Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 8, 2010

Clothes make the (wo)man

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:07 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been thinking about our apparel and how it affects perceptions. How many of us have judged others, even subconsciously, based on external accoutrements? It’s less of an issue if you know someone well; your ideas about them are already formed. First impressions, however, are hard to undo.

My National Park Service ranger uniform is fun to wear. So is my dancing dress. Both project messages on different levels. The former is quite androgynous, intended to make all wearers of the clothing appear the same, present the same image, stand for the same values, and above all be recognizable in many different settings. We can’t have keys hanging from our belt loops, visible tattoos or piercings, or even pens poking out of our shirt pockets. Uniformity is of the utmost importance.

The volunteer photographer cut off my red shoes!

On the other hand, off-duty clothing is an expression of personal taste — a statement of individuality, an assertion of original selfhood. It says, loudly and clearly, “This is me!” I’ve noticed that the clothing I’ve bought this summer has been more feminine, which is probably my own Declaration of Independence from the very mannish uniform.

Here are some photos from the last two days. Whether you know me well, a little, or not at all, answer the following questions about the women pictured here — Ranger Uniform Woman, or Flowered Dress Woman:

Which woman would you…

  • trust more to give you a scientific answer to a question?
  • loan your car to?
  • find more huggable?
  • expect to take charge in an emergency?
  • find more believable?
  • want to get to know first?
  • see at a contra dance, and ask to be your partner?
  • rather hike with?
  • hire for an outdoor job?
  • expect to be more flirtatious?
  • see as more responsible?
  • go on a wilderness trip with?
  • perceive as more warm and cuddly?
  • find more suitable for jury duty?
  • rather have as your boss?

Pay attention today to how your perceptions may be affected by others’ wardrobe choices. Leave a comment if you have ever been mortified by, or taught by, an assumption you made about someone based on first impressions.


  1. A few years ago on a night transatlantic flight, I sat near a sloppily dressed 30-something black man looking for all the world like a hobo. Halfway through the flight, an announcement came on, asking if there was a doctor on board. He responded, and spent the rest of the flight attending to an elderly woman. Yes, one should not judge by appearances!

    Comment by becky — September 8, 2010 @ 10:39 am | Reply

  2. I just love a woman in a uniform!

    Comment by Ed Oak — September 8, 2010 @ 11:19 am | Reply

  3. I know what you mean about judging people not only by how they look but also by the color of their skin. That makes me angry. A friend of mine (who will remain nameless) is “VERY” prejiduce. It used to be every conversation we had something came out of their mouth and I did not agree with..I let it go. It got to the point that I finally had to say something. I did. We have very nice Asian people living next door. I had at one time some very close Black people that I knew at church. It just makes me sick how people are judged no matter what they look like, what they do for a living or the color of their skin. They are human too. Sorry won’t go any further..I get a little pissed when this subject comes up. ON the other hand..Kathryn you look great in either uniform..I love the dress! Can I borrow it sometime? 🙂

    Comment by chris — September 8, 2010 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

    • Yes! Of course! And I am proud of you for speaking up when others are spouting cruel meanness.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — September 8, 2010 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  4. Introspecting, I find four distinct levels of dressiness . . .
    The first is ‘Shop Grubbies’ – a level of comfort that should not be shared with anyone except other similarly attired woodworkers.
    Then, there is ‘Going Out in Public – a dressy-but-understated level that is chosen to set me apart rather than blend in with the crowd.
    If I were still working, this second level would be tweaked to convey professionalism, competence, experience, responsibility, authority. Accessories such as carrying a slide rule in college let everyone know you were ‘one of those’.
    Finally, there is party-dress. Here the Hambone Gene (transmittable) comes out – whether it be smart casual or a tux, the intent is to generate a buzz when you enter a room full of people.
    And, then there is sleeping attire . . .

    Comment by leroque — September 9, 2010 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  5. i’m to the point that i just don’t give a **** what people think. i’ll where anything, anywhere, anytime. will i ever put on something nice? of course, but most of the time, i dress for comfort and practicality. of course, that’s just who i am.

    you are correct though, we are judged on how we look. when i was young(er), i’d be in stores with my black leather jacket and long hair. i’d be followed around and watched. they figured i looked like a thief. still trying to figure out to this day what a thief looks like….

    Comment by john — September 9, 2010 @ 6:46 am | Reply

  6. I have seen some beautiful people of different countries, different cultures, different skin colors, different shapes, etc. Things that make the stunning, memorable ones stand out: They seem “put together”, they are appropriately dressed for the occasion and their carriage speaks out and says “I love me, and I love my body”…….. and they dress and walk as if they do. That’s what sets them apart, not whether it is a unisex uniform or a flirtatious dress. Your questions were overly simple, but they do seem to have started some thinking. (By the way, I love the flowered sundress.)

    Comment by Mom — September 9, 2010 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  7. Regarding my comment above: One standout was a black woman who walked into a rather primitive steakhouse while we were there. She was so beautiful and stunningly dressed that I wanted to stop and compliment her, but I feared she might think me condescending. A second woman, in Estonia, not only was dressed beautifully and walked beautifully, but she had bright cardinal red hair. I have wanted cardinal red hair ever since.

    Comment by Mom — September 9, 2010 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

    • Loved both of your comments, Mom. And I feel strongly that you should dye your hair cardinal red when it grows back in.

      Comment by kath56ryn — September 9, 2010 @ 9:42 pm | Reply

  8. Can you do a third photo with the woman in the flowered dress wearing the uniform hat? Who doesn’t love a woman in a nice hat? I do recall when I first grew my beard. There were people who looked at me as if I was some kind of hippie. Now they just point and say “Santa?”. Still loving the posts. G

    Comment by Allen Gislason — September 13, 2010 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

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