A Thousand Ways Of Doing It Wrong

People have wondered why the otherwise mostly naked apes retained so much hair on their heads; one common explanation is sunstroke prevention. This may be barking up the wrong savannah tree; we may possess a head of hair solely in order that we may demonstrate our biological superiority or inferiority by grooming it well or badly. The name of the sexual-selection game is to create as many barriers as possible that can only be vaulted by the best specimen. The modern dating ritual, as taught to the hoi polloi by shows such as Sex and the City, is not about enjoying the other person’s company, but by asserting one’s own social status by setting one’s companion a series of style tests and (until you get desperate) judging them to have failed.

If hair is nature’s method of identifying and weeding out the losers, the cultural inventions of clothes and fashion take the game to unparalleled levels of complexity. If there are a dozen different ways to wear the hair badly, there are a thousand possible wrong ways to dress, and so a thousand men who can be abruptly eliminated from the contest. Just as the fullness and sheen of the hair is a clue to animal health and spirits, which suggests healthy offspring, so too the choice of clothing is a clue to social savvy, which in turn suggests the ability to acquire status and wealth. Passing over a potential computer billionaire because he wears socks with his sandals is therefore an acceptable risk.

Posted on May 6, 2011 at 10:51 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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