October 23, 2016 Fairfax, VA
Your mother told me you were recently confused by a picture and asked her some questions about it. She has asked me to attempt answering your questions, because she knows I am very interested in the subject of clothing and how people dress these days.
It’s wonderful that you at the age of 7, and a second grader, are asking such questions. One day you may become a great thinker — you are certainly on your way!
Now to your questions. You recognized the woman on the right side of the picture and asked who she was: Your mother replied, “Kim Kardashian, and that’s her husband next to her, a rap singer.” But she didn’t remember his name, and then you asked who Kim Kardashian was, because you had seen her face so many times.
Your mother said, “She’s become famous, but I am not sure why,” and then you asked the more important question: “Who are the people on the other side of the picture, and why are they dressed so differently?” Your mother explained that they were not famous, but that the photograph was a clothing advertisement from the 1950s.
You were very surprised, “You mean people really dressed like that back then?” “Yes,” your mother said, “My parents dressed that way, and I dressed that way when I was your age until, well, times changed.” Your mother told me that you frowned, became confused, but started asking, “Why did people stop dressing like that, Mom? What changed? Why did you stop dressing like that? Nobody dresses like that anymore, why?”
Your mother asked whether you liked the clothing in the 50s picture, and you said, “Yes.” She asked what you thought of the clothing in the other picture, and you said, “It’s, well, yucky and kind of dirty.” Evidently your mother smiled and started trying to explain how “times changed” but you got more confused and said you needed to go do your homework. Good for you, homework should always come first!
Aiden, I went through the same experience as your mother. When I was very young, people, including my parents, dressed like those on the 50s picture, and I dressed like that until I went to college in the late 60s and found that 1950s clothes like that were not considered “cool.”
Now I didn’t like the “cool” clothes of the 60s, the tie-dyed T-shirts, cut-off shorts, sloppy jeans, and bandanas (ask your mother what “tie-dyed” means.) Most people, except for those who were attractive anyway, just didn’t look good in them, at least to me. When I tried to wear them, which was only a few times, I felt stupid and looked ridiculous.
At this point, I had to make a choice: Whether to be different? Would I be willing to stand out, look different, from most others?
Aiden, you are old enough to know how hard it is to stand out, to look or act different from the kids in your class or in your neighborhood. You can get laughed at, made fun of, even be bullied for looking different. You know that you aren’t really different, that you are the same on the inside as everyone else, but it doesn’t matter to the kids who laugh at you.
I decided to look different, to dress the way I thought looked best for me, and what looked best to me was more like the 50s than the 60s. I had to make that decision over and over again with each decade that passed (the 70s were the absolutely worst), and have never changed my mind. I dress in what looks good to me, and not how others expect me to dress.
But Aiden there is one more thing I have learned that I want to share with you: People will judge you by how you dress, how you appear to them. You have to be prepared to accept how people will judge you, no matter how you dress, but especially if you dress differently.
You probably already know that because if someone dressed differently at school, you know what happens. Well, Aiden, what happens in 2nd grade will happen the rest of your life — some people just don’t like anyone who stands out, who looks, or acts, differently from what is considered “cool.”
Let me leave you with one question, a question you will have to answer for yourself. The way you dress will send a message to other people, “This is who I am.” The question is this, “What message do you want to send about who you are?”
Look at the picture on the right, of Kim Kardashian and her husband, and ask yourself, “What are they telling me about who they are and what’s important to them?” Then look at the other picture and ask the same question.
However, since the man and woman on the left are not celebrities, let me give you another picture to look at, and ask the same question” “What are they telling me about who they are and what’s important to them?” At the bottom of this letter is a picture of two celebrities from the 50s, who were just as famous as Kim Kardashian is now: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, who made a movie together in 1953, “Roman Holiday.”
Aiden, I hope you have enjoyed this letter as much as I have enjoyed writing to you. You are a young man, but like all men you will face these questions all of your life: Will I be different? Am I willing to be judged for being different? By being different, what am I trying to say about who I am? I am sure you will answer these questions well because of who you are and the kind of parents you are blessed with.