Boots can say a lot about a person. Are they work boots or a fashion statement? Steel-toed or spiked heeled? Are they labeled with a recognizable name or sprinkled with sparkles and glitter? Are they boots to warm against bitter weather or to warn of battering potential? “These boots are made for walkin’,” sang Nancy Sinatra in 1966, “and one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!”
A suit speaks volumes as well. People in suits usually mean business. To don a suit is to submit to some serious occasion such as a wedding or a funeral. Anyone who owns more than one has the means that many of the world do not. My parents gave me a suit as I neared graduation from seminary saying they thought it would help with interviewing. It was a soft dusty rose color with a skirt slit above the knee. It hung in the closet for the most part.
And then there are power ties. Or, in the interest of gender equality, power lipstick. Bright red. Strong, spot-you-across-the-room red. Stand back, stand aside, stand down in-your-face kind of red. See-me-and-cower, take-note-of-my-power red. For centuries, the color has signaled aggression, domination, confidence, bravado. Do we ever see images of bullfighters with pale yellow capes?
Boots and suits and power ties. Rather silly, isn’t it? What we make out of clothing and accessories. But we do, and we do it with more than wardrobes. Vehicles. Diplomas. Titles. Positions. We believe that people who possess certain things also possess a power that must surely come with them. Yet we discover over and over again that education does not prevent dementia. Big bank accounts cannot acquire immortality. Elected officials do not walk around in temptation-proof bubbles. Symbols of perceived power and so-called status crack and tarnish with time. Yet it can be hugely challenging to break with tradition and to wriggle free of all the cultural trappings around us.
But then there’s the squishy ingredient of relationship. How are we hoping to relate to (and be related to by) the person sporting well-polished dress boots and a neatly pressed suit? Are we looking for the person with the power tie/power lipstick to exercise some sort of power on our behalf rather than over us? Do we long for those with perceived power and so-called status to actually know us and not merely use us? Maybe the point to hold on to is that boots and suits and power ties won’t ultimately make a lick of difference worn by someone with a rotten heart.