Costumes and Judgments

I grew up in West Texas in the 90s and early 2000s where, depending on the day of the week, the most popular things were church, George Bush, and high school football. My mom didn’t really dress like the other women of Midland on a day-to-day basis. She’s always been more of a practical dresser. Overalls, hiking boots, this one flannel shirt I swear is in every vacation photo album since I was born. Function almost always wins out over form—though that’s not to say she doesn’t look adorable. In a small town, my mom’s style showed me how much people judge you based on your clothes at a young age.

We would go to the mall, to Dillard’s or JC Penny’s, and the staff in dresses, shoes, or cosmetics wouldn’t speak to us. My mom wasn’t dressed shabbily, she was in her usual jeans or overalls (bibs, we called them), hiking boots or sneakers, and a small backpack as a purse instead of the typical Coach bag I saw my friends mom’s carrying. I watched employees turn and walk away from my mom, assuming she couldn’t afford whatever we were looking at. They were wrong. But what my mom was wearing shouldn’t have mattered. I remember realizing as it happened, and feeling so hurt for her. No customer, no person, should have been treated that way, least of all my mom.

It stuck with me. Every day, we are judged based on the clothes we wear, even when we don’t want it, even when people are wrong. At some time or another, it’s easier to wear a costume. Sometimes we have to, other times it's a choice.

I spent the last two years of high school in a private school I didn’t fit into wearing polo shirts and button-fronts from EXPRESS—the nicest clothes I’d ever owned save my three-piece debate tournament suits— and still feeling out of place next to kids in Burberry and Brooks Brothers. My early twenties were filled with blazers and dress shoes so I could go into any restaurant or bar and not get too much side-eye for drinking gin and tonics with a book and a notebook (I’ve always been weird 🤷‍♂️). Knowing that if I dressed a certain way I’d be given better service or not looked at with suspicion, I wore costumes so I would be treated the same as the people around me. It was frustrating, and sometimes, exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to wear a costume—a suit and tie on New Year’s, seersucker and suede wingtips for a Derby Party, fake blood and lots of eye makeup on Halloween—and be judged on the quality of its execution. It’s also easy to forget that our everyday clothes tell the world something about us too. What we are trying to say and what people read aren’t always the same. Judgments by The Cut (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places online) brings together assumptions and truths about the costumes we wear and the people beneath them. For a while they were spoiling the surprise in the headline, but now, I think they’ve got it right.