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Aug 2, 2010

"Notice Me - Don't Notice Me!"


Good morning, friends!

We're still in nag-free Monday mode here at MPB, at least until the weather feels more fall-like.

Today, I'd like to touch on something related to Friday's sagger pants saga and a reader comment that has been on my mind since.  Nancy K called the sagger pants look (as well as the Thom Browne highwater suit) "attention-getting" and that term really struck a nerve.

Is there anything more shameful in our culture than admitting that you want to be noticed?

Be honest: when you see someone whose appearance seems to be a desperate cry for attention, do you intentionally (or somewhat reflexively) look away so as not to give that person what they so obviously are seeking?  (Or am I the only cruelly withholding one here?)

How much energy do we spend denying that we want to be seen, that we want people to take notice of us but not look like we do (by cultivating a studied cool demeanor, say).  We're not supposed to want attention.  Or at least, that's the message I often got growing up.

It seems strange in a culture where celebrity worship is so commonplace that we're not supposed to show how much we want to be seen.

I was raised in a family where one didn't seek to stand out except through one's grades, and certainly not by virtue of appearance.  I have so many memories of my mother's highly critical remarks about this friend or that colleague who dressed in what she considered a flashy, attention-getting way.

Can you imagine someone like me in a family like that?  I was a natural attention-getter -- outgoing, dramatic -- and I really suffered.  Maybe now you can understand why I was destined to have a blog like Male Pattern Boldness!

How many of you got a similar message growing up?

Do you consciously dress to be noticed?  If so, who is it you'd like to notice you?

Conversely, do you think it's wrong somehow to seek others' attention -- positive or negative -- through the way you look?

I think for many people -- particularly the poor and/or disenfranchised -- dressing for attention can feel like the only voice they have to express themselves, and it's certainly effective.

Think how many groups -- greasers, punks, skinheads, preppies -- use clothes as a badge both of belonging and of not belonging, i.e., of rejection of traditional authority and morality.

Don't we all want to be seen in this world?  Doesn't it make sense that we'd use our clothes as a way to achieve visibility even it's with pants sagging below our butt?

I remember reading in some psychology-related book that a child's biggest fear isn't a parent's anger but rather being ignored, being treated as if she were invisible.

Makes sense to me.

Your thoughts, please, wise readers!


  1. I didn't get the same messages growing up that you did. Being an individual - even if it meant dressing "crazy" which I did sometimes - was OK.

    Now that said, I think the attention-getting, dressing crazy stuff is really more a part of youth and the youthful thinking that you want to stand out, shock, get attention, etc.

    Then you get older and that desire seems to fade - which may be why we don't see 60-year olds sporting mohawks and sagger pants?

    First comment? Yay!!

  2. I was so grateful when I started taking fashion classes as an adult to find my "tribe" - *not* supposed to attract attention, only shallow people care about appearances, can't be smart *and* look good - much therapy later to realize my mother wore a bright red overcoat for years, not exactly "blending" attire, and that a lot of the messages we (five girls) were given were based upon competitiveness and fear, and not especially healthy. Tattooed on my brain forever: "Pretty is as pretty does" - please kill me now :) Love clothes, love looking good and not at all sorry about it!

  3. While I was a young teenager, there was a war bursting out between my country (Serbia) and neighboring countries (Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina). Those were really sad and hard times for everyone, including myself. At the time, fashion and branded clothes (and you wouldn't believe me what sort of clothes used to be considered as high fashion at the time!) were the main factors of social division: the ones who had the branded clothes were considered high society. I belonged to the group of poor and distastefully dressed kids. So, since I couldn't afford to buy the trendy clothes, I became rebellious. I dressed as a hippie: long, oversized dresses (some of them were my mom's pregnancy dresses), mismatched shoes (I used to wear one red and one purple Converse All Stars shoe), etc. I could not stand looking poor, so I wanted to look different, as if that gave me some sort of excuse for not having the trendy clothes. As the times got better, I calmed down. There was nothing to rebel against, so I converged towards more "muted" and less outstanding style. However, one thing remained in me ever since: I love extravagance, and I love seeing people that pop up from the stereotype (not in Lady Gaga sort of way, though - I believe that is all arranged for the commercial purposes, and I do not consider her style to be her genuine taste for fashion).

