Power 101: A Uniform’s Appeal

Does the clothes really make the man? Or does the man make the clothes stand out in a crowd?

There’s nothing more alluring than seeing someone in uniform. Whether it’s a nurse outfit, military garb, a policeman’s hat, a pilot’s jacket, a lawyer’s briefcase or a power suit, something gets the blood rushing in many of us. So what is so special about the appeal of the uniform?

I suppose the pull of power plays on the feelings of the roles that these uniforms represent. Perhaps it is the allure of seeming self confidence that causes our own shoulders to straighten up and for respect and sex appeal to be instantly granted.  The person could be a real sleaze or asshole or a nice person, since the first thing we see are the clothes that’s the impression we go with until proven otherwise.

Is this right or wrong? Hard to say. I’ve got a friend who is a pilot and we crack jokes periodically of the fact that flying has always been one of those sure-fire ways to get the opposite sex after you – even flight students. Perhaps it’s more of the freedom of the job, the ability to master something complex in an adventurous way that often leaves people’s blood engorged.

Power apparently fuels both respect and sex appeal. We have been taught to not only respect power, but it’s ok to want it in a sexual way when it is wielded by people who wear a uniform. I’m always amazed at the differences in reactions I get when I wear a suit and when I don’t. While going on an interview one day, I’ve had a stranger come up to me on the train starting a very insightful conversation about business. He seemed pleasantly surprised that who I spoke matched how I was dressed at the time. The most ironic thing was that he wasn’t in a suit in the first place!

I’ve also seen an ex see me in a suit and had that look of longing even though we had a nasty break up ages ago – just because I was in a suit. Yes, power looks like it will cause us to make fundamental differences be swept aside for a passion filled moment.

It’s interesting to note how significant we view the genders in any uniform. You take a cop in uniform, for example. If it’s the guy in the uni, there’s the allure of being a protector, the apt knight in shining amour capable of saving any damsels in distress. Take a woman in the same uniform and you’re more likely to see the uniform enhances the attraction of the fact that she’s a woman in the first place.

It’s not so much about the uniform itself but what the person in uniform can do for those who see them.  Studies have shown that how men and women read what they are looking for in a partner are often seen in how they interacted with uniformed personnel.  Some of these studies have shown that gender differences in how uniforms are viewed are typically tied to physical beauty for men and prospective financial security and improved status for women(http://www.eurojournals.com/ejss_12_2_06.pdf). Seems like it’s always the old “tricking trade” that is the crux at the end of the day.

On the macro scale, people sometimes underestimate how a uniform’s shine gets tarnished when issues of abuse and misuse of power surface. With some of the recent articles in the news here in NYC, the NYPD continues to have its ongoing love/hate relationship with the general public. Every time there is an abuse of power by someone in any uniform it’s such a violation of trust and what the uniform is supposed to represent. That often permeates into even intimate relationships – hence the popularity of one myth I was exposed to growing up that it’s often “hell and powderhouse to date a cop, solider or preacher’s daughter”. We often lose sight of the humanity of the individual incident and then blanket all those who are doing their best to uphold the perceived integrity of the uniform they wear.

At the end of the day it’s how you relate to power that is important, and the uniform is a means to an end. While the clothes can help to enhance the man, it is often his persona that makes the ultimate difference.

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