“What shall I wear”? , you ask as you look through your closet full of clothes. Have you ever wondered why we humans are so concerned about our appearance? Why do we have different kinds of clothes for different kinds of places? We wore makeup today but not yesterday? Do we need to make an impression or statement with our fashion? Why do we stress over how we look when we’re meeting up with Bob and Cindy, but just leave the house looking like ‘whatever’ when it’s Katie and John?
Seriously, although fashion rules are often mocked today as being superficial and silly, the fact that we care about how we look is very deeply rooted in our ancient ancestry. Fitting-in was a life-or-death proposition back in the day. Our DNA is our driving force, no matter how modern and sophisticated we think we are.
I have one more question for you: Did you know you can have a test done to find out how much Neanderthal DNA you have?
I always find it fascinating to see my inner cavewoman bleeding through into my 21st-century life. So come with me on this brief sojourn into the past and perhaps you will see your own gazing back at you from the mirror. Give her a wink and a smile; she is serving you well!
If you could be transported back to the early days of humanity, you would find yourself living in a small family group or small tribe. Because everyone in the group is related to you, they have your back. They share their food with you, they teach you how to get along in the world. The whole tribe is there to get mean and stabby when you’re attacked by a cave bear.
On the other hand, if you displease your group, the consequences are horrible. They shun you, exile you, then drive you away. Wandering alone is no way to live – literally. You can’t make it on your own. Even if you do encounter another group of people they will probably kill you instead of saving you. All this because you wore a red feather in your hair when only the tribe leader’s daughter is allowed to wear red feathers. Do you see where I am going with this? Following the rules of how to dress, how to speak and how to behave keep you in the tribe and keep you alive.
Social Dynamics Today
Now flash back to the present. Whew! That was getting intense. Your life no longer depends on fitting in with a group or making a statement. But you also have not lost the need to feel that you belong. You have not lost the fear of being shunned socially and cast out of the group. Fortunately, today we have access to so many groups from which to choose that even the quirkiest among us can find her “tribe.”
You are most comfortable when you are with your peeps. You all dress in a similar way, talk the same way and enjoy doing the same things. However, when you are going into a situation where you will encounter different people or even the same people in a different environment, you start to wonder about how you should present yourself.
Making A Statement
How do I make that statement? Most of us want to be accepted, so we style our clothing, hair, and makeup in a way that we hope this new group will approve of. Some of us are more contrary and prefer to make no adjustments. This sends the message: “This is who I am, take it or leave it.” Either way, consciously or subconsciously, we are arranging our appearance to have an effect. We will have to face the consequences of our choice.
Why Do We Care?
So, to go back to the original questions: Why do we care what other people think about our appearance, and why do we stress over how we look? “What shall I wear?” you repeatedly ask yourself. The answer: Because fear of being exiled from the group is buried in our DNA. Even in the modern world, there can be negative consequences for looking the wrong way in the wrong place at the wrong time. You may lose a job or negatively affect a date that you really liked. You may turn a jury against you or be shrieked at by a sobbing bride that you ruined her wedding. Yikes!
Is there a positive side to all this? Of course, there is! Ralph Waldo Emerson once quoted one of his friends as saying, “Being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of tranquility that religion is powerless to bestow.”
There is nothing like walking into a room and knowing that you nailed it. Knowing that not only have you been accepted by the tribe, but that you are their queen!
The next time you reach the peak of this particular mountain, remember to listen for that quiet whisper from your ancient cousin in the cave saying, “Glad I could help.”