  4. I think that, as teens, we dress to belong to tribes but that doing so can still be an action related to invisibility. We don't want to be individuals, we want to be accepted parts of established groups. It's safer.

    I definitely judged flashy dressers harshly in years past, but now I salute them. It takes a specific kind of bravery and self-awareness to dress to truly stand out, and I love to see that bravery manifest.

    This was a fascinating read, Peter, and really got me thinking. All ties into ideas of modesty and humility, too ...

  5. Great comments!

    Sal, I feel the same. I really admire the "characters" I see, say, at the Chelsea flea market dressed in all sorts of "over-the-top" (to my eye) outfits and I love to look at them; they look fantastic and are incredibly creative and original. But I also recognize a tinge of that old shaming voice that says "Why are you doing this; What will people think?"

    Less and less, though!

    I think some people do this less as they get older, but with others, it intensifies, especially cultivating a unique, stand-out look (as opposed to belonging to a tribe).

  6. I dress to be noticed - why bother dressing to blend into the crowd? But I don't want to be noticed for craziness, however (I am 40, after all). I'd like to be noticed for the uniqueness of my style and chicness.

  7. Hmmmm interesting topic.
    I was raised to dress"nice" and of course that was my mother's version of nice. Clean, ironed, put together but not over the top or rebellious. But it wasn't so much to be not noticed or to blend in but just so people would think a certain way about me or more importantly her.
    I think as teens,we want to be identified with our tribe and so dress accordingly. ANd I do think to be ignored is the the greatest fear.
    As a mid 40's woman, I could care less what bad judgment others may wish to bestow upon me. I think I dress in a way that reflects my personality. I don' t wish to be invisible or just to blend in. I do dress to be noticed for the most part but just like the commenter above me not in a crazy sort of way.

  8. We are social beings and to some extent or another need the affirmation of others for a boost to our self-esteem. Of course, I'm sure not everyone would say they need that. Many of us have a need to express ourselves and our individuality as well. So I guess it's only natural to do so to the extent we feel comfortable.

    I love being the center of attention and the opportunity to express myself. That's one reason I have a blog. Of course I also blog in hopes of being an inspiration to others and sharing what I have learned, also just to document the things I have made. I have also enjoyed making many friends through blogging.

    Anyway, today I would like to be noticed for my accomplishments and to share a little knowledge; so I invite you to my blog to see the results of the photo shoot of my latest skirt along with a tutorial on how one can be made in under 25 minutes using leftover material and no pattern. Lots of fun and cute photos.

    Trudy of Sewing With Trudy

  9. People have choices that they exercise depending on the context. Sometimes a woman will put on a red dress because she feels confident and wants to be noticed, on other days, she'll stick to her usual sophisticated black clothes.

    I don't think that anyone who is dressing in a clearly unconventional way, possibly with the intention to provoke, can complain that some people stare or even disapprove. The same goes for body decoration of various kinds. You're making a statement. You can't expect everyone to respond positively.

    But then again, it takes a lot to shock me. I grew up in NYC, and at eight years old my mother was telling me that not all the ladies on the street in the West Village were actually ladies (Shut up! Don't stare! I'll explain later!). These days, I'm occasionally in environments in which people dress very expressively, straight, gay, or trans.

    As I wrote last week, I've been on the subway in which ugly young men have have been parading around with their pockmarked butts out (the boxers were pulled down, too), inches from my face. I find that vulgar, and not a valid form of self-expression in a public place. Plus, these were scary kids. It's not like my disapproval would have made any difference.

