July 23rd, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

A goth-chick and a popular girl walk into a mall ...

Speaking of appearance, I've had this link lying around for about a month now and never got around to using it: Susan Young (staff writer), "Which Girl Would You Hire? First impression makes a difference," Bay Area Living, June 12, 2005. There's more to it than the headline suggests. Let me summarize.

For an extra credit class project (it doesn't say which subject), 18 year old Shannon Nichols of Livermore, California took her friend Sarah Adams to the Pleasonton (California) Mall to apply for jobs, dressed as you see on the right. Both of them applied for retail sales jobs at some large but unspecified number of the stores in the mall, including Abercrombie and Fitch and Hot Topic. What makes this an experiment is that Shannon normally dresses like her friend Sarah does. They actually cooked the books in favor of the faux goth, giving her a better resumé; to balance that out, the girl dressed normally applied first. As predicted, the popular girl got offered a job everywhere but Hot Topic, despite having no retail or job experience. At no store (apparently? it's not 100% clear) did the faux goth girl get an offer. Abercrombie and Fitch, in particular, were overtly rude and hostile. But what really astonished the girls was how total strangers in the mall treated Shannon when she was dressed as a goth. She behaved in her usual polite, friendly, cheerful way ... and people panicked and ran away as if she was some kind of a monster. The article ends:
"I think this proved that you have to know what an employer expects if you want to get a job there," Nichols says. "I think if I went dressed like that to a record store, or other places, it might be fine."

In the end, Nichols says she doesn't think she would ever dress like a goth again.

"I don't like the way people reacted to me," Nichols says. "But then, I think that people who dress like that do it because they want a reaction, which is fine. Just not for me."
And when this link was making the rounds, that was pretty much everybody else's reaction, too. See, if you unpopular kids would just dress like normal kids, nobody would treat you so badly. Me, I don't think that's what that experiment shows. I think it shows why goths dress that way (and other freak subcultures, too).

One of the ways I divide up Americans is between people who actually enjoyed junior high school and high school, and people who didn't. Nearly all of the latter were in one of the unpopular cliques, and were therefore snubbed at best and bullied at worse by the former. And to the best of my knowledge, nobody from one of the popular cliques just wakes up one day, any more than Shannon does, and says, "Wow, I really like goth music and goth clothing, I think I'll express myself by dressing like a goth from now on." No, it's pretty much always the ones who were never really accepted by the popular kids who dress like that, and for whom darkwave music like Apoptygma Berserk and Type O Negative is really meaningful.

But OK, so they're unpopular. Why would they dress in such a scary way, in a way demonstrably guaranteed to make them less popular, less happy, less successful? Contrary to what everybody seems to think, it's not because they don't know any better. It's because for whatever reason, whether economic or psychological or social or whatever, dressing "right" wouldn't actually be enough to make them popular, happy, and successful. So OK, that's why they don't wear the same clothes the popular kids wear, but why wear a uniform? So they can find the kids (and adults) who won't reject them. It saves everyone a great deal of time and grief.