1. The latest and most admired style in clothes and cosmetics and behaviour
  2. Consumer goods (especially clothing) in the current mode

What’s the fashion this year? Monk or punk?

Fashion. The most up to date, the most current, the most admired. If someone says it’s fashionable, and you’re wearing it, you’re in the in-crowd. When we’re young we plead with our parents to buy us the most fashionable trainers, jeans, t-shirts, and music. These are must haves if a teenager is to earn the respect of his peers. The majority are wearing it, listening to it, or doing it.

If skateboarding is “in,” we have to have one, and the skateboarding clothes to go with the image, of course. If short blonde hair is in, we’ve got to have our hair cut that way. If red is this years colour; if jazz is this years music; thai is this years food; zen buddhism is this years religion; or organic is this years food choice, we’ve got to have it.

Whatever we do revolves around fashion, and if you’re not following it, people deride you for your choices; they don’t look up to you, and they certainly don’t respect you. Not convinced? Let’s explore this together.

Imagine the prime minister of your country coming out to address the nation in an old green sweater, cords, and a pair of comfy country shoes! What would you think of this man as he told you he was sending the troops into war? Would you respect this man’s decision? Would he inspire you with confidence?

Would you think the man was capable of doing a good job?
What about a monk or a priest? What if he walked around in a pair of surf style shorts, casual t-shirt, and sunglasses? Would you think he possessed wisdom? Would you listen to him? Would you think he had real knowledge? Would you think he could advise you in your time of need? Would you respect him?

Now imagine your teacher at school. What if he had come to work dressed in punk gear – all chains and rips, with a pierced nose and ears? Would you listen to him? Would you take in what he was saying? Would he have the voice of authority? Imagine your parents, what if they dressed in the latest teen fashion? What would you think of them? Would you listen to your parents? Would you respect your parents?

The answer to all the above questions surely must be a resounding, no. Although if you can see past the clothes, and listen to the man himself, then you are on the right path.

But I think most of us would have to agree that clothes are highly important to us in society, not just because they cover our modesty, or because they are of the latest style, but because fashion is projecting who we want the world to believe we are.

That is why the prime minister wears a dark suit to project his seriousness. There is nothing flamboyant in his fashion; he wants you to listen to his voice. The priest or monk wears plain simple clothes, of specific colours depending on his religion, to convey the impression that he is above material things, and concerned only with spiritual matters. The same goes for teachers and parents. They must convey an image that is expected of them.

Although each one of us believes he or she is making their own choice when it comes to fashion. That choice has already been made for us. Let me explain.

As I write this book today, I am wearing a pair of fashionable jeans (or so I have been told) a black t-shirt and a surf style hooded sweatshirt. Is that what you imagined I’d be wearing? Should someone who is writing a book like this be wearing such clothes, or should I be wearing something all together more serious! What would I wear? A flowing robe, plain of colour, devoid of style and cut, or does it really matter what I am wearing? Some people say they have no interest in fashion, but the clothes they wear do conform to some idea.

In my mind, a university lecturer may wear a check shirt, a misjudged tie, a pair of ill-fitting cords, comfortable shoes, and a jacket with patches on the elbows. His hair would be marginally unkempt and he would probably have glasses (deep thinkers always wear glasses). That is my idea of how he would look. Am I close? I don’t know, but if you think across different members of society, you will always see notice choice of clothing conforms to the position they have (or believe they have) in the community.

Imagine once again, the prime minister and the cabinet, sitting around the table in board shorts and Hawaiian shirts, maybe with bleached blonde hair styled in the coolest fashion! It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? In fact, you would never have voted them into power if they had been dressed like that; because that style of dress does not convey seriousness. But all of it is still fashion.

