Might as well jumpsuit

21Jul08

Say what you want about the Theory of Relativity, but the smartest thing Albert Einstein ever did was buying five identical suits. By doing this, the story goes, he never had to worry about what to wear to work ever again, thus freeing up extra brainpower for contemplating the mysteries of the universe. (Of course, this number — five — does leave open the question of what he wore on the two other days of the week. One assumes that he wore something versatile like jeans on the weekend, or just sat around in his underwear.)

This is perhaps why members of advanced races are often depicted in science fiction as wearing identical jumpsuits, usually shiny ones — it’s how they got to be advanced races in the first place. Besides being more utilitarian (a good jumpsuit will serve you well whether you’re changing a car’s transmission or disco dancing in a Parisian nightclub), identical jumpsuits also evoke an advanced, egalitarian society whose members are freed from class boundaries and the fascism of fashion snobbery, much as school uniforms are meant to do today. (The reflectivity of the shiny jumpsuits is possibly meant to ward off the deadly radiation pervasive in a technologically advanced civilization, but probably mostly designed to look futuristic; a friend of the author once suggested that the breakthrough moment leading to this utopian future will inevitably come when someone looks down and exclaims, “Oh my god! Why is my clothing so matte?”)

Convincing everyone to settle on a single outfit is probably beyond the capabilities of our current system of democracy, of course. But for each person to choose one single standard outfit for everyday use would still bring us benefit even though we don’t yet live in a utopia, nor are we yet as advanced a race as we’d hope to be. Indeed it would help precisely because we’re no utopia, and because we’re all too painfully conscious of race. It can help us be more politically correct in a society whose members often go to great length not to describe each other by our more obvious characteristics, even where such omission is absurd, such as in a crime report where news writers gingerly avoid any mention of a suspect’s ethnicity even though the vague description offered instead hardly serves the public interest. Or perhaps you’ve had someone described to you by various descriptors such as “petite”, “black hair”, or “lovely almond-shaped eyes” before eventually asking whether the lady being described was Asian, only to be met with a frown and a grudging admission that this was technically accurate, but you still shouldn’t say it. If everyone simply picks one permanent outfit and goes with it, such matters are largely avoided. Instead of referring to a particular person as “black” (and entering a potential minefield, as the term “African-American” is preferred by many white speakers even when the person being described is of Caribbean heritage or is not an American citizen), you can just say, “the guy who always wears the t-shirt with the Atari symbol on it.” Problem solved.

Moreover, what society loses in egalitarianism if we choose our own individual signature outfits rather than going the identical jumpsuit route, its members gain in the ability to create an iconic look for themselves. Many pop culture icons indeed became iconic through just this means. Most artists, authors, and restaurateurs are mainly known through the work they produce, for instance, but the image of Andy Warhol springs readily to mind in his trademark black turtleneck, and both Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders are known for their white suits and string ties. Interestingly, Twain and Warhol were both known for their unruly white hair, and Twain and Sanders differ mainly in the facial hair they affected. On one hand, it would seem that placing oneself within strict sartorial boundaries is often accompanied by the increased appearance of choosing personal grooming to suit one’s idiosyncrasies. On the other hand, it’s patently obvious that Einstein looked that way because he couldn’t have cared less about how he looked, which is why he bought five identical suits in the first place. It’s ironic that a scientist who so completely disregarded his personal appearance is, not counting Stephen Hawking and Batman, the only scientist most people can readily picture.

But we should count Stephen Hawking, since his wheelchair essentially functions as his signature outfit, a point that will be underscored if he ever trades it in for a robotic exoskeleton. And we should count Batman, and Superman too. Both of them wore the same thing all the time and achieved an iconic appearance that almost certainly aided them in their crimefighting efforts. Superman’s outfit was simply recycled out of his baby blankets, thanks to his frugal Kansan upbringing, but Batman specifically became a creature of the night to terrify criminals, whom he termed a cowardly, suspicious lot. Whether they are or not, he surely saved himself a lot of unnecessary time and effort once word got around Gotham’s criminal underworld that they could save themselves a lot of broken bones by just giving up easily if they saw a guy dressed as a giant bat.

