One of the most amazing true stories I’ve heard is about a man in early modern Europe who went to the public baths, but was unused to bathing in groups. He was concerned that if he removed his clothes and was surrounded by other people, he might actually lose himself — he may not know which person in the bathing pool was him, strange as it sounds. His more educated and worldly companions laughed as he very seriously fashioned a cross out of reeds that he stuck to his thigh. When he entered the water, the cross began to float away and he panicked.
Unlike the man experiencing the public bath for the first time, we moderns know that clothing and nudity can’t instantly alienate us from our true selves, but clearly the fear of losing one’s self via missing symbols persists in some form. We recognize that a woman has the ability to pull on a garment without it being pulled into her mind to transmute her personality. I read Jennifer Wright’s “Grown Women, Please Don’t Dress Like Toddlers” op-ed here on Racked with great interest because it deals with the role clothing can have in changing one’s mentality. On the soccer field as a child, I was told to tuck in my jersey because “look right, play right.” There’s a persistent sense that looking the part will help you fake it til you make it.
But can childish clothes work in the opposite direction and result in the unraveling of one’s adulthood? I think not.
Don’t conflate so-called adult dress with adult behavior or the reverse, as if a woman who wears a Polly Pocket shirt isn’t able to tell that it’s time to make calls to Congress. The fact that women have the sense of self required to wear their childhood interests on their hearts quite literally suggests to me that we’re not relying on clothes, but relying on our mature and purposeful actions in order to be adults. Moreover, women have the ability to adapt to different social situations. I can wear Lisa Frank Pajamas to bed and walk out of the house for work the next morning dressed appropriately by even the judgiest standards. A closet that can’t accommodate rainbow unicorn dresses alongside pantsuits sounds like a hilariously bad techbro invention.