- The advice of old Polonius.
- A uniform tells us of what profession a man is.
- Clothes tell us something of the character and position of the wearer.
- But often Appearances are deceitful.
These words come in the parting advice to his son, Laertes, given by the pompous and fussy Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain in “Hamlet”. On dress he says:
“Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy
But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”
That is, Dress well and expensively, but soberly; and avoid the flashy and showy fashions of fops and dandies; for a man is often known by the clothes he wears. Wear the sort of dress that will show you to be a cultured and refined gentleman. – The most obvious illustration of this saying is the wearing of uniform. You can tell whether a man is a soldier, a sailor, a policeman, or a railway guard, by the uniform be wears. You know a judge by his large wig and ample robes, a lawyer by his black gown, a professor by his gown and cap and hood. But all that such uniforms tell us is the profession of the wearer.
They do not tell us what sort of man they are in character. All the privates in one regiment are dressed exactly alike, but they are very different men.
We can, however, often learn something of men’s character and habits from the clothes they wear. A man whose clothes are always clean and well-brushed is a man of neat and tidy habits; whereas dirty or torn clothes tell us that the wearer is habitually careless and slovenly. Clothes, too, will often indicate the social position of the wearer; for one who is always dressed in the height of fashion is probably well-off and a gentleman; while one in an old shabby suit; or in a rag, is probably poor and even a beggar.
But all this does not carry us far. You will notice that Shakespeare says oft, not always: “The apparel ost proclaims the man.” He knew men too well to think that one always judges a man by his clothes. And there are proverbs that contradict his saying; for example. “Appearances are deceitful.” The outward appearance, the apparel a man wears, often conceals rather than reveals the man. Many a vulgar, ill-bred man is dressed like a gentleman; and many a cultured and learned gentleman is shabbily dressed. Remember these other two proverbs: “Fine clothes do not make a gentleman,” and “Handsome is that handsome does.”