When people see me all dressed up in a nice shirt and a bow tie on campus, they often ask me something like, “Are you going to a job interview or something?” I usually reply with something like, “Not exactly. This is how I usually dress for school.” A brief look of bewilderment usually follows in the face of the person with whom I might be speaking.
In my study of philosophy, I seem to have adopted the stereotypical philosopher look of bow ties and cardigans. I still haven’t advanced to the level of tweed jackets, but that might be in the works some day. Some of those close to me have told me that I look like a “baby professor.”
Now, the question remains: Why should anyone regularly wear a bow tie to class? Of course, I can only offer one explanation:
I do it for the girls I do it to reflect the importance with which I view my own education, because the clothing we wear is unavoidably a reflection of the respect and importance we place on whatever it is we are doing. The clothing we wear is a means of broadcasting a message, and there is no possible way that we not broadcast some sort of message in the clothes we wear. The clothing you wear and the way you maintain your physical appearance is an external manifestation of your internal Being. It is in this sense that our clothing really becomes an extension of our self.
When people ask me, “Why do you dress like that?” I often respond with a series additional questions such as: “Are you religious? Do you regularly attend religious services? And how do you dress when you attend those services? And why do you dress that way?” It’s quite interesting to see how people respond to the last question, since it seems to me that most people have not really thought about why they wear what they wear to church. Clearly there is no functional value in dressing up in one’s “Sunday best,” and so there must be some other reason for doing so.
And so why do we dress up for such things? For many–myself included–religion lies at the very heart of everything they do. It is not uncommon to attend a Christian congregation in which terms such as salvation, eternal life, and redemption are used frequently, and the context in which these words are used should imply that these terms are not being used lightly. The use of these kinds of words reflects the fact that religious devotion is, for many, the most important thing in their lives.
When we consider this fact, it should be easy to realize that there is a meaningful dimension to church attendance that goes beyond the mere walking into a brick-and-mortar church building and sitting down. And so, to reflect the fact that walking into a church building is something more than just walking into any building, we wear our “Sunday best” to reflect that fact. When it comes to selecting our clothing, we should always be careful to consider the fact that what we wear should equally reflect the importance with which we view whatever it is we might be engaged in, for the clothing we wear reflects the significance of the forms attached to the tasks we perform.
Consider, for example, the fact that judges wear robes, even though they don’t have to. Or the fact that doctors still wear lab coats, even when such coats are not necessary. Even lawyers, however dishonorable they may be, still wear the impeccable suit and tie ensemble. And let’s not forget about military personnel in their ceremonial uniforms. The clothes these people wear doesn’t necessarily have any sort of utilitarian function, but they do reflect the importance with which these people treat their professions. When a lawyer goes to court, she is not engaged in just any task; she is engaged in something more meaningful than that. There is a form attached to the practice of law that goes beyond merely doing something for employment.
It is in this same sense that there is a meaningful dimension to the university that goes beyond the brick-and-mortar campus. To learn is one of the most important things we can do. For me, university learning is often times a sort of religious experience. Many of the things that I have learned in my study of philosophy have enriched my religious life. In learning at the university, I have felt that I have come closer to God in many ways.
I have mentioned in a past post that higher education is considered “higher” because it elevates us to a higher plane of Being. The university should not be looked to as a place for learning as a means to an end; the university should also be looked to as a place for learning as an end in itself. Whatever it might be that you study in the university, the things you learn there can be deeply meaningful to you in ways that don’t necessarily pertain to your employment after college.
It is for this reason that I wear a bow tie to class. My university studies have been truly meaningful to me, and so I dress nicely when I go to class in order to reflect that fact. This is not to say that everyone should dress the way I do, since I also wear the bow tie and cardigan to make myself con-substantial with the forms attached to the discipline of philosophy. It’s not that I am actively trying to look like a philosopher; it’s that I have become so engrossed in philosophy that adopting the philosopher look has been a sort of becoming for me.
I should be careful to note that nothing of what I have said here is anything new or original. These are things that many have talked about over the centuries. If you wish to learn more about why you should dress nicely when going to class, I would recommend reading Equality by Default by Philippe Beneton.
At any rate, I only wish to point out that there are forms attached to the many tasks that we engage in. And whatever the task might be that we are engaged in, we ought to wear clothing that adequately reflects these meaningful forms. In other words, whatever it is we are doing, we ought to dress the part.