    For my part, I dress to fit the situation, for comfort and to reflect my personality. Sometimes it's hard to fulfill all three objectives. When I was a teenager not very attractive, and with almost no clothes, I dressed to stand out, and sometimes I dressed really strangely. As an adult,there have been times when I've considered tasteful conventionality to be a sufficient sartorial achievement.

    It's a question of the execution.

  10. Love that skirt, Trudy, and you're such a natural model. You and Cathy would definitely hit it off!

  11. Anonymous, it sounds like disapproval is exactly what those young men were seeking, consciously or not.

  12. I went to the state fair yesterday and kept running into the situation. Granted, some of the impostors were more situation-like than others, but really, it wasn't that hot. outside.

  13. while I like attention as much as the next person, I prefer to be noticed for ME, not for what I wear.

    Thus, my taste in dress-up clothes tends to edge more on the conservative side, in solid, muted colors, with the occasional print or bright color. Particular attention is paid to fit - nothing too short or too long, nothing too tight or too big, nothing to prissy or slutty.

    I wear my clothes to make ME look good, not so that I can make them look good (if that makes sense)

    Of course, it all has to do with situation and what your dressing for as well.

    Interestingly enough, I re-pierced my nose about 3 years ago, and I wear a fairly large steel ring in it. I recently saw an old boss from prior to the re-piercing. He didn't even notice it - I literally had to point it out to him. Whether it is because the nose ring is so very incongruous with the way that I dress or whether it's some other factor, I still find it very interesting....

  14. I always have just worn what I liked and was comfortable in, regardless of the current "style" (or that tasteless stuff that often passes for it) and think that clothes are kind of a ridiculous way to get yourself noticed. That's not really sending a useful message.

    If someone wants to be noticed, they should strive to excel at something, make people notice you not by what you wear or how you look, but by your deeds (and I don't mean obnoxious ones either). Make yourself known as an honest, trustworthy person who is a great friend. Or be a very kind & generous person that is known for always giving to the less fortunate. That sort of thing.

    Relying on clothes, crazy hairstyles, body piercings or whatever to scream for attention isn't going to get the kind of attention that's worth getting and in the end it won't be satisfying.

  15. Nope. Not interested in looking like a freak.

  16. Countrygirl, what if one's particular skill is purely visual, like recreating a vintage look or dressing like a geisha girl or something? Is that something that might be contributing in some positive way, if only to make someone smile?

    I totally hear what you're saying and part of me agrees, but can't you be both consciously attention-getting (by virtue of an unusual personal style, say) AND honest, generous, kind, etc?

  17. Peter:

    Don't get me wrong. If I'm giving my opinion anonymously on a blog, I'm giving my genuine, pretty much unvarnished opinion. In the real world, however, I pretty much mind my own business.

    Actually, in regard to the kid with his naked butt out, all I could do was try to look somewhere else -- I wasn't feeding his need for attention or disapproval. But I was acutely uncomfortable, and exposing yourself like that on a subway with a captive audience is indecent behavior.

  18. Peter wrote:

    "I totally hear what you're saying and part of me agrees, but can't you be both consciously attention-getting (by virtue of an unusual personal style, say) AND honest, generous, kind, etc?"

    In theory that may be true, in practice, all the people I've known who've been obsessively devoted to style and presentation have been shallow, solipsistic, narcissistic, selfish (let's get out the dictionary and add every shade of self-absorbed), and some have not been too bright.

    Occasionally, in minute doses, they've been fascinating. But a little goes a loooooooong way.

  19. Isn't there a difference between clothing to make a statement, and clothing ONLY to make a statement? I have certainly met many people who were concious of their appearance, _and_ inteligent, caring and nice people. They might not necessarily by wearing the fashionable thing but they wanted to comminucate part of their identity through their clothes. I, being somewhat clueless when it comes to style and color and certainly fashion, actually admire how they are able to so effeciently communicate to the world what they are about.

    And Peter; this is my first comment, so I just have to say; this blog is so interesting. It often makes me think, and even more often makes me laugh and smile. Thank you for taking the time.


