I was texting Internet friend and fellow Styleforum member @notdesigned the other day when he asked me, “Do you feel better wearing tailoring day to day (even at home)? For example, I don’t have to ‘dress up’ for work but I wear a jacket every day. I just like it, but I’m definitely the only one at my office who does so].”
For those of us on Styleforum whose clothing choices are intentional for personal gratification of some kind (more than for necessity of uniform or occasion), the underlying motive differs person to person. At a certain level, we are interested in clothing for lots of different reasons—our upbringing, our social standing, our beliefs, our biases. But I also believe there is a deeper level of human need that steers our habit, and that these factors are a source of both the variety of styles we see, as well as the occasional disagreements we have over our shared passion.
I told him I do indeed prefer wearing a tailored jacket most of the time, because it makes me feel cooler and more attractive. It boosts my self-confidence because I have never been super fit, and I feel self-conscious when I’m just in a tee or something equally dressed down. It makes me feel like I look good, and makes me feel special. A cynic might express it this way: tailoring helps me hide my body’s flaws, makes me feel less unattractive, and like I’m dressed better than everybody else.
His response to my answer took our conversation on a turn I didn’t expect: he brought up human needs theory, which he had written a paper on for his master’s as it pertains to his specific field of work, and applied it to menswear. You may remember learning about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in psychology class. It’s a theory detailing what motivates human beings. At the most basic level are physiological needs—food, shelter, etc.—and it progresses upward, with self-actualization and self-transcendence at the highest level. Others have since added to the theory of human needs, outlining the emotional, personality-based, and spiritual aspects of life.
Motivational speaker and life coach Tony Robbins identified six core needs of human beings:
- Certainty: the need for control and predictability
- Uncertainty/variety: the need for unpredictability
- Significance: the need to feel important, noticed, and appreciated
- Love/Connection: the need to feel loved, or at the very least, to feel connection with others
- Growth: the need to constantly improve
- Contribution: the need to give back to the world, and contribute to something greater than yourself.
According to Robbins, everybody experiences all of these needs, but those they prioritize differ (most have two at the top of their list). In my case, my friend proposed that one of my primary reasons for dressing the way I do is to fulfill my need for significance: the need to have meaning in my world, to feel important, to feel seen and heard and that I matter to people. It made perfect sense to me once he said it—while I never crave outright praise or to be the center of attention, I do indeed want to feel like what I’m wearing is in some ways special or outside of the norm. Thinking beyond clothes, I can see that need at work in other preferences I have in life as well.
Understanding yourself is empowering, and learning which of these needs drives you can help you on the path of discovering your style. On Styleforum, it can help in understanding where others are coming from, too. For instance, how often have we seen bitter arguments over the “rules” or what constitutes “good taste,” resulting in hundred-page threads of bickering and sniping? While those can be the most entertaining reads on the site, if we see those who espouse a certain viewpoint and never back down as motivated out of a need for certainty and predictability in their view of how best to dress, we can more easily know when to move on from the argument.
As someone who craves significance, it makes perfect sense that once I learned the general framework of how to wear tailoring coherently, I began to build a wardrobe of clothes that made me feel attractive, noticed by others, and confident first and foremost, while placing less emphasis on what others might identify as their priorities. For instance, since dress trousers that flatter me have been very difficult to find, I have focused much more on jackets, and rely heavily on chinos and jeans, which are cheaper, more prevalent, and easier to find in a variety of cuts.
One fun aspect of Styleforum’s community is that so many viewpoints and backgrounds are represented. Within this community, you can make connections with others who may think about clothing similarly to you. You can take inspiration or learn from them, while also exposing yourself to other points of view that help you grow into your own style identity. At its best, Styleforum can help us achieve our aspiration to be the best-dressed version of ourselves.