Adjusting to Expectations

A reader wrote in asking me to explain how to adjust your grooming to the expectations of the culture around you, regardless of if the culture is a nationality or a subculture like goths.

This subject is very complicated and individual.  On one hand, can it be done?  Absolutely.  But it so rarely *is* done.  The longer the culture (or subculture) has been around, the easier this is, because the path has been forged for you.   You’re red-headed and wish to dress in traditional kimono?  Good for you that there have always been a few auburn-haired ladies in Japan.  Check out what they’ve done, and work from there.

Sometimes your subculture develops almost a uniform, where every detail becomes meaningful, and even slight deviation from the norm is seen as leaving the group.  You’re going to want to balance some serious loyalty displays in order to be allowed even a shred of individuality – if you can.  (This would be something I’d happily consult with on a case-by-case basis).

Once again, we return to, “what do you want to say?”  If you’re part of a subculture that interacts with the larger culture on a daily basis, you have a lot more leeway in how you advertise your allegiance.   If, for example, you were Goth and a Spring rather than a Winter, and you didn’t choose to wear white face makeup (which makes one’s colors largely moot), you might want to evoke the moodiness and slightly eerie romantic mood… how would I help you with that?

  • neutral makeup – Springs generally wear a lot of color to bring out their own, quite vivid, coloring, so if you go with a neutral lip, tone down your cheeks, and wear dark eyeshadow, you’re naturally going to look more melancholy than you would in pink.
  • dark-neutral colors, not blue.  Blue is such a main-stream color, I wouldn’t put it on you.  Dark, forest green or charcoal instead.  I’d pair that not with white or even ivory (those will energize), but with one of your light pastel-ish shades in something a tad unexpected.  (Palest peach?  Lightest green?)
  • Romantic lines – make a statement here, lux fabrics, same.
  • Leather or wood or other natural accessories, rather than gold, silver, or anything obvious.  I might use black jewelry, with a light hand.

But I wouldn’t do most of that at work – the makeup, yes, as you can generally wear what makeup you like as long as your hand isn’t too heavy, and yes to the dark-neutral colors (possibly an all-neutral palette) – but you just don’t need to advertise your subculture very loudly when you’re the only member in attendance.  You’ll look plenty somber working just with color.

When you meet with your Goth friends, you bring your accessory game up to 11 and turn the makeup up a notch.  Wear the corset and lace gloves, etc.

Same thing goes for most ancestral cultures – one can give a nod to the cultural style when amongst non-members (at work, store, general events), because that nod is quite sufficient to create interest and advertise allegiance.  (One always wants to create interest… if you didn’t want to do that, you wouldn’t be asking this question at all, you’d buy a pair of jeans and have done).  When with the members of your cultural group, you want to break out the good stuff.

Now, if your group is more insular, dressing in a manner than is outside of the group norm might be read as selling out.  You have to know your own rules here.    Take the FLDS ladies – I’m pretty sure I know where they get their modesty standards, but I’m not too sure why they have poofy hair.  But if one of them wore their hair without the poof, I doubt they’d find acceptance.  Their uniform is a measure of solidarity.    There’s nothing you can do with that, it’s a true uniform, and must be acceded to in order to be accepted as part of the group.

To be determined:  “How much leeway do I have for individuality without losing my group membership?” and “who is my audience/what is my setting?”.  Start there.


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