Fashion Psychology 101 - In Closet Diagnosis
Hello and welcome back to Id and Ego, the psychology blog for psychology nerds.
This week: fashion psychology.
Searching for my blog topics from week to week I have found that while some weeks I find an article and it’s like love at first sight - right away I know it’s the one. Other weeks are slow, the choice is difficult, and I need to really pull and prod a topic out of my findings. This week, it’s the former. I ran across an article from a Canadian magazine called MacLean’s about a CLOTHES psychologist, touching on my love of fashion, psychology, and the slightly strange, united into one perfect subject. :)
The woman described in the article, Jennifer Baumgartner, specializes in “wardrobe analysis.” She charges patients $150 an hour for in-closet consultations, in which she identifies the underlying emotional issues made evident by their clothing choices. According to her, fashions faux pas are not just accidents. In her new book, You are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You, she explains, “Most wardrobe mistakes have nothing to do with clothes but are almost always a symptom of some deeper issue,”
To naysayers who think the whole idea sounds a little silly, she rebuffs, “All of our behaviours, from the food we eat to the men we date, are motivated by internal factors. Why is it any different with the clothes we buy and the way we buy them? All you need to do is track your shopping habits, or note the styles in your wardrobe to identify the patterns….It is then that you can make real change, and find a wardrobe to match the new and improved you.”
Here are four of the most common issues she works on with patients. I call them “the closet dysmorphic,” “the neutral perfectionist,” “the eternal teen,” and “the sexpot.”
The Closet Dysmorphic
Symptom: A closet with clothes that are much larger than they ought to be.
Cause: Negative body image. These patients select clothes for the body they THINK they have. One example Baumgartner gives is a patient she calls “Ricki” who admitted she felt like a “big ugly whale of a woman.” But it wasn’t so.
“No one would have known that hidden within the folds of Ricki’s pants was a figure worthy of Marilyn Monroe!” Though their work together, Ricki realized she began feeling this way after the birth of her first child.
Solution: Baumgartner explains two of the exercises she used to help break Ricki of her negative self image.
In order to show Ricki that people really didn’t care to judge her body, she had her dress in a tight-fitting tank top and pair of jeans and come with her to the mall. She didn’t love it, it felt uncomfortable, but she made it and no one laughed or pointed or seemed to notice.
In order to empower and help Ricki build self-confidence, she had her list all the negative things that worried her about what people might say or think, and then she gave her a chance to retaliate against them. “… I sat across from her and, in the best mean girl voice I could muster, I called her every name on the list.” In response, Ricki said things like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Finally, they bought Ricki a new, properly sized wardrobe to show off the curves she was proud of but hide the stomach she didn’t like – a wardrobe that made her feel good about her shape.
The Neutral Perfectionist
Symptom: A closet of clothes in which brown, beige, tan, gray, black, white rule, and the most exciting color is navy.
Cause: A tendency towards perfectionism makes the patient afraid of making a fashion mistake, so they stick to the safe neutral ground. They don’t want to stand out. They are afraid they won’t fit in or be accepted.
Solution: Patients like this need to build their confidence by learning about fashion - which colors work well together, which styles will flatter their shape, ect… They also need to define their personal tastes and incorporate that into the wardrobe. The patient could simply add some fun accessories at first.
The Eternal Teen
Symptom: A closet of clothes better suited for a teenager than a full grown adult.
Cause: The patient is uncomfortable with and resists responsibility and adulthood. They may be yearning for teenhood or may have unresolved issues from their teen years. An example Baumgartner gives is a patient named “Frances,” a 48 year old mother who wore a pink terry cloth jumpsuit with “Girl Power” written in black rhinestones across her butt.
Solution: In Frances’ case, the problem was specifically with her role as a mother. She was being a friend rather than a parent to her daughters. With this being the case, Baumgartner had her working on parenting exercises. To quit dressing as her subconscious told her, she needed to define empowering adult goals – a dream job, for example – and dress for that!
Symptom: A closet of clothes that is too revealing or snug.
Cause: Insecurity. Undervaluing self. A need for attention caused by previous neglect or rejection. The patient may subconsciously believe that their body and physicality is all they are worth.
Solution: Dressing sexy is okay to do occasionally, but dressing this way too often prevents others from taking them seriously.These patients need to identify where their insecurity stems from and work to let past hurts go. They need to identify areas of pride and cultivate them. When they dress or shop for clothes, they should consider the image they want to project, given the environment they’ll be in.