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  • Writer's pictureAndy Murphy

What We Wear And What It Says About Us

Understing how chosen clothing can broadcast intent in others

Your chosen clothing is something that everyone sees. The shirt that you put on, the shorts that you wear, or the dress that you put on broadcasts how you want to be treated and speaks to your intention.

If I go interview for a job at an attorney‘s office and I show up in a three-piece suit I understand the assignment. My intent is to get that job.

When I walk in I non-verbally communicate with all the people that I am going to be interviewing that I understand what this job is, I understand the culture, and I understand the prestige. It is a way to instantly let people know I understand what’s going on and you can treat me with confidence and respect because that’s what my clothing demands.

If I walk into the same job interview with flip-flops in a Jurassic Park T-shirt, I’m not going to be given that same amount of respect. This happens because my chosen clothing says that my intention is that this meeting is not important enough for me to dress up for.

In this scenario, I should absolutely be wearing a three-piece suit Do you think I’m going to get that job in a t-shirt and flops? No, I’m not. And why not? Because I didn’t show full respect for what I was doing and who I was interviewing with. It’s disrespectful.

While I could have had an excellent interview in either set of clothes the thing that will set me apart the thing that people will remember the most was that I didn’t take it seriously. And while I may have answered all the questions correctly and have absolutely nailed the interviewers if I show up with a gigantic nonverbal sign that I’m not taking this seriously they can also extrapolate I will not be a serious lawyer.

Is this judging a book by its cover? Yes, it is.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

But let me tell you something as a best-selling author, I spend a lot of time and money on the cover of my books. Your cover in the book industry will set you apart and get you more pick-ups from the shelf and more clicks online than anything else. That’s because humans are visual.

The best advice I got about making a cover for my book was how do you want people to feel when they see it? What do you want people to know about your book and how they’re going to be after they’ve read it. That changed my perspective on the cover of my first book.

The cover of my first book is a man with his arms folded looking confident and like a protector. I want you to feel like a confident protector because you have the knowledge to do so after you read my book. In the same way, our chosen clothing communicates how we want people to feel about us.

1980s Flashback

So let’s bring this back around to what our clothes say about us. I’ll give you an example from my own life.

When I was a kid in the 1980s I liked to wear what we called in my family picture shirts. And these were shirts that had characters on them mostly He-Man. My mom had a rule that I could wear a picture shirt one day and then a plain shirt the next day.

I think this was mainly because our family didn’t have a lot of money for me to be able to wear an expensive character T-shirt every day and I understand that as a parent.

To this day I will wear shirts with pictures on them just like I did when I was a kid but I’m very choosy about what shirts I wear. For example, I am wearing a T-shirt with the logo for the Nashville Predators hockey team on it.

Living in the south where hockey isn’t that popular if you know what this logo is you’re more likely to engage with me on the topic of hockey. And I’m telling you I’m okay with that.

This is also called iconography meaning that in this picture, the logo of this hockey team is important to me. It’s so important that I’m going to wear it on my shirt and I’m going to broadcast it to everyone.

Nostalgia Fashion

Now I will admit over the past two years I’ve indulged in some nostalgia and I bought myself a Masters of the Universe t-shirt and then I got one as a Christmas present. So yes I have two as a grown man.

I enjoy wearing these shirts because it makes me think about a show that I loved when I was a kid and when I wear one in public I get smiles from other people my age. Sometimes I get to have conversations with people about what they loved about the show and I connect with them. And it’s really nice.

The downside of that is when people look at me they see a guy who is wearing a t-shirt with a cartoon on it. An aggressor might look at me wearing that shirt and say that dude is a pushover, I bet you I could take him pretty easy.

What my shirt says to me is one thing. What is said to someone else is another. So it cuts both ways and I have to be cognizant of that.

What Does Her Shirt Say???

When I was in college I had a class with one of the head cheerleaders at our university. Even for a large university, she was very popular.

She knew what looked good on her and she dressed to that standard every day. Her makeup was perfect. Her hair was perfect. She looked ready for a photoshoot every day. In thinking about that now, that must have been a heavy burden.

One day she comes to class wearing a black three-quarter length shirt and on the shirt in pink rhinestone studs were the words, “Sex Doll”.

I’m not making this up. She wore this shirt, it’s really the only memory I have of her. This might have been a fashion or brand at the time, but that means something, too.

This was way before I knew that chosen clothing was a thing, but even then I knew what was odd. And honestly, I felt sorry for her. What was her shirt broadcasting to everyone around her?

No, really? What vibe was she sending?

In this case, do you think she was going to attract healthy attention? Were the right people going to approach her? And what drove her to get that shirt? Was it a gift? If so that speaks to a potentially unhealthy relationship.

Was the shirt a cry for help? Was she trying to let people know that she was involved in an unhealthy relationship? Did she feel objectified by the majority of people that saw her? Was she being abused?

Did she really see herself as just a sex doll? While I’ll never know, the overwhelming feeling here is that this was not positive for her. She was communicating that at some level, things weren’t right. People who knew her better should have gotten involved. Maybe they did, again, I’ll never know.

Teaching Our Kids

At some point as a parent, you’re not going to buy all of your kid's clothes. When the day comes that your children have more say in what they wear, you need to share with them that what they wear says something about them.

Help them to make good choices and to see beyond what a shirt says to what a shirt really means. We owe this to our kids as protector parents.

After all of this, you might say, “Hey, Andy what if I just put on something and run out the door”? That’s still a form of chosen clothing. And I’ll challenge you, what does that say about you at that moment in time? I think you know the answer.

What you wear says a lot about your intent and how you want to be treated. So now that you have this information, you can better dress for the occasion.

You can now ask better questions about others and determine what their intentions are behind their outfit. Be curious about what you see people wearing around you.

And just because a person wears one outfit doesn’t mean you can infer everything about them. Much more investigating is needed for that, but the clothing someone chooses to wear may provide that string to pull to better understand who they really are.


Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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