  20. I actually said that it's a form of rebellion from the norm, and that I think that's ok. As Debbie said this is really the provenance of the young who try on persona looking for who they are and it's a pretty harmless way to do it. A friend of my dd's was always drawing on her hands before she was old enough for a real tattoo, so for one birthday I got her a henna kit. Her mother did not appreciate it. I however was the 'cool' mom. This same girl as a teen colored and cut her hair in outrageous fashion and wore creative outfits; every time she walked into our house we exclaimed over the latest. Her mother hid her hair dye and was sure she was into drugs, which she wasn't. Hair and clothing is a harmless form of rebellion and self expression for the young. Certainly better than experimenting with drugs or alcohol.

  21. I'm a middle school teacher (and I sew and blog to escape the crazy stress of adolescent hormones day after day) and it's like being in the middle of a psych 101 book. A lot of kids dress to identify themselves as members of a group (or wannabe members) or they dress to fit in so they feel less likely to be picked on. Now and then, I have the pleasure of encountering a kid who is self-confident enough enough be unique without being vulgar (like the ass hanging out of pants) and those kids just make my day.

    I used to do that stuff - even as an adult. I used to wear the "uniform" of many of my teacher friends - a solid t-shirt from Old Navy and plain khakis on many a day. Now that I have been sewing most of my new clothes, I gravitate toward more stylish, less sloppy, and professional attire. It makes me feel confident and original. Plus, it means fewer days I end up wearing the same thing as my colleagues.

  22. Wow, this post takes me clean back to high school and my "goth/raver" phase! My boyfriend and I actually have debates at least weekly over the meaning of clothes.
    It is funny that in high school I always assumed the "preppy" crowd was dressing for attention and the "reject" crowd was just expressing themselves. I've come to realize that the preppy kids were just wearing whatever their moms bought them at A&F and never thought twice about it whereas us rejects were mostly attention-dressers. I'm glad I've grown out of that (sort of). Attention to ones clothes is important, but you shouldn't be going out of your way to dress in a manner that is inappropriate or that is not true to you.

  23. Well, I dress not to be noticed. I think that is personality rather than upbringing, though. But I love this opening line from a poem by Bub Bridger, written when she was in her 60s. She was a shortish, largish lady with heaps of presence. A matriach, really.

    I have a new red scarlet coat
    and I look like a fire engine
    and I don't give a damn.

  24. So can you ever be too old to use clothes as an expression of rebellion? By a certain age should you have grown out of that?

    What do people think?

  25. Mother drilled this in my head - if you notice what a man is wearing, he's over dressed; this year's Cadillac equals new money, last year's Buick equals old money; a house in perfect taste is in dreadful taste. Okay, mother was something of a snob, but her point clear, calling attention to yourself is not acceptible. She'd appreciate your article above VERY much.

  26. "Countrygirl, what if one's particular skill is purely visual, like recreating a vintage look or dressing like a geisha girl or something? Is that something that might be contributing in some positive way, if only to make someone smile?

    I totally hear what you're saying and part of me agrees, but can't you be both consciously attention-getting (by virtue of an unusual personal style, say) AND honest, generous, kind, etc?"

    I apologize if that came out sounding as an insult to you and what you are doing here--it wasn't meant that way, I promise.

    I guess what I should have said was that I don't think clothing should be someone's only way of standing out. Clothes and a sense of style are important, but they shouldn't be the only thing that sets a person apart. I enjoy what you do here, but it's not just because you dress up in vintage fashion and wear heels. I love that you take the time to sew up the clothes, show us the process that you go through, and I love the story that you put all of that to (Cathy's adventures always bring a smile to my face, because they are so fun "romantic" the term I'm grasping for here?) I also like seeing ladies sew up vintage styles, not only because they are feminine and beautiful, but also because it's different. However, I've never really thought of those ladies as people who are starving for attention, I've always just perceived them as wearing what suits them and what they like.