Likewise, the type of music, the choice of food, the types of theatre, television programs, and books that the prime minister would read would also conform to this fashion. The government are in a “serious” (concerned with work or important matters rather than play or trivialities) business, so their choices regarding the above must reflect that. So out goes drum and bass on the mobile mp3, and in comes beethoven on the cd. Out goes hamburgers and chips, and in comes filet mignon with a brandy sauce.
Whatever the job we do, however much money we earn, whatever our status in the community; we conform to fashion. We do these things not for ourselves, or even consciously really, but to project what our status is to others. It lets people know who we are before they even talk to us. Even our manner and our demeanour is tailored. The clothes you wear, the furniture you buy, the music you listen to, all must fit with how you wish to project yourself in accordance with how you wish to be received by other people.

You may wholeheartedly disagree with me on this, but think about it for a moment. Why do you make the choices you make? Is it really just for yourself or could you have been influenced by society?

In victorian times in england, gents (wealthy landowners) would wear top hats, and workers would wear flat caps. Why? Because it neatly divided the classes (people having the same social or economic status). In courts of law barristers and judges wear robes and wigs because it intimidates; it makes them seem of higher importance, and that they are “serious” people.

Projection. That is all this is. The clothes we wear, the music we listen to; it doesn’t really make us more serious, or more cool, or more anti-establishment, or more spiritual. That is, and always will be, an illusion, although one accepted by most members of the human race around the world.

We need to break down these illusions; we need to understand that wearing purple robes does not mean we are more serious, more in touch with nature, or full of wisdom. The person underneath the clothes may be a serious person who thinks about serious matters concerning the world, and he may well be more in touch with nature, and he indeed may well have some wisdom to share with us all, but the robes mean nothing. The clothes he wears are only him trying to assert his position as a serious person, so we easily seek him out in a crowd.

Strip the politician, strip the soldier.
Strip the monk, strip the president.
Strip the skateboarder, strip the model.
Strip the anarchist, strip the skinhead.
Under these clothes, you and I are all the same – human
It is only our minds that are different.

The choice of clothes we wear are, in fact, meaningless; they merely allow other people in society to identify with us. A punk will seek out another punk; a monk will seek out another monk, because they can identify with each other. Through the clothes they wear, the places they go, the things they do, the things they talk about, they become almost homogeneous. But it is all fashion. If the monk decides one day to become a punk, he must take on not only the clothes but the attitudes, choice of music, and personality that is expected of a punk. He must conform to the idea.

So, if everything is fashion how do we transcend it? Do we have to, or are we all happy to be pigeon-holed into our little boxes? You may like what your clothes say about you. You may like what your choice of music or religion says about you. You may not want to change, and anyway, if you did change, what would you change into!

If you were a suit wearing politician and you chose to wear bright casual clothes, you would merely be projecting another image. If you’ve ever seen our leaders on tv when they want to be shown in a relaxed state you’ll know what I mean. Their public relations people tell them to take their jacket and tie off and roll up their sleeves! It really is all nonsense. It doesn’t mean anything! It doesn’t mean that now they are less serious, or more relaxed, just that they want to show you that they have “another side,” a more relaxed side, that they are in fact human, but it is just an illusion.

It is amazing that clothes have this ability isn’t it? To make statements about you, without you even having to speak.

You can see a man and a woman with dreadlocks coming down the road, dressed in hemp clothing and you instantly know they are “in touch with the earth, man,” may smoke marijuana, will talk about saving the trees and how bad capitalism is.

How do you know so much about these people? You have never met them before; you know nothing of their genetic history, their family history, or indeed anything of their minds, and what they do for a job. But I bet you could take a random guess and come up with something pretty close to the truth!

That’s amazing, isn’t it? You must be some kind of mind reader! But of course, you’re not. You have a mental stereotype (a conventional or formulaic conception or image) which applies to them based on education, experience, media, and memory; and the dreadlocked pair have helped you come to that conclusion by projecting exactly that image to you. You see, people want to be stereotyped in this way and classified. It makes them feel good. But of course you don’t need to have dreadlocks, be a hippie, smoke marijuana, or indeed remain unwashed for long periods to care about the environment.

