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I have a long, complicated relationship with fashion. For most of my life, clothes were something I found little joy in. There’s a whole other post (or two or three) about that, but suffice to say, my own body issues and lack of confidence were reflected in my relationship with what I wore every day. As early as elementary school, I dressed to hide my body and to draw as little attention to myself as possible. When I got older, my confidence increased and so did my relationship with myself and my body. Fashion, something I always loved on other people, was something I could finally find some pleasure in.
Throughout my life, the times when I was the most unhappy, I cared the least about what I wore every day.
For me, clothing is as much a creative expression as anything else, like painting or writing. I tend to not do those things when I’m depressed or unhappy either. Lack of creative expression is both the catalyst to and result of unhappiness, so it creates a vicious cycle. That’s why I now realize I need that expression to feel good and to feel like myself.
Our society is strange. On one hand, we’re an image-obsessed, consumer culture. Clothing is the enduring status symbol, to a degree that is probably toxic–and certainly environmentally unsustainable. At the same time, we diminish the value of fashion, consider those who have an active interest in it “superficial” or “self-absorbed.” We actively chase something we simultaneously diminish and shame others for. I can’t tell you how many times, living in the midwest, I’ve heard your average housewife types disparage other women for daring to be being well-dressed or “trying too hard” with their appearances. Yet they are also the ones who will go and spend half their bank account to have the exact same Michael Kors tote bag all their friends have. Oh the irony.
Can’t we all just accept that clothing is something we all care about to some extent?
There’s a difference between caring about “trends” and caring about yourself. How you decorate your body is as much your choices as anything else you do with it. What a boring world it would be if every single person chose to wear the same things (or carry the same Michael Kors bag.) Not everyone has to care about fashion, but you should care about you enough to make sure what you’re wearing makes you feel good about yourself. If what makes you feel good is a Balmain dress, great. If it’s Birkenstocks and a trashbag, great.
What we look like on the outside is a reflection of how we feel on the inside. Our appearance, and our clothing, doesn’t have to please others, but it should please us. When I look in the mirror, I know the difference between Gwyne in sweatpants because I’m feeling like total crap about myself and life in general, and Gwyne in sweatpants because I’m feeling intentional about my comfort and relaxation. So, in the end, it’s never about the clothes. It’s what our clothes are telling us about what kind of headspace are we in.
The idea that the clothing we wear impacts us emotionally and psychologically is backed by science.
Researchers found when people wore hoods and capes, they were more likely to administer electric shocks to people. When they wore nurses’ outfits (without actually being nurses), they were more likely to act with empathy. (You can read the full study here.) Clothing, and the images and behaviors we associate with it, have a strong impact on how we behave and how we feel. You know that favorite outfit you always feel ultra-confident in? That feeling is like magic, and while we know the clothes aren’t literally magical, the feeling like we could conquer anything when we’re wearing them sure is.
We also know the opposite is true–that dressing down both lowers our mood and also is an indicator of depressive feelings. So while sitting around in our pajamas may be part of most people’s norms now if they’re stuck at home, it’s worth considering what impact it’s having on our mood and mental health.
Look, if you genuinely LOVE wearing your pajamas all day (I’m kind of there right now), then more power to you. But if you find yourself missing your dress routine, then it might be worth throwing on something cute, even if it’s just to go pick up carry out or sit around the house. I’ve seen some people having dressy Zoom cocktail parties, which I think is absolutely great.
Getting dressed is a routine, and routines are good for us.
Psychology has pretty much come to agree that routines are actually really important for our well-being. They give us something to hold onto when things are uncertain. They provide a sense of comfort and stability. I’m not a person who has ever been terribly regimented, and I hate having every moment of my day scheduled. But I find I miss getting dressed every day. Even if I have nowhere to go, putting on real clothes makes me feel a little more “normal” and a little more like myself.
In the end, all that matters is how you feel. If you’re in a funk, playing a little grown-up dress up might just help. Never underestimate the power of a good outfit!