Wear More Of What Makes You Happy
Author: Jo Bunner
I had the pleasure of meeting Image Consultant Jo at one of our pop-up parties last October in Hove and was instantly taken by her positive, empowering approach to style. We have kept in touch ever since, and when she sent me this article I was blown away. Mental health is something very close to my heart, so it was refreshing to read an article that really supports the belief that fashion and, more importantly, style, really can have a positive impact on your psychological health (if you ever need another excuse to go shopping!).
Seinfeld episode, Jerry to George:
“You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”
Low-esteem clothes – who hasn’t got a set or two of these? Those you don when you’re feeling a bit low, down on yourself, not happy – the jogging bottoms, baggy tops that hide and neutralise you.
But this can also be a sign of depression. Not bothering about personal appearance: clothes, hygiene, grooming etc. are just some of the first things to be affected as the person stops caring. Interestingly a survey of 100 women found that more than 50% reach for jeans when depressed and 57% wear a baggy top (whilst just 2% would wear one when happy). These are clothes to hide behind. And when you look at yourself in the mirror wearing these clothes, you lower your mood still further which can negatively affect your interactions with others.
“…the link between clothes and mood is so strong that we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a doctor or therapist one day prescribing an outfit rather than a pill to combat feelings of depression!” Karen Pine
Yet most of us completely underestimate the power and importance of clothes. The media grind has reduced clothes – particularly fashionable clothing - to something commonly perceived as vanity, a bit vacuous, lightweight, indulgent. And though we rebel, the pressure is on: ‘must haves’ of the season (what season, our fast fashion obsession has almost reduced this four seasons in one day), ‘shop the look‘, ‘key trends’, ‘wardrobe essentials’, etc. etc. bombard us from every angle whether online, TV or magazines.
Get it ‘wrong’ and we are made to feel we are wrong, wanting in some way, self-conscious and vulnerable – whatever our age and experience. It takes quite a lot of confidence to consciously and comfortably stand away from the fashion crowd. I am using the term ‘fashion’ here in much the same way as Oscar Wilde: ‘fashion is a form of ugliness so unbearable that we have to alter it every 6 months’ (and for 6 months, read 2 weeks now).
Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes and I appreciate fashion; I originally trained and worked in the fashion industry as a Designer/Pattern Cutter so had to keep up with, and interpret the trends of the season. But this was when there were just 2 fashion seasons: Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer. With clear trends for each, you kind of knew where you were with it all.
Paradoxically it’s easier now in many ways to buck the trend. Go into a store at the beginning of a new season and you can forget worrying about key looks; everything is on trend despite what the magazines might say – colours, shapes, patterns, and if not now, then it will be next week.
To hijack a term used in evolutionary biology, we are seeing the ‘Red Queen effect’. Derived from the character in Alice in Wonderland, who said “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place” it refers to all individuals who must keep adapting and changing in the face of external pressures to keep ahead of the game. So why do we beat ourselves up trying to keep up with it all?
To draw from evolutionary biology once again, we humans are a social species and it is instinctual that we want to fit in, have that feeling of belongingness to be seen and accepted as part of a group, whatever that group may be. And clothing is the most obvious way we can show this allegiance – all without saying a word.
What I do think is that many of us get so hung up about trends and fashion that we lose some of our sense of self. I believe clothes are fundamental to how we feel about ourselves and when we do get it ‘wrong’ – maybe by wearing trends, styles and fashions that don’t suit us – this is often more because they don’t suit the internal us rather than just the physical us.
For example, my body shape can wear strictly tailored suits, neat skirts to knee length and heels that will always elongate and slim my legs. And although people would say it looks good (and I can acknowledge this in the mirror), I feel wrong; uncomfortable in myself and somehow not ‘me’. And if I don’t feel like ‘me’ then I also feel more self-conscious and aware that people meeting me in this garb will get a misleading impression of who I am.
For clothes are not just about covering our dignity, nor are they only about belonging, they are also a reflection of our inner selves. I advocate and guide people in discovering this inner style; the one that sets us apart from everyone else because it is a style as personal and unique as ourselves. Because despite the pressures to conform to a fashion or look, we all also want to stand out from the crowd.
A small change or tweak in our clothes can have ripple effect on our lives; as they have the power to transform not only outer public image but also our personal inner image – changing the way we think, behave and by extension effect a change in how others treat and perceive us.
For example, there is something in Psychology called the Stroop effect which tests the reaction time of naming colours written in different colour fonts to the actual colour. This test was used with participants dressed in normal clothing and repeated when dressed in a lab coat. The results showed a significantly better performance when the people were dressed in a lab coat. Termed ‘enclothed cognition’, this revealed that by simply donning the lab coat – an item associated with scientists, doctors etc. - the wearer felt and so performed better.
Similarly, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the Superwoman pose, but pop on a Superhero t-shirt and you actually perceive yourself to be significantly stronger and more powerful than in a plain t-shirt. OK, so this may not be suitable attire for the office, but there’s always Superhero pants…..
When we tune into how clothes make us feel rather than just look, a whole new dimension opens up because not only can we change our clothes to suit – or change - our mood, we also begin to wear more of what makes us happy. And that can only be a good thing.
About the author:
The Good Clothes Philosophy - Style for Life
Jo Bunner, Your Alternative Image Consultant
Jo guides people in the discovery of their Clothes Confidence. She believes our clothes should be amongst our best friends - ones you can buy! - supporting us in looking and feeling our best every day.
Through a variety of image and style services, ranging from Personal Colour Analysis to Personal Shopping, Jo specialises in empowering transgender and menopausal women with the tools they need to build and develop their wardrobe, connecting them to the pleasure and confidence great clothes can give.
Jo has well over a decade of experience working in the fashion industry, as a Fashion Designer, Pattern cutter, managing a charity shop (specialising in vintage) and now as a qualified Personal Image Consultant. She is a champion of Slow Fashion: a slower turnover, lower volume and better quality fashion industry where people and the environment take centre stage over retailer profits. A donation to War on Want's 'Love Fashion - Hate Sweatshops' Campaign is made for every service or event booked.