An anarchist doesn’t want to dress anonymously, neither does a monk; why would they bother being an anarchist or a monk if no one knew they were? We want people to know what kind of people we are, where we stand in the world, socially and politically; we don’t want to just blend into the crowd. We want to stand out (even if we pretend we just want to fit in).

I want people to know who “I” am. It makes me feel powerful. I want you to know that by covering myself with tattoos, piercings, and scruffy clothes that I don’t fit in with your society, but of course you do; you are part of society, which is just me and you. You are still conforming with the other people who have tattoos and piercings and scruffy clothes, so you can all go around together saying “Yeah, we don’t wanna be a part of your society, man.” But of course, the tattooed man could just as quickly swap his scruffy anti society image for that of a city business type. A quick haircut, an expensive tailored suit and shoes, and hey presto! Instant transformation. Now he can complain about the scruffy, tattooed, pierced anti-social hooligans who roam the streets. It’s as easy as that!

Clothes project who you want others to believe you are. It is not the real you, not the authentic self, but a self that wants to conform to someone else’s idea and you want to fit in with that idea. The great thing about fashion is that you can swap fashions on a whim. Today I am wearing a pear of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. Tomorrow I could be wearing monk’s robes.

Would you take me more seriously if I were wearing the robes? Please think about this carefully.

We are conditioned to believe that people wearing certain clothes are of a certain type (they may well be, but only because they have packaged themselves in this way). What type do you want to be? How do you want to fit in? Are you a monk, or punk, or somewhere in between?

When we choose clothes, music, food, cinema, tv programs, we may be thinking we like it, but if we liked something that didn’t conform with our fashion stereotype would we feel comfortable doing it, and telling our peer group about it?

Would the prime minister of the country let on that he liked watching daytime soaps on tv and eating pie and chips when he is expected to like hi-brow “serious” programs, and is expected to have acquired a taste for fine french food? What if the teen skateboarder let on to his friends that he didn’t like grungy skateboarder music but actually liked bach and beethoven, going to the opera, and having discussions on philosophy after school! It just wouldn’t happen would it? Because once you have accepted the stereotype you must conform to all aspects of it.

Fashion is not just about clothes, it’s a whole package

I am not trying to tell you you shouldn’t buy new clothes or music – it’s nice to have these things; but merely to notice yourself in action; to notice your thinking regarding choices you make, and ask yourself: “Am I making this choice because I as an individual want to make it, or am I conforming to the image I wish to project to others?”

Of course, our choices are influenced by our peer groups, that is inevitable, as Man is a social animal. We want to be in the “in-group” not the “out-group,” so if our friends all like rap, why would we choose jazz? We want our friends to accept us so we want to make choices in line with the group.

But although Man is a social animal, he is also able to exist alone, and that is the challenge that faces us now, whether we are prepared to stand up as individuals, whether we are prepared to forge a path on our own without the packaging.

Whether we are prepared to give up conforming to an idea, and stop projecting false selves onto other people.

To care for the environment without having to make a fashion statement. To contemplate the self and humanity without wearing robes. To work and to play, without concerning ourselves about people judging us because of our choice of clothes or music. To stop concerning ourselves in projecting an image so people think we are intelligent, rich, or enlightened. To live an authentic life where the only thing you are projecting is the real you. The real human being, free of the shackles of fashion and conformity.

This may possibly be one of the hardest things to do in life, but the key to unlocking the real you is through understanding of yourself. To look deep inside and find someone who doesn’t want to offer an image he thinks the world wants to see, who is happy in their own skin, whatever the clothes. It is only when the clothes become who you are that you lose sight of the real you.

Next time you get dressed, put on a piece of music, choose a tv program, or pick up a book, just ask yourself: “Is this really me, or is it just someone I want the rest of the world to see?”


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