Declining standard of officers’ conduct has been a cause for concern for the past few years. Occurrence of numerous incidents of un-officer like behaviour has caused considerable disquiet.
Unless officers are made to dress like gentlemen, they cannot be expected to behave like gentlemen.
A number of papers have been published by experts to identify reasons for this ominous trend. India’s premier think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis devoted its issue of April 2013 of the Journal of Defence Studies to this subject. The Army Training Command has chosen ‘Back to Basics – Need of the Hour’ to be the main theme of the next issue of its journal. It wants to generate discussion on the measures that can be taken to arrest the decline.
Whereas most observers blame the influence of changing socio-economic environment on officers’ psyche, others are of the view that increasing aspirations of the officers have impacted the old concept of ‘gentleman-officer’.
Unfortunately, in this pursuit to discover underlying reasons through complex scientific studies, a very obvious causal factor is being completely overlooked, i.e. increasing dilution of the importance of turnout in the services. The term turnout describes the manner in which a person dresses and presents himself. ‘Shabby turnout produces shabby behaviour’ is an old military dictum.
Behaviour is defined as the way in which an individual behaves or acts or conducts himself. It is influenced, inter alia, by psychological dynamics, and, clothing/dress is considered to be an important psychological trigger. That is the reason why dress code has always been an essential part of the services culture.
It will be in order to recall an incident that happened at a major training academy a few years ago. Conduct of the officers at a social function was found to be highly unacceptable. A group of inebriated officers threw beer bottles in the swimming pool and monopolised the dance floor with whiskey glasses in hands. Fearing misbehaviour, all ladies walked off the dance floor.
…clothing has a huge influence on others’ perceptions. People judge and respond to others by the way they look and dress. That, in turn, impacts wearers’ psychology as well.
Expectedly, the Commandant was distraught. Although not all his staff officers agreed with him, he felt that casual dress allowed for the function was one of the main contributory factors. He prescribed shirt and tie for the next social get-together. A distinct improvement in the general behaviour was discernible.
Convinced of his inference that dress influenced the behaviour of the officers, the Commandant mandated lounge suit/mess dress for all social events. He never had to face any embarrassing spectacle thereafter. Even the New Year party, which used to degenerate into an ugly mayhem earlier, remained a dignified affair.
The above episode has been recounted to highlight the fact that dress exerts profound psychological and behavioural influences on the wearers. Researchers call the process as ‘enclothed cognition’.
Behaviour which is not in line with the expectations of how one should behave when wearing a particular dress creates a psychological conflict called cognitive dissonance. Without being aware of it, people attempt to relieve the conflict by modifying their behaviour to match their dress. Resultantly, their behaviour remains in consonance with the expected norms.
Clothes Make the Man
Mark Twain’s often quoted statement that ‘clothes make the man’ applies in two ways. One, an appropriately dressed individual takes pride in his appearance. It makes him feel good and boosts his self-confidence; which reflects in his attitude, demeanour and job performance.
Many civilian professionals work from home on certain days. Although they know that that they are not being seen by the other participants, they dress up appropriately before attending an important conference call.
Two, clothing has a huge influence on others’ perceptions. People judge and respond to others by the way they look and dress. That, in turn, impacts wearers’ psychology as well. It makes them strive to come up to the people’s expectations through appropriate behaviour.
Studies carried out by Adam D. Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University showed that clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state. Further, it proved that clothing not only sends a certain message to humans, but can also affect how they feel about themselves and how they perform certain tasks.
As per a study reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, students who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat showed a heightened sense of attention than students who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat. It reality, both were wearing the same coat. The influence came from the symbolic interpretation of the article of clothing, i.e. ‘physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention’. Resultantly, wearing a laboratory coat increased selective attention.
Many civilian professionals work from home on certain days. Although they know that that they are not being seen by the other participants, they dress up appropriately before attending an important conference call. They admit that their dress impacts their response and makes them get into the correct frame of mind to discuss serious professional issues.
The Services and the Turnout
Realising the importance of impact of turnout on human psychology, the services have always laid a great deal of stress on prescribing dresses to suit different occasions and requirements. Different dresses evoke diverse feelings, have associated nuances of the norms of conduct and are suggestive of the manner in which a wearer is expected to act. Whereas uniform makes an officer feel like a disciplined leader, combat dress prepares him mentally for physical activity. In other words, dress makes an officer get into the necessary frame of mind and prepares him to perform the required role.
Neglect of the dress code has impacted the psyche of the officers adversely. They have stopped taking pride in their appearance.
Earlier, turnout was considered an critical necessity for earning the respect of the troops. All officers were expected to be appropriately turned out at all times as it was felt that outward appearance, both in formal and informal interactions, impacted the environment considerably. Therefore, formal dresses were specified for social functions as well. Entering an officers’ mess without lounge suit was considered a sacrilege. Even the services institutes followed the dress codes strictly – officers were not allowed to enter without full sleeves shirt and tie.
Over a period of time, formal attire has given way to ‘relaxed casuals’. Today, open collar shirt has become the normal dress for the messes. Service institutes even allow tee-shirts. Dress code has lost the importance that it enjoyed earlier.
Neglect of the dress code has impacted the psyche of the officers adversely. They have stopped taking pride in their appearance. Under the garb of wearing casual clothes, they dress shabbily. It is distressing to see officers visiting canteens and other facilities unshaven and wearing sloppy footwear. Resultantly, such officers tend to behave in an unbecoming manner.
It is understandable that norms and views undergo change with time. However, it should not be done at the cost of the services culture. It is hard to digest the logic that officers cannot relax and enjoy if dressed in lounge suits. Whereas adjustments must be made to cater for climatic conditions, a certain degree of moderation must be exercised. Swinging from one extremity to another is not judicious.
Lesser importance assigned to the dress code is certainly one of the contributory factors for the deteriorating standard of behaviour of some members of the officer cadre. Unless officers are made to dress like gentlemen, they cannot be expected to behave like gentlemen. ‘You are what you wear’ is an old saying.