    Mostly what I was thinking when I posted originally was the type of thing that is done/worn strictly to gain attention (especially that of the negative variety). Those people always make me think that if they'd just put half as much effort into something truly great and wonderful they'd receive much more positive and lasting attention than what they are doing now. And they'd probably feel better about themselves.

    As far as outgrowing things, I think that they should to an extent. There are some things that simply aren't acceptable in certain situations. Whether we agree or not, sometimes you may have to assimilate a little in order to achieve goals, get a desired job, etc. But changing your style of dress doesn't mean you have to change the person you are.

  27. No offense taken, Countrygirl! :) (And I agree with pretty much everything you're saying; I like to play "devil's advocate.)

  28. Hey Valerie, sorry, I'll need that fox myself...

    I love this post. Our clothes are a form of non-verbal communication. So the rebellious youngsters say what they always say: You don't understand and I don't care a hoot about your values. You are adults, if I can shock you in your staid and stupid ways, that's your look-out.

    So what about blending in? In a country were most of the women wear trousers I cannot blend in, because I find most trousers terribly uncomfortable. And I don't mind.

    Would those who blend in be the equivalent of party guests who hide behind the asphidistra? While the the ones who dress to make a statement are the life and soul of the party? Unfortunately I can do the dressing, but not the life and soul bit.

    Anyhow, I'm all for not blending in. One can be subtle about it or go all the way to extravagance - anything to relieve the boredom of mass produced 'blend-in' clothes.

  29. Great post, Peter! And great comments!

    I think there is an ocean of difference between someone dressed in an outfit or style as a scream for attention (how sad!) vs. a means of self expression (how bold!). And who is in what camp is usually obvious.

  30. Valerie, best comment yet!
    I totally agree. I find that as I get older I become less afraid to wear things that make me happy, without regard to what other people think. By the time I'm an old lady, who knows...

    As far as groups using clothing as a badge, like punks, preppies, etc.-- it's still conforming to some sort of ideal. I like when I see people who truly dress as individuals like, say Cousin Cathy for instance.

  31. I think we get a lot of conflicting messages these days about how to dress. I was encouraged at home to avoid dressing provocatively, but as long as I was modest about the fit and skin exposure, I had free reign to wear all sorts of unique styles. I also had to wait until after I moved out to start dying my hair funny colors (mom used to help with natural-looking ones). But now I can do that as often as I can afford! Ha!

    These days, I fear I've become a little boring in wardrobe. I've made some nice pieces, but I've also gained a fair bit of weight and not everything fits properly. Most days, it's t-shirts and jeans for me. Boo!
    I still have a few neat pieces, though, and have designs on a few more. My sense of fashion really comes from costume, so it can be tough to come up with garments which are everyday-practical yet still creatively "worth making". At the moment, I'm focusing on knitted accessories, many of which are functional but plain weird in appearance. Someday, I'll be more diligent about sewing. I expect that will be when I can get away with fewer work hours...

    I think it is clear to most observers whether a person who dresses a given way is expressing something genuine or a poseur. It is not always clear to the person dressing up what he or she is doing. And sometimes, well, they really don't want to hear it. :p

  32. I spent most of my HS and college years wearing my own mix of home sewn, thrifted and vintage clothing. It simply never occurred to me to dress like anyone else. My boyfriend's mother took exception to my predilection for wearing a scarf as a top, but he was a mama's boy. She later wrote me a charming note when I married and was no longer a threat. He married a woman who cheated on him and then a stripper; perhaps that says more about his relationship with his mother than with me. Perhaps he only dated me for shock value, and stepped it up as he got older. I did not mind in the least what anyone thought of my clothes, which made me an unusual teenager. My brothers were frequently horrified by me, since their milieu was New England prep.

    I was particularly fond of hand knit sweaters. It is a bit tragic to find a new sweater in the thrift store with a "hand knit by Gladys" label. What ungrateful grandchild discarded such a thoughtful and labor intensive gift? Those gems always come home with me. Once, at college, a department store heiress told me she loved all my handmade sweaters and clothing. This was in the 70s, long before the appeal of Anthropologie. I think if you can have anything, the handmade and the unusual holds a strong appeal.

