCR on it (which comes in handy); 4) My favorite show, which I watch every week, is “Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood, CNN to catch up on news, followed by “Dancing With the Stars just ’cause Charlie and Meryl, the Olympic Gold Medal Ice Dancers, are on this season and both are students at The Univ. of Mich. and live in Ann Arbor (where I went to school & live), 5) I’d much rather chat with a friend, over a cup of herbal peppermint tea, or hand write notes to friends, read, paint with watercolors, sing along with my player piano, or play/cuddle with my kits, pup and pony. Thanks for writing about this and asking! 🙂

  4. Another thought-provoking essay, Eileen

    1. How do you feel when you wear designer clothing? — I have a wonderful collection of vintage clothing from my grandmother, aunt and mother, some of which includes designer pieces. But clothing from those eras were really constructed, with pride and a sense of transcending beauty to be a true sense of personal style. So, when I have the opportunity to “dress up” (my usual attire are jeans and a sweater), I feel great, like I’m sharing something with the women who created who I am, and the clothes fit me, not just physically, but helping me define my personal style.

    2. If you don’t wear it, why don’t you like it? I don’t like spending good money to wear someone else’s definition of who I should be. Essentially, all you’re doing is putting on another’s name, another’s personna. And they are simply not as well made as the average (non-designer clothes) of yesteryear.

    3. How many TVs do you have in your house and what’s the ratio of TVs to people? – One, in my father’s room.

    4. How often, or how many hours per day, do you watch it? – May one or 2 hours a month.

    5. How do you feel after watching TV, versus talking with a friend? I so seldom watch TV, and will always choose to be with a friend or family member over just about anything else. Life is too short to loose those kinds of opportunities.

  5. Wow! 15 hours a day on the web! That’s amazing. But I think you’re in good company. Just be sure and find time for one on one friendship. There’s nothing quite like direct human interaction.

  6. Sally, you remind me that I love to dress up i vintage clothing, like you. And I love to put on funny clothes too. One year, when I joined two friends for Easter, I arrived wearing white orthodics for bunny ears! Like you, I prefer friends to TV. Thanks for responding. I hope your book is doing really well.

    • By the way, Eileen, as I was swimming last night (a meditative exercise for me, where I think a lot of things through), this essay’s theme of being what we wear, plus a comment that my dental hygienist made in the morning about her daughter getting a tattoo, plus my thoughts about purple hair (if I were a teenager today, I’d definitely play around with strange colored hair) coalesced into an essay that I stayed into the wee hours writing. It’s called “Color Me Purple.” Now to decide where I’ll submit it. Thank you for the inspiration. Actually, I always find your essays inspiring and thought-provoking. It’s just that this one had a even more concrete impact and result.

      And, thank you, also, about asking about my book. It continues to be an interesting journey: watching how what I wrote is changing as others read and discuss it, becoming something larger and reaching into corners of controversy (and I hope healing) I hadn’t anticipated.

      I enjoyed your book tremendously, and hope it is also doing well.

  7. Sandman Sand says:

    1. How do you feel when you wear designer clothing?

    When I was a child I remember “having” to wear certain designer clothing for the feeling of being accepted. As I grew up and became a man I realized how foolish I was. I realized that people who loved me and truly cared for me didn’t care what clothes I wear. I now wear what I feel like wearing. I do still fall victim to some forms of designer clothing though. I would love to create my own suites. I like suites, even though I do no own one yet.

    2. If you don’t wear it, why don’t you like it?

    3. How many TVs do you have in your house and what’s the ratio of TVs to people?

    We have 1 TV in our house, however it is mostly used as a computer monitor. I don’t have cable TV. We enjoy Youtube videos, specifically watching music videos. Mostly our TV is on to show Artwork, Pandora Radio, and we watch free episodes of TV at TheDareWall.com – be careful with this site however and make sure you run a popup blocker if you ever choose to explore it.

    4. How often, or how many hours per day, do you watch it?

    Not very often, but my TV addiction is internet addiction which I spend way to many hours on. I am trying my best to get away from social media, but the addiction is tough to break. I enjoy the internet to much. It’s novelty is addicting. I enjoy learning. So I spend time at KhanAcademy, Youtube, and reading a lot. I am currently interested in learning to invest and possibly opening up my own small business.

    5. How do you feel after watching TV, versus talking with a friend?

    I would much rather talk with a friend than watch TV. I find most TV to be boring. News can be fun and entertaining. Some shows I enjoy much too. Game of Thrones, Hannibal, and other Dramas. At work I enjoy watching News to see what’s going on in the world and in my community.

  8. eileenrockefeller says:

    Thanks for sharing all your answers to the above. I love learning too. It’s amazing how many ways there are to learn today. The trick is to find ways that feel nourishing, not depleting. All the best.

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