This was to be my dress code for the interview. Whatever. I turned up decked in a short-sleeved plaid shirt and grey jeans – my first time wearing these! The interviewer appreciated my outfit, which was a tad more formal than her casual black attire. And so I made it. Not.
I studied in NUS FASS, majoring in sociology. I chose it because they didn’t require interviews – no iffy instructions. Now I get to go to school wearing polos or tees, shorts or jeans. Maybe one day I should turn up donning a pair of Daiso spectacles? Others may think I’m too casual, but given the weather, I should be smart!
The question I posed is not: What does “Smart Casual” mean? This involves what others want of you. We know it lies somewhere between formal and informal. Given that different people have different expectations, but impose these expectations on the same terms – even formal and informal can change – we can’t be sure. And thus I cannot give you a good answer.
The question I’m posing – one I hope you will find important to pose to yourself – involves what you want of yourself: What does it mean to be “Smart Casual”?
I offer “Smart Casual” as a conceptual metaphor for the ethos of your everyday life. Using such a contested concept as metaphor is precisely the intention. Ultimately, your life is yours to be lived. You have to define for yourself the range of expression that suits you in any particular domain or context. To each one’s own… right?
We think we know what we want, or who we are. But do we really?
To Be “Smart Casual”
In everyday life, we dress according to occasions. Sometimes we dress to fit in. Sometimes we dress to stand out. In both cases, our decisions are not merely functions of what we want. They are also responses to what others want.
The selves which manifest in our everyday lives depend on the particular contexts they manifest in. Our bodies may be separate, but they do not act in isolation. We grasp social norms and construct a “common sense”. Or rather, the norms we are exposed to inform our particular versions of “common sense”.
What you need is not “common sense”. What you need is your own unique sense.
Our task is thus: To see our selves as colored by cultures. Everyday life is full of social functions you cannot escape from. You need to reflect on the world you live in, and your attachment to that world. You need to discover your capacity for empowerment in various domains of everyday life. You need to keep finding your fit for life’s fickle functions.
If you are still fretting over what to wear for your interview, ask your interviewer. But if you are now fretting over what self to bring to your next interaction, then come in your “Smart Casual”. Tell your friends. I’m bringing the vests.
May we keep swimming in the waves of life’s relentless tests.