A bunch of studies have been done to experiment with the idea that the clothes make the man and they are beyond interesting. People’s math scores go down when they wear swim suits. People’s reaction times go up when wearing apparel of people associated with fast reaction times (probably people from the sports). And when people wear lab coats specifically designated to the subject as a “doctor’s coat,” priming the subject to begin associating “doctor,” and all that this entails (like intelligence), they got higher scores on tests of intellect.
It’s pretty crazy.
It makes military uniforms make more sense, right? If you’re putting on something that you’ve been primed to think a certain way about (in this case, that it’s the uniform of a warrior), wouldn’t it stand to reason that you would behave more like the image in your mind?
Anyway, it’s very interesting and I took the next logical leap and thought about rock stars and figured maybe this is why they all look ridiculous. Like hobo pirates who plundered a leather store’s clearance rack.
Or why jazz musicians always look so professional. They’ve got to convey seriousness and maturity for their audiences who could be at a rock show right now.
This isn’t exactly a new idea, the whole dressing the part thing. Even Batman covered it in the Knightfall storyline where Bruce Wayne admits that putting on the batsuit makes something inside him click.
And, when you think about it, it could be pretty handy for at least one reason: stage confidence.
James Earl Jones had a debilitating stutter until a teacher figured out that he never stuttered when reciting poetry because Jones knew that the poet didn’t stutter so neither would he during recitations. Then his class was assigned to write poems and Jones was called on by the instructor to read his out loud (it was about grapefruit) and then said that the poet who wrote that poem didn’t stutter and it clicked for Jones. He could build a personality that didn’t stutter.
Carey Grant did something similar while making his suave personality.
So it isn’t new, but clothes help. So if you, say, have stage fright something awful, you can throw on your mom’s bracelets and a scarf, put on sunglasses and leather pants, and then stomp your rockstar self onto the stage in your massive boots and rock out secure in the knowledge that you are under a different set of armor than anything you’ve ever worn before.
It wouldn’t stop at clothes, though. John 5, famous lover of Telecasters, said that when he auditions for groups, he thinks about what to wear and what to play to best fit in with the group. The goal is never to be 100% yourself because that might not mix and you might not get the gig, but something like yourself in the confines of the wardrobe, tone, and look of the group would get you the gig! Or at least closer to getting the gig. He said he would absolutely bring a Les Paul and wear ripped jeans (or similar) to audition for Guns N Roses.
That interview is super old, but I’ve always remembered it because it made the guitar a specific tool (or accessory, depending on how you look at it) and the myth of a great player’s Number One Guitar doesn’t fit with it.
Which is fine with me. For all the love that the Number One Guitar gets, it’s fun to play more than one guitar.
But consider it from a different angle: within the last few years an internet thread popped up asking if playing a Selmer-style acoustic for gypsy jazz is just “playing dress-up.” A guitar is a guitar and, while a Selmer-style is the only one that can NAIL the gypsy jazz tone, there’s certainly nothing saying you can’t play it on any other guitar.
Some responded that it was, but with a lot of justifications and rationalizations that would make them innocent and steer them clear of the “poser,” category.
It was interesting. Given the means, I would absolutely have a Selmer-style guitar for jazzy stuff because I would know that gypsy jazz could potentially be played on it. I’ve seen amazing players play amazing things on that style of guitar so I know it’s possible, even if it’s just me playing a hack rendition of “It’s Only A Paper Moon.”
But honestly, I think this extends to just about every guitar out there and especially signature guitars. I think to the players that buy them, they’re not only buying the coolest merch from the band that they love, but they’re buying a psychological leg-up – the knowledge that if their favorite player helped make this guitar, then it’s possible to play as good as their favorite player on this specific guitar.
Now look: I know it’s all about practice. There’s no getting around it. I think that the proclivity of gear-buying has a direct correlation to people trying to buy skill outright. But I also think this is harmless fun and, if it inspires someone to play more, it’s beneficial.
It’s also not that illogical. Did you start out playing a good guitar? The first guitar I ever played was a 90’s Harmony that had strings that were years old and action that would sharp a note two whole steps before even touching the fret. It was garbage. But, because it was garbage, I could always say that it was the guitar, not me, that was holding me back.
If I had… well, one of my main guitar heroes back when I started playing was still Adam Jones… but if I had a 1979 Gibson Les Paul Custom in Silverburst, I wouldn’t have that excuse, would I? Jones, his playing, his success, and everything that draws me to him as a player is pushed through this guitar and if one person can do it, so could someone else if they put in the time and effort – the only things that aren’t taken care of by having such a great guitar. But at that point, I would be robbed of the excuse that the guitar isn’t up to snuff. I would have to admit that if there’s anything holding me back, it’s myself but at the same time, I’m free from having to worry about my gear now and can focus on my practicing, secure in the knowledge that my end goal is more realistic because at least one human has already done it and he did it with this guitar.
All I’m saying is that people are too fast to derisively sneer at the idea of signature models or hero-worship or “posing.” We may have individual thoughts, outlooks, and philosophies, but they were all built on a base of posing and hero-worship. That’s how we learned to talk and act in public. That’s how we got through school. That’s how we learned to play and why we feel personally dissatisfied when we can’t play comfortably with our guitar as low as the ones in the posters we had on our walls as kids.
And if you extrapolate the studies that have been done with clothes to the guitar itself, I’m sure you would find evidence that playing specific types of guitars with specific types of music that you’ve been primed to associate will result in different playing.
Besides: it’s fun. And isn’t that what all this is supposed to be about?