Sometimes I like to watch old movies that star Fred Astaire. I never get tired of the dance routines. I especially enjoy the scenes with him dressed to the nines in evening attire. One thing about the clothing in big-budget movies that feature over the top nightclub dances is the way the female stars wear glittering, unique gowns, and all of the men wear tuxedos or tails.
The women stand out and the men are background props. The female lead is larger than life, and the men are “invisible” clones. This characteristic is present in contemporary television awards shows, and in upscale social events. It’s always struck me as odd that the men are expected to dress in nearly identical formal wear.
I got to pondering men’s clothing after watching “Top Hat” which also stars Ginger Rogers and Lucille Ball. There is a lot of fancy clothing in the movie. In a sea of formally attired men, it’s camera angle and stage placement that allows Astaire to stand out from the crowd.
Men in tuxedos are interchangeable at formal dinners and dances, but would stand out as attention-seekers in the daytime at a big box discount warehouse store. I’d like to see someone dressed to the nines while shopping at Costco.
Generally speaking, when men reach the age of 40 we become “invisible”. This can be frustrating at times, but the anonymity can be advantageous when mindfully used. We can go about our daily errands without attracting undue attention. We can shop in a supermarket or a hardware store and just blend into the crowd. We can easily accomplish our public tasks uninterrupted and efficiently. This is especially true if we are not men of color–a topic that I cannot reasonably address from the first-person viewpoint.
Let’s just say that as an older Caucasian male, I don’t stand out among the shoppers at the local Nebraska “Target” store. All that is required is that I wear a clean pair of jeans, a generic polo or tee-shirt and maybe a baseball cap. Dressed like this, I blend into the crowd. I have achieved invisibility.
The key to using invisibility to one’s advantage is the ability to retain awareness of our mental space, our relationship to other people in the crowd, and self-awareness. We can effectively exploit our invisibility by the way we exercise humility and the ability to work behind the scenes. It’s good to imagine being noble, thoughtful, considerate, and the most effective person on the planet, yet remain undercover. These personality traits, combined, are a superpower.
On the other hand, there are days when I want to experiment with self-awareness and invisibility. I sometimes want to act like a different person on certain days. Playing different roles by wearing different clothes is one way to stretch boundaries and redefine who I believe I am.
Some very rare days I enjoy wearing a business suit to the supermarket. When I do this, I’m usually the only man in the store who really stands out from the crowd. If I really wanted to discard invisibility, I’d rent a tuxedo and a top hat then push a cart through the local Hy-Vee supermarket. That would be a spectacle worth experiencing. I think I could successfully pull off such a stunt. It would be worth watching everyone’s reactions.
I’m not in such a mood today. I need to pick up a few groceries. I’ll wear my dad jeans, a dark grey tee shirt, and a plain blue baseball cap as I hit the grocery aisles this afternoon. Being invisible is OK.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author, lecturer, and journalist, Alexandra Robbins. “You should wear what you want to wear and not worry about trying to paint yourself in a certain image because that self-awareness is what’s going to help you become a more independent and more interesting and healthier adult.”