Cars are a type of clothing

In this post (one of my all time most popular posts on this site, who knows why…) I discussed the importance of dressing well. I personally don’t care about dressing well, but I conceded that it’s not as superficial as it might seem because as we know, there are occasions in which we demonstrate respect by the clothe we wear (think funeral) and this lesson can be transferred to larger more general domains of life. Dressing well might be a type of communication in which we show off who we are and even show respect to someone who invited us out on a date or to a party. When we show up to work in a tie we are respecting the enterprise we are engaged with.

Like everything though, this can be taken to an extreme and clothes can be used to dominate and overawe. It can also be a way to highlight class or status distinctions.

Overall though, that post was about me slowly shedding a prejudice concerning the way clothes operate in human interactions.

The other day though, I realized that cars are just big metal pieces of clothing. O, but they’re functional you say? But so are clothes, they protect us from the cold and hold our wallets and keys. And the analogy goes much deeper. What is a BMW except a large, well functioning polo shirt, and a mercedes might as well be thought of as a suit and tie. Honda civic? A favorite t-shirt. Hummer? Wife beater. A volvo (which I drive) fits in as a clunky but functional jacket.

With cars though, the charge of superficiality seems to be much easier to sustain, and the reason is that we don’t use our cars to interact in contexts where our respect can be demonstrated. I understand dressing up for a funeral and I could understand RENTING a suit for that occasion if one didn’t own the right stuff. But should I rent a nice car for a funeral and leave my volvo home out of respect. Of course not and the reason is that road driving is very utilitarian and not representative of any social institutions. We mainly just pass people by on the road without taking in their identity at all. Functionality also seems more important given that the goal is so utilitarian.

What this makes me believe is that owning a new car is, much more than a nice suit, a sign of narcissism or superficiality. There just is no reason not to have anything other than a reliable honda or toyota or volvo or whatever. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much all vanity after that.


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