One might think that this is very well and good for Superman and Batman. After all, the operative word is man. Men are happy to wear the same thing day after day. But what about women? Well, what about them? Wonder Woman wore the same bold, primary colours as Superman, for instance. Of course, in her civilian guise as Diana Prince, she wasn’t even a civilian at all, but a member of the military, so she wore the same thing all the time then too. And as an Amazon, a member of a female-dominated society on a Greek island, she’s basically a capital-L Lesbian (or Lesbosian — the name is a matter of contention), so it’s perhaps a little surprising she didn’t simply fight crime in a flannel shirt. So perhaps Wonder Woman isn’t the most typical female example.

Still, the benefits are obvious, and while it might be an attractive idea to most women to make their one and only outfit the ever-versatile little black dress, if you always dress the part, picking a colour scheme of one or two bold hues and perhaps even sporting a custom insignia on your chest, people will surely look upon you or contemplate your potential for superheroism — or supervillainy. That’s surely a greater boost to the self-esteem than the temporary lift gained from whatever new purchase will likely be hanging forgotten in the back of your closet a year from now. Take Matthew Lesko, the guy from the “free money” infomercials with the question marks all over his suit. In a regular suit, he’s basically a bargain-basement Sam Waterston. Slap punctuation all over that suit, though, and it looks like the Riddler just got promoted to the corner office.

Even if you stick with a more diverse wardrobe, picking them to fit a central theme still makes for good personal branding. Jane Mansfield’s most obvious assets were arguably her many racks of pink outfits (although that would be, granted, a poor argument in light of her magnificent bosoms). Laverne Defazio from the situation comedy Laverne and Shirley always wore a large cursive monogram of her first initial on her own bosom, and it’s surely no coincidence she got top billing. Merely picking a general theme for your wardrobe doesn’t afford all the benefits of choosing one trademark outfit, but it’s a decent compromise.

If you do choose the one signature look, don’t worry about people thinking that you’re just too poor or filthy to change your clothing (although if you are, it makes it harder for people to tell when you’re recycling your laundry than if you wear a few different outfits over and over). They’ll just assume, and probably rightly so, that you have a closet full of identical outfits. Richie Rich, for example, wore the same black jacket, white shirt, blue shorts, and red bowtie every day of his life, and no one ever took him for a hobo, unless, of course, he was specifically posing as a hobo in that particular story. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, like most cartoon millionaires, he affected a dollar-sign motif in his accessories (see also: Scrooge McDuck, Ted “The Million-Dollar Man” DiBiase). You might want to consider incorporating similar symbols of prosperity into your own trademark uniform. For instance, a male who wants to suggest virility can use the Mars symbol (the circle with the erect little arrow pointing jauntily to the upper right), or a man who wants to suggest that he is Michael Jordan can use the Nike swoosh.

You also shouldn’t worry about being stuck with just the one look. There’s nothing to stop you from making a dramatic rebranding of yourself when the time is right to shake things up. The rarity of such a change causes people’s reactions to go from “Is that a new outfit?” to “Wow! New outfit!” Comic book publishers know the publicity value of such a move which is how they can boost newsstand sales by making a media event out of something as simple as putting Superman in a new costume for a while. Just don’t shake things up too often, or the tactic will lose its impact. Also be prepared for harsh reactions from people who liked things they way they were before; you might want to stay away from internet message boards for a while. And be prepared to return to your original look once the publicity stunt has run its course, thus letting people know that all’s right with the world again. A nice benefit of this is that during your time in the new outfit, you can act grossly out of character, and when you return to your classic style, people will just think of the whole thing as a character reboot. This can be enormously useful if there’s anything you’d like to retcon out of your personal history, be it a regrettable one-night stand, drunken tirade to the boss at the company picnic, or child pornography bust.

And finally, the most obvious single benefit of picking one permanent outfit is that it lets you take whatever makes you look best, and lets you run with it. Overweight? Go with black. Too skinny? Vertical stripes. Visibly stupid? A mortarboard cap and graduation gown are the way to go. But whatever you choose, wisely picking a single signature outfit and sticking with it brings a host of benefits, and it doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that.



2 Responses to “Might as well jumpsuit”

  1. 1 Grom

    Seems silly nobody comments on a well thought out piece. Nicely done. I always dress in black anyway, now I know why.

  2. 2 thea

    I had this exact idea two years ago. I think I even wrote a blog post about buying a dozen each of blue jeans, red t-shirts and grey sweaters, since that’s what I wore most of the time anyway. At the time (and at this time too) I lacked the funds for even one new pair of jeans. I should probably point out that although I am female, I’m not a typical example of how feminine minds work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: