You may not realize it, but apparently the Charlottetown Sobeys on Allen Street has a dress code, or at least in the public imagination, if not officially.
Or so it seems from a stunning drive-by observation about the questionable nature of my fashion choices during a shopping trip to that Sobeys some time ago. And apparently red socks are a no-no.
The observation, a cutting and hilarious one, was owing to the fact that I had arrived at the Sobeys on a coolish fall day by bike. As a result, I was wearing a white wool hat underneath a neon-blue bicycle helmet, a white shirt, a purple vest, green sweat pants, yellow running shoes, and some red socks. (What any normal cyclist would wear, right?) And as I was traipsing down the canned meat aisle searching for low-sodium solid white tuna, I heard the voice of an old friend say, “I didn't know Sobeys had a store clown.”
On the level of humiliations, this one rose to the mild level, not devastating to the long term ego, but nonetheless a minor awakening as to the notion that there are reams of rules about everything in any culture, most of them not written down, but nonetheless of collective importance to every society on the planet. Or so my bicycle-clown attire seemed to prove. (Even though my first reaction was, “If I want to buy a can of tuna on a Sunday dressed up as a daffodil, what business is it of yours?”)
But of course it matters societally as well as individually. Everything we put on is a uniform of sorts, a uniform designed to send messages to the rest of the world as to who we are, or who we want everybody else to think we are. It all about identity, our own brand, so to speak, a brand we build by attaching ourselves to other brands of cloths, our computers, our food, etc, etc.
Stand on the corner of University and Kent in Charlottetown and you will see a fine example of repeated personal branding. There you will notice a preponderance of those people who wear the fancier, newer, sharper and expensive clothing almost always choose Starbucks for their coffee. The wardrobe and the coffee choice of these people are often simply telegraphing messages to the world about how they want to be perceived. (In many cases this desired perception is upscale, or hipsters, or just plain cool.) What is in the clothes or the cup is immaterial, it is the brand that counts.
You may think that this is some form of pretension, that there is something false about it all, and therefore you can reject it by just wearing whatever. But that is also a uniform of sorts, as my Sobeys clown outfit proves, being chosen for its warmth and practicality, and sending a message of societal norms be damned, that this is my bicycle shopping trip. But that of course is also a message, one that an accomplished Toronto actor conveys daily by wearing (usually) mismatched socks.
His shock-socks, as they have become known, are selected daily by his three year old son. And because mismatched socks are (apparently) such a big deal in our culture, a day does not go by without somebody inquiring what the heck is going on. His answer is really that they are a message, the message being that his love for his son knows few boundaries, including sock norms.
It can be startling how significant the seemingly trivial can become, something we are reminded of every day, whether we are snappy looking or clownish. Put on a pair of red socks next time you go grocery shopping and you will find how much that little things (and socks) matter.
Campbell Webster is a writer and producer of entertainment events. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org