What you wear is who you are?

A reflection after four weeks of different uniforms

As I’m not really the person looking forward to nine weeks of holiday, the last five weeks I have been working for Marlborough College Summer School. Although I still don’t quite know what it means, my official role was ‘Operations Manager’, and my code name for radio communications ‘Goldfinch’.

purple shirts

My role was a new one this year, and it effectively meant I fitted in somewhere between the art technicians, support team and, more tangentially, the office staff. Each team has a different colour polo shirt, so that they are easily recognisable when people have queries (and the occasional complaint!). I haven’t quite made it to having a pink shirt yet, but in the morning I had the choice between a purple and a black one. To make it even more confusion, on the days when I was having a more specifically priestly ministry, I would be wearing my clerical shirt. Usually I was reminded of this during breakfast, when people looked at me in a slightly confused way.

The direct relation between role and uniform these weeks, have made me reflect on how a uniform can make you look and feel very different. A uniform is not only a means for people to recognise you, but it can also be a source of identity, pride and indeed responsibility. When I am driving wearing my dog collar, I am always slightly more conscious of my behaviour than otherwise.

So, for most of us, what we wear will change our behaviour. Most obviously, because usually you are in a particular role, performing specific tasks, when wearing your uniform. Whether it’s a postman, a person in the forces, a police woman or a vicar, many of us will only wear our uniform whilst working.

However, your uniform can also become who you are. Over the last few years, I have become so used to wearing a dog collar, that I occasionally even forget. I suspect this may be the same for people working in the forces or others for whom their work is very much a way of life. This means that the responsibilities you bear in your role and the discipline it requires, hopefully will become a part of who you are, so that in a sense, the uniform can become part of your identity, whether you are wearing it or not.

Of course, this can both be positive, as it can make you more a person of integrity and good habits, but it can also be negative, as the responsibility and authority can give you a sense of entitlement to not just use but also abuse the power given by your role.

This being rather overt for people who wear a uniform, I think it is something that happens for each of us: what we wear is not only an expression of who we are, but will also impact on who we become.

It may be worth thinking what we wear, why we do so, and how it has changed over time as we ourselves have changed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we wear, but it does matter who we are, and who we become!

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