Deliberate Dressing

 

If one is to consider the frivolity of clothes, then consider we live our livesin clothes” Keenan, 2001

 

Ajax Lee
Photo credit: Ajax Lee

 

Who remembers those little paper dolls with the tab clothes? They would come in a book and you would cut or pop them out and fold the little paper tabs over their shoulders and around their impossibly tiny waists to make sure your carefully crafted ensemble was befitting your dolls plans for the day and their mood. We used to take so much time and care, considering and choosing what the doll should wear that day; tennis skirt perhaps if she was feeling in a sporty mood, or glittery party dress if she was feeling a little showy and ostentatious that day, (those who are too young to remember paper dolls 1) I envy you 2) Google it 3) Insert Barbie/ Ken/ or Bratz equivalent.)

How many of us can say that we take as much time, care and consideration with our own dressing on a day-to-day basis, not just when we’re going “out, out”? Granted, as adults we don’t have as much free time as we had as kids for such frivolous things (no judgment if you still like to dress dolls) or to ponder life’s big questions e.g. If Sabrina can cast spells, why does she still do her own homework? But I want to think with you for a moment, and question, is taking time to consider what we put on our bodies to face the day ahead really frivolous?

How many of us have gotten dressed in the morning, pulling and dragging on the first moderately decent clean thing we find and running out of the door or have had the experience of being out somewhere and wearing an outfit or item, that didn’t quite fit, or you didn’t feel wholly comfortable in? How did you feel? Compare that to how you feel when you have worn something you are happy, comfortable, and feel good in.

 

Pile of clothes

 

Whether you think yourself a fashionista or not what differentiates us from other species (as well as having Netflix) is that we dress. It is something, unless you’re a nudist, that we can’t avoid. So why not positively engage with dress and take charge.

I say over and over again, how we feel affects what we wear, and what we wear affects how we feel. If we continuously wear things we’re not comfortable or confident in, it can impact on our mood, self-esteem and ultimately our well-being. When we dress carelessly, it sends out a message of lack of self-care to the world and more importantly promotes feelings of being uncared for within ourselves. How many times have you said or heard a person say, “I just don’t have time to dress like I used to” or “I have more important things to do/worry about”. But we are important, and few moments aren’t going to hurt or take away from anyone. In psychological terms wearing clothes, you are happy in can promote something called hedonic well-being or hedonic happiness, also known as the feel-good factor. It’s the same little buzz of happiness you get, if you’re anything like me, from eating a slice (or two) of your favourite cake or watching a good movie (Magic Mike 2 anyone).

 

By all means, this DOES NOT MEAN spending hours getting ready each day, unthinkingly following all the latest trends (I’m sorry, I just can’t get on board with this dad trainer trend) or maxing out your credit cards to buy a new wardrobe. But just take a few moments in the morning to consider yourself, check in with yourself, and ask, “what do I WANT to wear today?” Dress for your day. Dress deliberately.

 

Suggested reading

Hefferon, K. (2013). Positive psychology and the body: The somatopsychic side to flourishing. Maidenhead, United Kingdom: Open University Press.

The Importance of Sartorial Armour

Last Monday I had the privilege of speaking at The Dragon Café’s  Mental Fight Club, as part of their Festival of Freud. I’ll be honest, when I was first approached at the Fashion and Psychoanalysis conference last month, I did not see it as a privilege; a great opportunity yes, but I hadn’t considered what I might also learn from the experience.

The Dragon Café is a creative space in Southwark where issues around mental illness are explored through exhibitions and performances, seminars and workshops, and generally by coming together.  I was there to do an interactive talk on the link between clothes, personal style, and wellbeing.

My first question to the audience was, “what does personal style mean to you?” Calls of “Identity!”, “Individuality!”, “Comfort!”, “Tribe!”, and “Armour!” rang out.

My second question to the audience was, “Can you tell me of a time when you wore something that made you feel a certain way, or an item of clothing/outfit that evokes a particular memory?” I had expected replies telling stories of wedding dresses or outfits from childhood (I still remember my Teenage Ninja Turtles sweatshirt), but what I heard was less about the presence of outfits and choices, but the absence.

“When I was sectioned I was kept in the same outfit I came in, for 6 weeks” Just let that sink in. I was humbled into silence by the power of what had been shared. He went on to explain, “when I came into the ward I was in a bad way, obviously. But I felt because I was wearing the same clothes, that when they looked at me they saw the person I was when I arrived.” Clothing can be a reflection of mood, of seasons, of occasion, it speaks of temporality, and for this gentleman his state had been visually frozen in time. Although he felt his health had improved, he felt this could not be seen while he still wore the uniform of one of his lowest moments.

More tales came of being incarcerated and the clothes people found themselves reaching for upon their release, wanting to confer status, and relatedness to those they used to associate with. Tales of “greens”, referring to the green cotton trousers and tops inpatients are given to wear in mental health facilities and the loss of identity that follows as they become just one of the many “greens”.

I don’t think I need to over explain the power of these stories and what they highlight of the integral link between our personal style, sense of self and wellbeing. This is fashion psychology in everyday life.