Can a change really do you good? Seán McGovern gets rid of his form-fitting blazers, reluctantly tugs on tracksuits, and heads out on campus to find out.
“The clothes maketh the man” is a cliché that has been paraphrased again and again since it first made its way into the English language. In our image conscious, consumerist society where self image is constantly changeable, it may even be truer than ever.
A university like UCD acts as a microcosm of different races and cultures, a fact we know and accept. Yet no matter what the colour of skin or ethnic garment, heads will turn when someone wears something particularly eye-catching – or dare I say, particularly ridiculous. Admittedly, I am someone who would put a lot of thought into what I wear. There are many reasons – and I’m sure vanity is indeed one of them – but the truth is that I believe what I wear is a reflection of how I think, act and feel. “The man maketh the clothes”, if you like.
Genetically Molloy-ified is what we could call my transformation; the Features Editor providing me with a sports bag containing hoodies and cantos. Time to say goodbye to my blazer, 70s pattern print shirt and fitted patterned trousers. My glasses had to go too. Fringe plastered up with gel, sports bag slung rakishly on my back, and I was ready to go.
The concept was simple: how do people perceive you in a certain look? Can you act and behave a certain way, no matter what you’re wearing? The results were indeed mixed. The first person I encountered was someone who knew me well; her opinion was therefore totally unbiased. She said she was so used to seeing me in my identifiable garb that I now looked “generic and boring”.
My close friends, on the other hand, were much more vocal in their opinions. My closest friend described me as “horrid”, and was so taken aback by my appearance that she could not take me seriously when I spoke to her about matters unrelated to my appearance. When asked why her reaction was so animated, her response was simple.
“It wasn’t you.”
How I look and how I behave seem to be linked by how people perceive me. I was incredibly self-conscious while still aware that that I was blending in much more than usual. When I suggested the concept to First Year student, Claire Cunningham, she believed her friends wouldn’t take her seriously if she donned the uniform of the stereotypical D4 girl.
“They’d laugh; they wouldn’t think I was serious because it would be so out of character.”
Yet, as flimsy as this may sound, it raises some questions about established identity and even gender. It’s easy for me to make a generalisation about everyone who opts for the look I was wearing, but from an outside perspective there are many possible explanations for this particular sense of dress. Comfort is one of them. In my few hours in my out-of-body experience, I felt incredibly comfortable. In a learning environment of uncomfortable classrooms and lecture halls, it is one less discomfort when clothes are light and baggy. But is this a good enough reason? As informal as the look may be, a huge proportion of students wear the same style, raising the question of whether the image is solely by choice or rather formed by the particular group culture.
Third Year student Roisin Keogh had more particular observations about ascribing to a look due to social pressure.
Sean McGovern after (left) and before (right) his temporary transformation
“They’re certainly ascribing. It’s like a tribal uniform… it’s a uniform rather than a look at this stage. I’ve never come across something so widespread and so long lasting either.”
This question of being pressurised to look a certain way was a conclusion that many people arrived at when asked. While debate is encouraged as to what exactly the truth is, it is by no means a coincidence that that stereotypical attitudes have arisen from how certain groups dress. UCD does associate such humorous comment about the look of many of its students based on speculation alone.
My brief stint in the image of another man raised questions that so far I have been unable to answer, but which are much weightier than just my physical image. My attitude as a man, and the ideals of masculinity, came into play – and possibly suggested that how we look is an outward glance, or even a façade to the perceived ideals of gender roles. By the end I was happy to be back in my form-fitted clothes. It’s good to me again.