Guest Blogger: Roger Pseudonym
The Glamorous Geek's Guide to Surviving the Real World—Winning Money, Success, and Love On a Planet Full of Jocks and Charmers
Apr 3, 2016 [permalink]
Note: Aburt is turning over the keys to Roger Pseudonym. To clarify any possible confusion, Roger is not Aburt. You don't know Roger. Well, maybe you do. Roger is a pro writer. You can read more about Roger in the 'about' bits. Anyway, he's got some truthy things to say to nerds, starting with...
A fashion statement using actual fashion
I once watched a daytime talk show where a bunch of angry, pierced, leather-clad punk kids with green hair were complaining about how badly the world reacted to them.
"People treat you like the clothes you wear," one young woman complained.
Well yeah. Hate to break it to you, sweetcheeks, but aside from holding out the weather and covering the reproductive sockets, that's what clothes are for. Oprah (or Rikki Lake, or whoever was hosting) clucked sympathetically at these kids when she should have smacked them upside their chrome-studded skulls. Clothes make the man—even cave people knew that!
This is also reflected in how police treat suspects; no one doubts that if you dress like a thug you're more likely to be treated like one, whereas if you dress like a golfer or a movie star, you'll at least get arrested politely. And guess what? When it comes to fashion, we're all cops.
Now, if you're a woman, half a dozen episodes of TLC's What Not to Wear (2003-2013) can tell you everything you need to know about clothes and makeup. You may think you look just fine the way you are, and maybe that's true. Maybe you do. You may even think people should get over appearances and appreciate you for who you are inside, and you may be right about that as well, but let's at least not frighten them away in the mean time, hyah? A tiny amount of color around the eyes, of coverup on the blemishes, of thought and care in the wardrobe choices will make a huge difference. I've watched this transformation in dozens of nerd women, and never once met one who was sorry she'd done it.
If you're a man, the task is even easier, because you can just ask your booth-babe communications major of a girlfriend for advice. Hahahahaha, just kidding; we both know your girlfriend wore a Cthulhu pendant and shock-pink hip boots to your brother's wedding and is no more qualified to give fashion advice than, well, me. Seriously, though, you might try looking up an older TV show called Queer Eye For the Straight Guy (2003-2007) or, more painfully, picking up some issues of Maxim, GQ, or People for some guidance on different looks that may work for you. Or hire a personal shopper / image consultant? This will probably pay for itself within a year, if not sooner, in both improved job prospects and reduced expenditure on ugly clothes. Failing that, here are a few for-dummies guidelines:
First, it never hurts to dress a little nicer than the people around you. You can slob it up occasionally—especially if you're trying to make a particular statement (e.g., "I just completed a 5K, bitches!")—but you're not cool enough to get away with it as a habit. I'm not kidding about that, boyo. You're really not.
Second, on a typical day you should wear one (or at most, two) "down" elements and the rest "up". Blue jeans with a dress shirt and shoes. Dress slacks and shoes with a solid-color t-shirt. Or dress like a hobo, but throw a nice Armani jacket over the top. Or wear a swimsuit and flip-flops and that koa wood necklace you bought in Hawaii, with a tasteful Tag Heuer wristwatch.
Armani? Tag Heuer? Yes. And Coach, and Louis Vuitton, and even Calvin Klein. This is a refrain you'll be hearing a lot from me: while swanky or well-known brand names can't make you cool, they sure as hell won't flag you as uncool. In fact, luxury brands are usually also high-quality products that will last a long time, and if you find a style that fits your frame, they give a favorable impression that says you care about yourself, and at least allow for the possibility that you might be cool. Custom or "bespoke" items can do this as well, for clear scientific reasons.
"Signaling theory" is one of several newish fields that straddle the borders of psychology, sociology, economics, and evolutionary biology, and basically posits that the things we wear on our bodies are exactly analogous to the poisonous red of a tree frog or the iridescent "eyes" of a peacock's tail. I.e., their purpose is to signal our genetic fitness to potential mating partners, hunting partners, golf buddies, and predators. They also signal our tribal affiliation, so that awesome periodic table T-shirt of yours (you know, the one where the radioactive elements glow in the dark) is unconsciously meant to reassure your fellow nerds, from a distance, that you are not going to stuff them in a gym locker, and might even fancy a game of 3D chess.
Unfortunately, it also signals to the jocks, on some dim amygdalic plane, that they should stuff you in a locker and that you might ask them to play some stupid-ass game they don't see the point of. Who needs that? On the other hand, taking this concept too far can land you hard on the other rail. That hockey jersey you have in the closet? Fugeddaboudit. Even if you're a die-hard fan of the team, even if you actually play hockey yourself, you're still a nerd, and a sheep in wolf's clothing will not fool the real wolves. Just make `em hungry.
No, what you want to do is abandon the jock-nerd axis entirely and signal in the orthogonal direction of success. Now, success doesn't necessarily mean money, and money doesn't necessarily mean fancy clothes. I'm betting the last guy you saw in a tuxedo was a men's room attendant, and the last millionaire you saw was passing incognito in a t-shirt and khakis. But pay attention, because that shirt may have been 20% silk and cost a hundred and eighty bucks at Tommy Bahama. The watch and sunglasses and shoes will give him away, too, if you know what to look for, and guess what? He knows what to look for. Why signal "sloppy assperg" when you could broadcast "savvy something-or-other" instead? And hell, if you're also wearing a tasteful Cthulhu pendant he won't know what the fuck that is, or care, unless he does, in which case you probably just made a new friend.
Eyewear? That's tricky, because nerds are supposed to have glasses—the thicker and heavier-rimmed the better. It's fun to defy the stereotypes, but let's face it: you've spent way too many hours with your nose in a book or staring at computer screens to get by on your original equipment. Contacts and laser surgery are always an option, but if you're anything like me, you don't want nobody touching your eyeballs nohow. So you probably do wear glasses, and they probably do look pretty dorky, but so what? They're not exclusively a nerd appliance, and they do at least give off a vibe of competence, so just let the optometrist's assistant help you pick the right frames, and call it good.
I like amber photochromic lenses myself—a little triumph of function over coolth—but just as an aside, my extremely nerdy father owns a pair of actual rose-colored glasses. He doesn't wear them very often, but I've encouraged him to, because they're actually rather striking, and make him look like a movie producer or eccentric billionaire. He's a retired software engineer who keeps his hand in with various projects, and I suppose he's past the age where he feels a need to look striking, or really to project any "look" at all, but I'm not past the age when I want my dad to look cool if my friends are around.
But I digress.
Interestingly, what we "wear" includes vehicles. Thanks to a million-plus years of human evolution, the body maps in our cerebral cortex are actually elastic enough to incorporate temporary elements such as hats, tools, robotic forklift suits and yes, cars. Neurologically speaking, our wheels really are an extension of our bodies, and as important to our projected image as the clothes we wear. More on this later.
Anyway, personally I do wear nerd t-shirts when I'm at a gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts. First of all, t-shirts are standard garb there, and dressing any fancier than that just makes you look like a narc. Plus which, I've already got on the boots and jacket and helmet and gloves, and I rode in on a friggin' motorcycle, so that signal is about as sent as it's going to get. Why waste valuable real estate on a redundant Harley Davidson shirt when a well-placed Jedi Republic logo can ping for fellow techies in the crowd? Conversely, if I'm at science fiction convention I will wear the Harley shirt, or maybe a Boston Marathon running jersey, because my very presence already tells everyone I'm of the tribe. Here, what I want to signal is that I'm a fit, well-rounded person with cool outside interests.
See, even among your fellow nerds, the clothes actually matter.
More thoughts anon.