Andy Warhol once said we would all get our fifteen minutes of fame, but it’s nice to be able to choose when they happen. There are other times when you’d much rather not attract any attention – and while you usually have to put some work in to achieve fame, achieving anonymity isn’t as easy as you’d expect, either.
In a crisis situation the last thing you want is to be noticed. Whether the threat is a mob of desperate looters, or the harassed cops and soldiers trying to crack down on them, it’s a lot better if it isn’t you they decide to take a closer look at. The solution is to be the gray man; the person who’s so unremarkable they just blend into the scenery and don’t attract a second glance. Here’s how to do it.
Home Sweet Anonymity
Let’s start with the basics. You don’t want your home to attract attention, so do everything you can to make it blend with the neighborhood. First, avoid displays of wealth – and that doesn’t just mean money. Try not to make it obvious that you’re prepared for a crisis; otherwise, as soon as a crisis comes along, it’s your home everyone’s going to head for. Generally, don’t make it obvious that you have things other people might want.
Don’t display flags, political posters or sports team banners. These all get noticed. Obviously there are exceptions – if everyone else in the street is flying a US flag, you should too. If nobody else is flying one, don’t. The sentiment is great, but it’s just something conspicuous that can attract attention.
If all your neighbors have well-maintained yards, put some regular work in on your own. If nobody’s painted their siding in ten years let your own get a bit faded, too. In general you don’t want your home to be the one everyone pauses at and thinks, “That’s unusual.”
In a SHTF situation this goes double. If the power is out, try to disguise the fact that you have a generator. This is a good argument for getting the quietest generator you can find (they’re also a lot less annoying to live with) but you also need to consider other signs that you have one. If your house is the only one with the lights on it’s going to be quite obvious that you’re prepared, so use blackout curtains on your windows and doors. That should keep people from noticing that you have power.
Related: Be Prepared For Unprepared People
A Nice Set of Wheels?
Your vehicle can give away a lot about you – and if it’s conspicuous, that’s going to make you conspicuous too. American contractors and government employees working overseas often stand out because they drive around in huge Suburbans, when a Land Cruiser or Toyota truck would be just as effective and a lot less visible.
Do everything you can to make your vehicle blend in. If all your neighbors keep theirs immaculate you should do the same – otherwise you’re the guy with the dirty truck that everyone’s talking about, and you’re not blending in. Highly visible modifications, or even your prized bumper sticker collection, will all attract attention too.
Check your vehicle for anything that makes it easy to identify you. Car parking passes should be kept in the glove box when you’re not using them, and don’t leave personal mail on the seats or dashboard – anyone looking in the window can read names and addresses from it.
Related: Top 5 Awesome Bug Out Vehicles You Can Actually Afford
Dress For Success
If you’re distinctively dressed that’s going to attract attention. Clothing and accessories are a key element in blending in.
The first thing you want to do is not look rich. If you’re wearing a chunky gold watch, or you’re festooned with the latest consumer electronics, people are going to assume you have a fair amount of cash in your wallet. Some of them will want to lighten your load.
Boldly styled or colored clothes also draw the eye, and should be avoided – unless that’s the local fashion. Look around at what other people are wearing and try to match it, at least in general effect. If possible dress for the sort of areas you’ll be spending time in, but if you can’t do that your best option is a neutral look. Luckily that isn’t hard to achieve.
Good colors for clothing are gray, beige and dark blue. These are all fairly neutral and don’t attract attention. A pair of khakis and a plain shirt are a flexible outfit. You can throw a blazer on top and be pretty inconspicuous in the business district, or wear a windbreaker and look more at home in a blue-collar area.
A hooded sweatshirt is an ideal garment – pick a gray one that doesn’t have any memorable logos on it. Solid color lightweight jackets are good too. You can easily add and remove layers like this to change your appearance quite a lot; putting a light-colored jacket over a dark shirt will transform you from any distance.
Try to match your clothes to the weather. Everyone will notice the guy out in the rain in a soaking shirt – and in the age of the suicide bomber, wearing a quilted jacket on a warm day will definitely attract attention.
Going back to electronics for a moment, if you’re trying to be inconspicuous don’t walk around with headphones on or your phone in your hand. You’re advertising that you have stuff worth stealing, and also that you’re not really paying attention to what’s going on around you.
Related: Camouflage and Concealment: The Art of Staying Hidden
Play the part
Look like you belong. Carry a local newspaper – even if you’re overseas, it’s in a foreign language and you can’t read it. A newspaper is a good prop. If you need to kill time, sitting in a café with a paper is very inconspicuous. Any coffee shop usually has a few people doing this, so you’ll disappear into the scenery.
Pay attention to what’s happening around you, and adjust what you’re doing so you fit in the flow of events. If everyone’s walking purposefully – think of a city street in the morning, as people head to work – don’t be the one loitering. If people are milling around looking at street stalls, do the same. If you need to be somewhere you can still make progress in that direction by drifting, apparently aimlessly, between stalls.
One person hanging out on their own tends to stand out, so if you can start a conversation with someone that’s excellent camouflage. Look for someone who’s as inconspicuous as you’re trying to be. It’s best to talk to someone of your own gender; if you’re a man, and start talking to a woman you don’t know, she may react badly – and that’s a guaranteed way to attract lots of attention you really don’t want.
Blending in really comes down to observing what the people around you are doing, then following their example as closely as possible. You don’t need to be a perfect mimic – just close enough that you don’t catch people’s attention. This is a lot harder if you’re overseas and your appearance is visibly different (in this situation try to look like a generic NGO worker is often a good idea – cargo pants, polo shirt and walking boots) but even then, doing the same things as everyone else will make you a lot less noticeable.
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