It amazes me the variations in responses or quality assistance my physical appearance provides. As a frequent solo blind traveler, friendly bystanders are instrumental to my success at navigating airports, hotels, restaurants, and the like. The following perceptions summarize my observations over the last couple of years.
If we look back at dress codes in America prior to the 1960’s, our physical appearance conveyed much information about economic class or profession. Back then popular media depicted a white male wearing what we now call business casual as daily wear. Similarly, females would have been portrayed in a dress with some form of pumps. Today, this is no longer the case, where we now witness celebrities receiving awards in simple jeans and a shirt, or few jobs requiring ties. Please take a moment and reflect on these questions:
Think about a time when you either discriminated or labeled a person on physical attire alone. If the individual wore a suit, would you view them the same way as a person in ripped jeans and a t-shirt? How would you approach each person? Would an outfit impact your motivation to help a disabled individual?
In an episode of Growing Up Fisher, Mel, a blind lawyer, discriminated against an individual after learning of a tattoo on the person’s face. The negative response towards the tattoo arose after Mel stated that he like the individual. Later in the episode, Mel experienced a different form of discrimination when an individual admitted to serving him free coffee out of pity related to blindness. The episode concluded with Mel reconciling with the tattooed character.
When I first started traveling regularly, I opted for comfort like a hoodie with jeans. This outfit pretty much describes the majority of males in my socio-economic status. Whether this enabled me to blend in or simply removed professional allure, I struggled to attract the Good Samaritan or a meaningful conversation while traveling. This experienced did not happen if I wore a hat or hoodie designating my Veteran status.
After a couple of trips, my wife and I discussed the differences we noticed in mannerism and clothing between the stereotypical American male and international travelers. Admiring those from other countries, we chose to change up the American look and adhere to the more formal look. I noticed immediately during my next trip, a significant increase in offers for assistance and meaningful conversations.
Uncertain whether to attribute the increase in offers for assistance to clothing or other force like aura, it seems that visual appeal contributes with engaging strangers. Simply stated, a professional look attracts more attention. Prior to this, I believed that a relax outfit would present feelings of openness and equality, thus increase in interactions with others. Unfortunately, this is just not true. I have repeated this little personal social experiment in airports, Greyhound bus stations, hotels, traveler stations, and numerous other locations with similar results.
Currently, business casual best describes my appearance. This includes some form of slacks or kakis matched with polo or dress shirt and a sweater or sports jacket. Accessories are few, like a coordinating satchel, cabbie hat, and my trusted Chris Park white cane.
Amusingly, a French woman approached me asking if I was French as well. She admitted her motivation to ask dealt with my attire resembling her father’s. It’s uncertain if this encounter would have occurred had my attire been different.