It’s only in the last couple of decades that we have seen a significant increase in the size and variety of our personal wardrobes. Cheap labour and new fabrics have led to a boom in the consumption of affordable clothing, that we are only now beginning to unravel as the fashion industry starts to rebalance its environmental impact and become more sustainable.
Centuries ago, prior to the industrial revolution, good clothes were the privileged domain of the wealthy. In impoverished households, family members would have, literally, two sets of clothes – a set for the working week, and another for church on a Sunday – literally their ‘Sunday Best’. This Sunday best was meticulously maintained and, if they were lucky, lasted a lifetime before they were then passed down the line.
This tradition of ‘dressing up’ to worship has become predominant across communities worldwide as wealth has spread, middle classes have grown, and clothing production has commoditized.
As Qurbani 2022 approaches thousands of children across the Islamic world will be badgering their parents for new clothes to celebrate the festival. In local parks, gardens and teahouses across the world, Muslims will gather in their finest clothes to celebrate Qurbani, meeting family and old friends and catching up on the news.
The act of dressing up adds to the sense of occasion and celebration. It sets the tone for the act of worship, which itself can help set the tone for a better week. For some, poverty was not a barrier to dressing up to worship – in the UK working men would pawn their only good suit on a Monday, only to redeem it again the following Saturday and don once again for Sunday best, so important was it to maintain the standards required of that one day a week.
The effect of clothes on an individual’s sense of self esteem and self worth is beyond measure. It was Mark Twain who made the infamous observation in The Czar’s Soliloquy: “[One} realizes that without his clothes a man would be nothing at all; that the clothes do not merely make the man, the clothes are the man; that without them he is a cipher, a vacancy, a nobody, a nothing… There is no power without clothes.”
Observing people in power, a common thread is their consistent and continual wearing of formal attire. It signals professionalism and power, highlights how you mean business. Did you ever see Donald Trump not wearing his suit? Obama’s rolled up shirt sleeves was a deliberate ploy to appeal to the ordinary man, while still demonstrating the formality of the suit. Margaret Thatcher never went anywhere without perfectly coiffed hair, handbag and twinset.
Steve Jobs, the original founder of Apple, was famous for sticking to one style of dress – the black turtleneck. This in itself was indicative of his outstanding intellect and creativity, preferring not to waste time worrying about what it was he was going to wear every day. Instead, this one outfit set him apart and became iconic to his position as founder of one of the most successful corporations in the world.
These outfits are complemented by the body language and physical stance of the powerful -standing tall, shoulders back, open and welcoming, encouraging engagement.
An the other extreme, those who are struggling with low self esteem and confidence can often be recognised by their stance, demeanour and outfits. They may be wearing loose fitting, drab clothes that hide who they are, keep them lost in the background rather than encouraging them to come to the foreground. These clothes are further enhanced by often stooped or slouching body position, making themselves small, tucked away, avoiding taking up space and engagement.