Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.
“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?
Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.
Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.
Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.
Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.
First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.
Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.
In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.