NOTE: This entry was featured on my old blog from July 29th, 2016.
There is an old saw about raising children that says if you catch a child doing something weird but not quite criminal (setting small fires for example) not to make a big deal of it because the bigger a deal you make the more likely it will become a part of the child’s identity (thus creating an arsonist). The corollary seems to also be true — if anyone does something unusual even once that action may become transfixed in other people’s perceptions of him — no matter how innocuous the offense. Furthermore, any change in behavior or outer appearance must correlate to some inner change or desire to be hidden.
Many years ago I shaved my beard off and a young woman of my acquaintance refused to believe that I was the same person. At first I thought she was joking but after a few months she would still insist that I was a bearded person in disguise and couldn’t really be myself until I grew it back. This wasn’t a lark or an aesthetic judgement — it was a statement of existential authenticity. I couldn’t be the person she wanted me to be unless I was bewhiskered, and the person she wanted me to be was indeed my true self, my own opinions were entirely moot and my clean-shaven face a contemptible disguise.
That was an unusual example example of this phenomenon here is a commoner, less extreme version: I wear a jacket and tie every work-day and, for the most part, nobody notices, aside from a few old-timers who regularly remind me that neither are required and that I can wear jeans and polo shirts in the old-timer manner.
There is nothing particularly notable about the ties themselves. They are the nicest ties I can afford. Natural fibers, subdued colors and what not — I take care to select good things but don’t make it into a fetish.
Two or three time a month I like to wear a bow tie. I still don’t think most people notice. But for a few people if they see someone once in a bow tie that person becomes that strange unwholesome deviant, ‘Mr. Bowtie.’ In their minds every other article of clothing one has worn, word spoken, or action taken, is instantly obliterated. This phenomenon is roughly akin to seeing someone eat a liverwurst sandwich and assuming that they live entirely off of liverwurst (for every meal and washed down with liverwurst juice) no matter how often they see them eat, and no matter how varied their diet objectively was. This belief would persist no matter what — even if they eat lunch everyday with the liverwurtian and only see him eat it once.
Sandwiches and beards can be ruinous to a reputation.
Recently a friend greeted me without a hug, handshake, or ‘hello’ but with a “where is your bow tie?” I didn’t have a snappy answer. I was already wearing a tie, so I thought I was covered. That wasn’t an isolated example. I get the ‘where’s the bow tie?’ question much more often than I wear bow ties. It’s not the worst thing in the world. People seem to like them.
So, reader, be warned. Whether you wear the conformists’ jeans and a t-shirt, or the rebels’ top hat and tails (or whatever it is that they are doing); whether you are clean-shaven or bearded down to your shaky hipster-knees, other people will define you often on the most fleeting and causal decisions you make. And the most you can do is fault them right back for their neckwear, or perhaps, their taste for liverwurst.