via Motor Trend
The other night my husband and I went downstairs to a Mexican restaurant adjacent to our building. As we were waiting for our micheladas and nachos, a brand new, orange Lamborghini Aventador pulled up and parked…on the sidewalk. Collectively all of the patrons seated outdoors, us included, craned our necks as the signature scissor doors opened in slow motion. There’s nothing rare about seeing an Italian sports car in Miami, but the driver caught everyone’s attention by parking in a most illegal spot. What kind of person would drive that kind of car into that kind of placement on the
street sidewalk? My mind ran from sinister characters such as a dealer of controlled substances to a near-retirement white collar executive battling a midlife crisis. Whomever it was, I knew that he would be a man (who else would park on a sidewalk?) and would be as sleekly outfitted as his vehicle. What emerged was quite the opposite.
Instead of a crisp button down, fitted jeans, a Loro Piana sweater thrown over the shoulders and Tod’s driving moccasins, the driver and his female companion emerged in the most common ensembles. He in a faded polo-style shirt and cropped cargo pants with the little pull ties at the bottom and she in active pants made with swooshy nylon and a long-sleeved cotton top. She entered the restaurant to presumably place an order, while he meandered throughout the outdoor dining area texting and chatting on his phone. This gave all of us ample opportunity to further judge the underwhelmingly dressed driver even more.
My aforementioned graphic of what I expected the Lambo driver to look like was steeply rooted in stereotypes based on previous encounters with Diablos and Ferrari supercars like the 599 GTO. If the driver slows down enough for me to get a good look at him or if I catch him exiting his carriage, I often spot a smartly dressed man. There’s always synergy between the driver’s clothing and the vehicle—one never looks better than the other.
Years ago I resigned myself to the fact that I was judgmental. We all cast judgments on one another within seconds of encountering each other. In a New York Times article about first impressions and appearance from 2009, David Amodio, a professor of psychology at New York University noted that, “Stereotypes are seen as a necessary mechanism for making sense of information. If we look at a chair, we can categorize it quickly even though there are many different kinds of chairs out there.”
Successfully sizing up a Lambo driver wouldn’t be life-altering, but had I been right I would have felt victorious on some level. Dress is a direct and concise way to analyze a person in our presence, whether right or wrong. This came to light recently when Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin while the unarmed teen was walking back from a convenience store. The hoodie Martin had been wearing became a symbol of solidarity for those protesting his murder across the globe. The sweatshirt also was at the center of controversy when Fox talking head Geraldo Rivera observed, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. I’ll bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.”
Most of my scholarly research deals with how dress performs as non-verbal communication. We ascribe meanings to specific garments based on personal history and experience, and when we’re correct in our assumptions we feel validated. The hoodie has been worn by everyone from young people like Trayvon Martin and college co-eds running off to class to the suburban soccer mom doing errands and the Unibomber Ted Kaczynski (whose birthday is tomorrow) trying to retain anonymity while committing a crime.
My brief Lamborghini Mexican Takeout Sidewalk Parking study isn’t even remotely as serious as the Martin/Zimmerman case or the Kaczynski example. In fact, when the couple returned to their car with their five styrofoam containers I felt guilty for having judged them. Something tells me that the couple in the $380,000 automobile stuffed to the gills with savory Mexican fare had placed me and the other patrons on the Pay No Mind List. The person with enough chutzpah to park a car on the sidewalk for a half an hour could care less what some commoner eating a chimichanga thinks about him.