Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
(Hamlet, Act I, sc. 3.)
This quotation from Shakespeare is part of a father’s advice. to his son on dress, tendered on the eve of the latter’s departure from home for his University. What the father wants to bring home to his son is that a man is often judged by the clothes he wears and therefore, one should be careful in the choice of his clothes. One’s dress may be costly, but not gaudy, because one who dresses gaudily is: more often a fop or a dandy than a man of culture and refinement.
There is a good deal of truth in this observation. The apparel does proclaim the man quite often. Various people are easily known by their dress. The policeman, the soldier, the sailor, the lawyer, the workman-all put on a particular dress and can be easily spotted. Clothes reveal one’s profession and station.
Quite often one’s clothes reveal one’s character in addition to profession and position in life. One who dresses neatly and decently is quite often a decent man-a man with a certain amount of taste in dress. On the contrary, a man who dresses dirtily and carelessly may have an unclean mind. Dandies dress foppishly and frivolously to attract attention and are often vain fellows who seek to cut a figure by their ostentation.
Although one’s dress quite often reveals one’s profession; station, character or habits, yet the saying is only a half-truth. There are some who are past masters in the art of dissimulation and they dress to impress others. That is why sometimes appearances are deceptive’ and things are seldom what they seem. One cannot always judge from clothes. The dress does not make the monk’ and although one can befool some people by one’s dress for some time, one cannot befool all the people all the time. Truth will out. Mahatma Gadhi’s loin-cloth was no index of the greatness of the man. A chance bystander who did not know him might think of him as a semi civilised fellow, but his loin-cloth was no of greatness of the man. A chance bystander who did not know him might think of him a semi civilised fellow, but his loin-cloth was no indication of his real greatness. In the same way gay garments do not make a ‘gentleman’.
Suited, booted, stick in hand
A dog behind the gentleman
This is not the portrait of a real gentleman, because gentlemanliness is not confined merely to fine clothes and other paraphernalia mentioned in the verse. One may be shabbily dressed and yet be a true gentleman. Beggarly clothes do not always indicate a beggar just as rich clothes do not make a rich man. Thus we see that apparel does not always proclaim the man though sometimes it does. One’s soul may or may not be in one’s clothes.