Having dusted my old bike off and headed out for a few short spins recently I was accused of being a mamil (middle aged man in lycra). It is true. Form fitting clothing is simply more comfortable, allows ease of movement and does not flap about.
It reminded me that during the Winter Olympics a few months ago that for every high intensity event the uniform is one piece, skin tight, lycra. These established sports and athletes have huge research budgets and so it seems probable that there are advantages to this that extend beyond showing off their impressive physiques. Less drag, ease of movement etc.
But the freestylers wear baggy clothing – one competitor, Henrik Harlaut, had his trousers fall down in competition. I may be wrong but it seems that these clothes are not simply about performance.
We humans are highly evolved social animals. In prehistory our survival depended on our being supported and protected by our tribe. it’s no surprise then that we are all keen to show our belonging and to conform to social norms. Being evicted from our chosen tribe isn’t simply a matter of identity it’s one of survival.
Our innate desire to conform is possibly why stereotypes tend to have a degree of validity. It also is a great part of the success of many Brands. A Brand, the marketers will tell you, is the encapsulation of the customer experience. It’s what is promised and delivered. For the consumer a Brand can be a shortcut to an identity, a stereotype if you like. And identity is generally not about individualism it is about belonging.
Dressing in a certain style or wearing a certain Brand makes a statement. In one simple logo a whole raft of information about your ideals can be broadcast.
Marketers exploit this strong desire to belong and it’s very hard for an individual to truly break free. Indeed there is arguably a tribe one can belong to whose central doctrine is ‘not belonging’. This tribe of course has a set of rituals, social norms and a dress code just like any other.
Historically freestyle ski-ing and snowboarding were the choice of the rebels. The free spirits. They showed their individuality by dressing in a baggy, looser style of clothing and that has carried through to those competing at a high level, even if it carries performance penalties.
It will take a real individual to start competing in a suit scientifically designed to enhance performance, rather than ensure belonging. A change of identity from rebel to high performer. That would take real courage. A need for authentic leadership perhaps?