How Dressing Up Reduces Social Anxiety
Where are you going? Why are you so dressed up? Are you meeting someone important?
These questions often come up when I meet new people. I sometimes smile and give the devilish reply, “Yes, I’m meeting you. Aren’t you important?”
I view clothing as a communication tool that allows us to express the identity we want to be associated with.
The process of getting dressed puts me in a good mood and reminds me to be more present. This gives me confidence and helps me connect with others. But things weren’t always that way.
For many years I struggled with social anxiety.
Growing up in central Mississippi meant always being under the microscope of the small-town busybodies. Although my mother did her best to ensure we were presentable, our limited means were more than apparent.
When the start of the school year rolled around, my brother Brandon and I would receive one or two outfits as we’d grown out of our old ones. In the winter, we might receive another via the local Walmart layaway program. Layaway is the original buy now, pay later, but you don’t take possession of the product until it’s all paid off.
Our duds were stained, faded, and tattered by year's end from repeated wear and tear. Feeding the dogs, cutting the grass, raking the leaves, and working the fields really did a number on those clothes. And, to make it worse, I’d almost always catch Brandon wearing my new shirt, jeans, or shorts to tear apart some filthy contraption that he was fixin'.
Within a month or two, we’d both show up to church service looking like we’d just crawled out of a grease trap. Pretty soon, people would get to talking, and that made me madder than a hornet in an old dirty Coke can.
Things began to change when I earned the title of United States Marine.
In boot camp, we learned how to pay attention to detail when dressing in the uniform of the day. Spit-shinning boots, starching our cover (hat), rolling our sleeves, trimming wayward threads, and lining up our gig line (lining the belt buckle to match our trouser fly and shirt seam) all made a difference in the overall presentation. Whether we wore field cammies or formal dress blues, we were always expected to be inspection ready.
In the rare event of traveling on military orders, we were supposed to adhere to the same standards.
On the day I completed Avionics Common Core training in Pensacola, Florida, my class had to travel to Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
That morning, I stuffed everything I owned into my sea bags and threw on a baggy pair of frayed American Eagle jeans, a yellow long-sleeve shirt, and some flip-flops. To top it all off, I wore a baseball cap turned around backward, my shirt was untucked, and I wasn’t wearing a belt. One of my classmates commented that I looked like a bonafide shitbird. But I didn’t care. I was free of Pensacola and on my way to my next adventure.