Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Where do our notions about presentability come from?

Asked by wundayatta (58638points) November 27th, 2011

Some people are really into looks. Women of this sort would never venture out of their houses without being fully made up. Some would never even step out of the bathroom without having their “faces” on. I think that many of them feel like it is everyone’s duty to be fully presentable the moment they step out the door.

Others are more into being relaxed. Men of this sort would just as soon wander around the neighborhood, if not the workplace naked, if that were possible. For them, clothes and presentability are a waste of time.

Where do these ideas come from, and what do you think is their relative merit?

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12 Answers

babybadger's avatar

Stranger by Billy Joel popped into my head.

It’s all about how much you care about the way society judges you. I think people do it for security and for some, a way to hide their true selves. Hence Stranger
I believe it’s a part of human nature in the society we live in today.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I suppose it starts when our mothers first begin saying “you’re not going outside looking like that, are you?” It is interesting, though, that you present this as a women vs. men thing. My mother was very strict about appearances and passed that on to me, whereas my wife’s mother was not strict at all and passed that on to her daughter. I am the one who had to become less anxious about how others thought of me, not her.


I think presentability started to lose its importance in the 1970s, when people started to go against the establishment, go against the status quo, and men started to grow their hair long, wear beards to work, abandon the traditional suit, tie, and fedora, and women started to wear pants instead of dresses. With the moral deterioration of society in the 1970s came a “Who cares” attitude in regards to dress and how one presented oneself in public. Nowadays, people aren’t ashamed to walk out the door in sweats, even go to work in sweats and a t-shirt, like some teachers do. Egads. Forty plus years ago, people used to dress up when they went out in public, even when they went to the grocery store, the movies, or a day with the family at an amusement park. When I mean “dress up”, I don’t mean to the nines, but just to look presentable in clean conservative clothing. People did it not only out of showing respect to others, but showing respect to themselves too. Self-dignity and pride, in other words.

I think it’s important to look your best in public, if you can, with the resources you have. You don’t have to spend a lot on a decent wardrobe. I myself appreciate seeing other people taking the time to look good. Most times, it’s the older generation who still put an effort into looking good in public. It’s a shame the younger generation doesn’t do the same.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES Where do you live that teachers can wear sweats to work without getting fired? Even I couldn’t get away with that, and I’m a grad student. I’ve never had an employer without a dress code.

Mariah's avatar

Largely biological (our need to attract the opposide sex rearing its ugly head), and largely a social construct (our ideas of what is attractive to the opposite sex are influenced by movies, commercials, models, etc.). And largely bullshit! :)


@SavoirFaire I live in Washington State. Some of the teachers do wear sweats, jeans, and t-shirts to work. I’m not kidding. It’s awful. These adults look like the kids they teach. Lol.

When I went to school, even in elementary, men teachers used to wear a tie and a shirt, and women teachers wore dresses or a neat pant suit.

rooeytoo's avatar

I think a lot of it is generational. My mother never wore pants, she considered it unladylike. I almost always wear pants. When I was young it was the ultimate embarrassment to have a bra strap show. Same could be said of underpants! Or bare midriffs or buttocks! Now it is a fashion statement. I can remember when the Beatles first appeared on the scene, parents were aghast at the long hair. Now their hair would be considered desirable compared to some of the unusual colors and styles I see on boys today.

The makeup and hair seems to span across all generations, there were always some peers of mine who were overly concerned and others a lot less so. I belong to the latter group. I like to be clean and neat but in this heat, the makeup would run off with the sweat and the hair do is shot within 3 minutes out in the humidity. But even here I see a lot try!

thorninmud's avatar

In some cases, it’s a matter of respect.There’s a ritual aspect to it: we honor certain esteemed institutions—academia, religion, fine dining, the arts, etc.—by demonstrating some careful regard for personal appearance. We consider that the collective appearance should set a particular tone that reflects the importance of the institution; individuals who clearly haven’t put any effort into their appearance are likely to be considered disrespectful of the institution.

Blackberry's avatar

I just feel that I should care somewhat about what people think, and that involves my appearance, even though I also like to look presentable myself because I think I’m a good looking person. Why would I wear clothes that don’t fit, or not get a haircut and not shave when I could do the opposite and look (and be treated) more respectable.

I understand not placing so much emphasis on looks, but the people that say this wouldn’t have that same philosophy when going to a job interview. The way you look can essentially have an effect on your life in subtle ways.

john65pennington's avatar

I can tell you for a fact, where my wife receives her presentability from: her mother and being a model for Bobbie Brooks clothes for many years. And, lets not forget about respect. Respect for herself and her hubby.

Yes, even after 46 years of marriage to this lady, she still makes herself presentable each morning.

Commercials may be suggestive, but a lady has to have this DNA, the day she is born.

My wife always looks good(except maybe 3 am) and then she is still cute.

Men fall into the same category. Some men are born just being a sloppy b_____d and you know what I mean. I really try to take care of myself 90% of the time. The other 10% is when I am sick or injured.

Being presentable, I think, falls into the saying, “you never have a second chance for a first impression”.

People judge you on two points: your appearance and your personality.

But, you know and I know that some people just do not care.

wundayatta's avatar

I think there is a relationship between wanting to be presentable and self-esteem. All my life I never wanted to bother with how I looked because deep inside, I never believed there was much point. No matter what I did, I would never be presentable because, inherently, I am not good looking and I am not a likable person. That’s what I thought back then, anyway.

So looking unpresentable was the best I could do. I was saying I didn’t care, when the truth was that I had no other alternative. If I admitted about how sucky I looked, I would get depressed and probably wonder why I bothered to live. As it was, that did happen.

Flash forward forty or fifty years and I am finally coming to understand that looks do matter as an issue of presentation. They don’t have anything to do with capabilities (which is what really matters as far as I am concerned), but they do have a lot to do with how others (especially women) perceive me.

I look around now, and I realize that there are a lot of ugly fat men (like me) who do just fine. They find clothes that make them look prosperous or even gentlemanly, and this seems to open doors that give them access to even beautiful women. Thus they can make an impression with their intelligence.

Not that that matters to me any more, but my wife will still tell me when she thinks I look handsome, which seems to require a button down shirt and sleeves that are rolled up a little. Who knew it could be so simple? I don’t even have to tuck in my shirttails! I look cool!

Of course I’m not cool, but still, to look cool, even at age of 55 and even if it’s only for a few hours is, well, cool! It makes me feel a bit slow to only just now figure this out, but fuck it! It’s nice to have one’s ego stroked and to believe it after so many years of only negative feelings about myself. It’s nice, but I’m not worried. I can’t possibly last.

rooeytoo's avatar

I understand what you are saying. It is like sabotaging oneself or inviting defeat so that if indeed you fail, it is not really your fault because you didn’t seriously try in the first place. It is like an escape hatch. You hear a lot of that in the rooms and you also hear the amazement and joy when one takes a chance, gives it a go and finds out they really can be cool to use your word.

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