peacock

Plumage and Perfume

Somewhere in the genetic code for human male behavior, there is a whole spiral staircase of double helix information related to uniforms. The desire of human males, of a given tribe, to dress alike might come from the oldest part of the brain, developed before language, when all we had to go on were guttural sounds and visual evidence.

Any human not wearing the same animal skin across his shoulders as the rest of the tribe, had some explaining to do.

Men are collectively suspicious of other men whose sartorial decisions lead in unfamiliar directions. Men choose other men to be with who dress like themselves. If you don’t believe it, show up at a Ducks Unlimited fundraiser wearing a saffron robe, with a ruby teardrop painted between your eyes.

The impulse to dress like everybody else is perhaps related to the simple desire not to be shot at by mistake, while hunting or in the act of making war. Uniforms might be fundamental tools for survival. Without the proper uniform in daily life you are unlikely to get a bank loan, or a helping hand from a cop. Let alone be chosen for a kiss by a sizzling high school girl. I woke up to the importance of uniforms about the time puberty took hold.

Getting dressed to go to class was a pressure situation. Fashion dominated early morning thoughts and decisions. You had to make up your mind. Many factors bore consideration. The analysis and internal debate often began the night before, so that evaluating the choices you had made often proved confusing in the morning light; your debate with yourself began again. Always beginning from a baseline established by what you had worn the day before, and the day before that. You wanted to avoid the vaguest possibility that someone might wonder you were wearing the same clothes two days in a row. Giving the impression that your clothes closet was deep, that your chest of drawers overflowed with alpaca sweaters, and cashmere; that in the top drawer, your Gold Cup socks actually did overflow, but of necessity, for Gold Cups came in as many colors as lipstick, and you had favorites, but all colors were necessary to arrive at the proper uniform for a given day.

In the crowd I grew up in, bright colors attracted the girls. We appeared in plumage and perfume. Within certain boundaries of clothing design and color, unique individuals varied the patterns, but across the board, we more resembled images repeated on wall-paper.