Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Step 3: Image

I have written before on my literary blog, A Few Words about the interaction between codes of dress and business in the realm of archaeology.

All across the country, favourite jumpers were consigned to bonfires or dog bedding, as the strange new world of short hair and clean clothes opened out. For the die-hards, it only took a couple of occasions on which their opinions or assistance were dismissed by busy businessmen because they looked like the people who cleaned the site toilets to recommend a change.

This was perhaps a simplistic view. What I struggled with was how to explain the culture of archaeological dress. Now I propose to follow a more roundabout route, going back to first principles: what is the function of clothing?

A recent study reported:

"… students indicated why an item of clothing they particularly valued was important to them, including perceived functional and mood-related benefits, but also clothes as means for expressing personal and social identity."

Jason Cox and Helga Dittmar, "The functions of clothes and clothing (dis)satisfaction: A gender analysis among British students" Journal of Consumer Policy 2-3 (1995) [text not available online to non-subscribers]

If you ask people about the clothes they choose to buy or wear, they will talk about aesthetics (they look good, or make the wearer look good, or feel nice), practicalities (keeps me warm, handy pockets), status (makes me look rich), and personal identity (expresses my personality). What they don't say is that it expresses their group identity.

For example, IT tekkies would consider themselves a fiercely independent and individualistic bunch who reject the norms of business fashion and wear what they, individually, want.

What then are we to make of a fashion range of geek chic like Cafe Press? It seems that, like skaters, Goths and punks before them, their individualism is expressed by wearing the same clothes as their friends.

This photograph of a group of countryside rangers and volunteers is interesting because only half of them are wearing a uniform. The others have adopted the green shirt and jeans as a form of protective coloration. Note that the only person wearing 'normal' clothes, in this context, appears as an outsider, clearly other than the rest.

I was at a large informal meeting of local government employees recently where one could immediately identify the biodiversity officers, because they wore fleeces, and the sustainability officers, because they wore woolly jumpers. People with similar interests do end up wearing similar clothes. Partly this might be explained by shared tastes, but it is also partly because we choose to dress like people we identify with. This is the power of clothes to express group identity.

However, like all such expressions, there is a price to pay. Signalling to your colleagues that you are like them also signals to others that you are different.

Time Team want to look like archaeologists.

Cornelius Holtorf quotes Mick Aston
as saying "we’re complete scruffbags but I don’t care. I’m not remotely interested in appearances, life’s too short for that”. But if you were a businessperson, would you trust them with thousands of pounds to deliver a critical part of your development?

Step 3: Are you creating the image you want?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your points and I will put it tough and simple:

The sad thing in British Archaeology is that it is full of badly dressed people, esp. middle-aged men, who foolishly think that it is COOL to be eccentric and look like one. I mean look at the photo you have chosen, which is a very good example: who on earth would be a sane middle-aged man and wear such an awful striped jumper, more suitable for 5 y-olds? And since when it is "cool" to have a white mess instead of tidy hair and a beard? And this is not a personal attack to the guy on the photo. Oh, no, unfortunately, British Archaeology has plenty similar examples.

Folks, eccentricity is for RICH people who live in mansions and visit gentlemen's exclusive clubs. The rest of us "normal" people must comply and make a living. Don't make the profession look bad: I am mad as hell because this type of "I don't -give- a- damn -about- how -I look -like" people give young professional archaeologists who try to find a job in the field a BAD name. And they are the reason why more than 100 years after the birth of archaeology as a science, people still perceive archaeologists as "eccentric hobbyists". And they are the reason why archaeologists as a whole are NOT taken seriously and paid according to their degrees and qualifications. They make archaeology look like a playground for kids.

When in the field, yes, you will wear old clothes. But choose something decent that does not offend the eye. Wear colours suitable for your age and status; you are not in a circus. Also, fieldwork is not an excuse for poor personal hygiene and scruffiness. If you don't have time to look after your hair-do, for instance, shave it short. White hair looks much tidier if short anyway. Or have a ponytail, if you want to look like an old rock star, but DO something. Keep a beard but give it a trim once in a while.

The same applies to women: I have a colleague whom when I first met, she had the face of a 30 something but she looked 70 something. The reason was her long greyish-whitish unkept gone-with-the-wind hair. Because she studied in Oxford, people sucked her up and were "non-judgemental" (all these PC terms, full of b****cks). But she looked like a mad witch in every conference and public event, and this is the unspoken hard reality of it. I would not choose her to represent me in front of businessmen and would not like to be associated with her in any way, unless she remained locked up in some sub terrain lab.

So, use some common sense and stop offending us all.