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MASLOW AND MENSWEAR

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MASLOW AND MENSWEAR

by Christopher Lee

Nearly 75 years ago, in 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow published his concept of a “Hierarchy of Needs,” a set of categories encompassing the things human beings need to not only survive but thrive. Toward the foot of the pyramid are the most basic needs – the physiological requirements (like food, water, and sleep) and the necessities of safety (like money and a job). As these requirements are satisfied in a person’s life, he or she looks to fulfill the more abstract and emotional needs ascending the pyramid: love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. That is, #menswear.

Some menswear purchases—a shirt and trousers, an overcoat, an umbrella maybe—can fulfill the basic physiological and safety needs of staying warm and dry, but one doesn’t need a Casentino overcoat, a bespoke button down or a Talarico umbrella to do this. Clearly, these fulfill higher-order requirements beyond clothing oneself. 

It’s undeniable, for instance, that quality menswear enhances self-esteem. Those who have just discovered tailored clothing frequently comment on how confident they feel wearing it science has proven that the brain of the suited man engages in more abstract processing, enabling him to handle criticism without a blow to his ego, among other mental benefits. These powers require more than mere brand name, for rare is the observer who can recognize a shirt by Camoshita or a Sartoria Formosa jacket on sight. Self-esteem comes instead from being recognized as a man who knows quality and style. And perhaps a sense of pride from supporting artisanal brands or in continuing the sartorial tradition itself.

Ultimately, though, self-actualization—the fulfillment of one’s greatest potential—the peak of Maslow’s pyramid, is where menswear plays its loftiest role. The essence of self-actualization is setting a goal for personal perfection and achieving it, whether in business, athletics, art or Big Mac consumption. The body is another sort of potentiality, and how a man decides to clothe himself is an opportunity for self-actualization. Each next purchase can be the one to complete (for now) a collection of summer ties, of wool pocket squares, or of odd jackets, and these all afford some satisfaction until another lack is perceived. That moment of successfully matching a secondary color in a pocket square with the primary color in a tie, whose pattern repeats in larger scale on a shirt, - that moment is a sort of summit reached. For those who have learned the art of dressing, successful coordination becomes the pleasure of completing a painting. In this way, menswear offers a venue where one can obtain a feeling of aesthetic accomplishment. Self-actualization embodies the idea that "what a man can be, he must be." And he must be well-dressed.

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