Growing up in the 60s and 70s, there was a ruthless fashion code that weeded out the cool kids from the nerdy kids. When you wore sneakers, you’d better be wearing white athletic socks. When you wore shoes, you’d better be wearing dress socks that matched the color of your shoes. Violate this rule—walk out of your house with, say, white Chuck Taylors and black dress socks—and you were guaranteed to be the recipient of swift and unrelenting mockery. And if you were a guy, it was worse. Your mockery would be served with a healthy amount of noogies, dead arms, and dead legs.
But my dad, much like the other fathers in the neighborhood, never grasped the critical importance of this fashion code. And it was not uncommon to see him tooling around the yard in sneakers and black dress socks.
I remember being quite mortified by his lack of style. “Doesn’t he get it,” I would complain to myself. “You don’t wear black socks with sneakers. Why does he insist on embarrassing me in front of my friends?”
If you watch carefully, you can catch Archie’s black shoes/white socks fashion faux pas.
Dad wasn’t very good at impression management. Well, that’s what I thought anyway. It wasn’t until years later that I realized he was actually very good at impression management. He just didn’t give a crap about adolescent fashion mores. He showed his worth by attending to more important things—by being a good provider, by being a good husband, and by teaching me and my siblings the difference between right and wrong.
Yep, good ole Dad had a penchant for wearing the wrong socks, but I don’t ever remember him missing a day of work. I also don’t ever remember him failing to make sure that I visited my great grandfather once a week. And I’ll never forget what he told me when I had my first real girlfriend in high school: “She’s not just your girlfriend. She’s someone’s daughter. You treat her with respect.”
Mrs. Groovy and Impression Management
Sadly, I didn’t really get impression management right until I met Mrs. G. Prior to her coming into my life, I was still transfixed by the superficial. In order to have friends and be loved, to show the world that I was “cool,” I thought I needed the right car, the right clothes, the right cable package, and the right attitude toward socializing (i.e., a willingness to spend a lot of money on booze, food, travel, and entertainment). And because I had such warped priorities, I was basically broke when I married Mrs. G.
But things quickly changed once I was married. Being cool no longer mattered. I became more like my dad. I didn’t give a crap anymore about my image. In fact, I came to regard my Walmart clothes, my boring old-man car, and my new found distaste for partying as a badge of honor. Yep, once Mrs. G and I exchanged vows, impression management for me was all about getting out of debt, securing our financial future, and being Mrs. G’s hero.
Mrs. G definitely made me a better man. But part of me recognizes that I quickly adapted my impression management focus because I was no longer looking for a mate. In other words, if Mrs. G hadn’t come along, and I were still competing for a spouse, I doubt my need to appear cool would have ever been abandoned.
And this got me thinking. We really are our own worst enemies. When it comes to dating, we’re attracted to money and style. We therefore do whatever we can to project the notion that we have these things in spades, even if it means going into debt and living a lie. The trouble is, many of us never lose this mindset. And then we wonder why so many of us are broke. Why so many of us can’t scrounge up $400 to deal with an unexpected bill. Wouldn’t it be great if the third date rule was about getting naked financially rather than sexually?
I have a dream that one day we will judge the suitability of a mate, not by the content of his or her driveway or closet, but by the content of his or her Roth IRA.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What say you? Do you do impression management right? Do you wear the wrong socks?