"It feels like you're smarter when you're wearing smarter clothes."
That quote came from a boutique owner being interviewed by the Sacramento Bee about "geek chic." Her words inspired me to go out shopping right away. Not for "smarter clothes," just for a shirt to replace the one that I spewed coffee all over.
I mean, here I've been doing it wrong all these years. When I've wanted to feel smarter, I've tried reading a book or taking a class at MJC. How could I have been so wrong?
"Smarter clothes," my husband mused. "Smarter than what? Granddad always used to tell me, 'you got to be smarter than the equipment you're working with', but I guess if a person can find an argyle shirt that's brighter than they are, they probably ought to wear it in hopes an IQ point or two wears off."
Yes. I guess the stereotypical smart kid doesn't dress "geekily" because they have more interesting things to think about than what Gwen Stefani, Usher or the hott-celebrity-du-jour is wearing this week. No, they've sold their fashion sense in some hideous arcane ritual to the devil of academic success.
It's not hard work, study, or even simply paying attention that makes "geeks" succeed. It's the magical properties of argyle and thick-framed glasses. Gracious, how have people ever managed to be smart without them?
Now that the Napoleon Dynamite look is in, expect test scores to soar! No longer will trendy California students trail behind in education, lumped down at the bottom of national scores with the states where 70% of the population is the result of marriage between first cousins. Academic achievement, here we come!
I do realize that lack of coffee brings out unkind tendencies in me much the same way that a pair of plaid pants brings out previously unsuspected intellectual abilities in boutique owners. And by my third cup this morning, I was ready to admit that the above quote was a nod to the universally recognized principles of uniforms and feng shui.
It's why Mr. Rogers changed his clothes at the front of every show, why some schools and businesses require certain dress codes, why Paris Hilton probably wears clothes that cover all her private parts when there are no cameras around. What you wear reflects, in many ways, what you are focused on doing. Work clothes for work. Play clothes for play. Hardly any clothes for television commercials. (I thought that Paris did a second commercial for Carl's Jr.'s new milkshakes recently, but my husband assures me that's actually a dairy cow. The cow's name is "Freedom," and she is no relation to the Hiltons.)
There is a truth there that the exterior we present to the world reflects, if imperfectly, our inner view. If you're trying to dress like "smart people," then chances are, you're also making a decision, consciously or not, to adopt other traits of intellectuals.
I'm sure if asked, the boutique owner would say that of course one item of clothing does not have a higher IQ than another, and that there ain't a button-down shirt in the world that can help you if you're dumber than a rock. In fact, she probably read the article after it appeared and thought to herself, "You know, I bet a bunch of grumpy scags are going to jump all over me for the way that comment came out."
But this grumpy scag is on her fifth cup of coffee, and now I'm willing to look past my first reaction to her comment and think about what kind of world it would be if clothes really could make you feel smarter.
What if it went even further than that? What if there were neckties that reduced road rage? Girdles that provided all-day control for your temper? Belts that promote fidelity, respect and love? How much better a place would the world be if wing-tipped dress shoes inspired people to make only ethical business decisions? What about sunglasses that promote patience and foresight, or tee-shirts of charity and compassion? How great would that be? That boutique owner must have totally been wearing capris that made her feel like a social visionary.
Yep. When they finally come out with the blue jeans of world peace, I'll be the first one to head out and buy two or three pairs. But for now, I'll just settle for some pants that really do make my butt look smaller.
Comments and fashion suggestions to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the December 4, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.