    I have so many favorites from that period of my life. I wore my aunt's New Look alpaca coat with a full skirt and tied a fur boa under the large collar to lift it up. I wore 30s gowns or my own homemade John Kloss gowns to dances. Not a few a those Kloss sheaths would still raise an eyebrow today.

    I am so glad I had fun with dressing in those years. I would love to be able to dress like that now! If I could ever lose a few pounds, I would be back in vintage again. It would be 60s clothing this time, as I think it is more appropriate and suitable for an older person. If I make it to my fighting weight, I have a closet full of 60s coat and dress sets waiting for me!

  33. What a great story, Pamela. Thanks for writing!

  34. I find it interesting that people consider attention-getting dress "harmless" for young people. As a young person constantly hearing critical remarks from parents and other family members about such dress, I was terrified to experiment with clothes. For me, dressing to attract attention seemed downright dangerous, and so I didn't even attempt it.

    Now I'm older and having fun experimenting with new looks. I'm also experiencing the many benefits of self-care which go along with paying more attention to my outward appearance.

  35. I think it's tons of fun to dress for attention as long as you do it at appropriate moments (like, not in the courtroom while you're on trial) and it's not a compulsion that controls/limits your life. Dressing for attention is a key part of my "wear what you want" philosophy, which I most recently wrote about here:

  36. Very interesting discussion! I spent most of college with a punk, pre-goth crowd (it was the 80's, so a little ahead of the curve for the real goth stuff), and we most definitely dressed to stand out. I don't know that we so much wanted to be looked as, as we wanted to send the message, "We are not like the rest of you people." This was at a conservative college in South Carolina, and everyone else was in color-coordinated pastels and preppy gear. Not only were our all-black outfits very garish and unexpected, but they were totally unsuitable for the hot, humid climate. I recall that we even all bought heavy leather biker jackets and wore them year-round! Everyone probably thought we were just crazy, but I do remember it was VERY important to us at the time to send a very distinct message. We wanted to be obviously different from 100 yards away. It was definitely a shorthand way of stating that we were more creative, open-minded, liberal, oddball, etc, than the very conservative, religious people around us.

  37. I came to this post via Already Pretty's Lovely Links round-up. Very provocative statements! I think that many people want to dress in a way that makes themselves feel good, but whether feeling good stems from other people noticing or from the person knowing that he/she dressed for him/herself--well, there's a crucial difference there. I dress to please myself above all, but if someone compliments me on something I'm wearing, I'm not going to reject it. :-)

    This statement in your post struck me as particularly interesting: "It seems strange in a culture where celebrity worship is so commonplace that we're not supposed to show how much we want to be seen." Why is that strange? Why is "wanting to be seen" a value that ought to be encouraged? I only say this because I've been deeply influenced by a book I read recently called The Narcissism Epidemic, which argues that narcissistic personality traits are on the rise in society, causing individuals to be more self-centred, less empathetic, and more unhappy than ever.

  38. Welcome, Lisa!

    I think the need to be seen -- acknowledged, not idolized or worshipped -- is a very basic one that all human beings share.

    Recognizing that others want this basic recognition as much as we do leads to compassion both for ourselves and for others.

    It has nothing to do with excessive self-involvement and LACK of compassion for others, which is how I view narcissism.

  39. I have a collection of metallic and brightly colored clogs and some wonderful folkloric embroidered Ugg boots that do get attention especially when I commute back and forth. Good part is that I have gotten into some great conversations with total strangers who also wear metallic clogs one had incredible silver metallic cowboy boots. There's a community of us out there who love these things. Attention is fun as long as it's for something like that. Indeed one time I went to Mcdonalds with my kid in my bright purple clogs. Next day I went to work and was outside having a smoke with among other people a bike messenger. He asked me if I'd been in that particular Mcdonalds the day before. LOL fun to be recognized by the clogs-


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