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How to Suck at Finding a Sartorial-Self (Part 1)

And every morning when we rise to face the day we have to make a decision about what to wear. The two are interconnected. The selection of something to put on is not merely an aesthetic decision. It’s not just about what looks nice. It’s about what feels right, what suits our mood and how good it might make us feel.

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

Ever since I’ve finally acquired the well curated capsule wardrobe of less than 50 hero items composed of basic building blocks of a minimalist wardrobe, I thought naively to myself that I would have reached the culmination of the worldwide sought after perfect “french” wardrobe, the one that would give me so much satisfaction in getting up in the morning to put the “best” clothes on myself. For a few years I was rather content to be able to dress in a coveted effortless french chic way. But in truth, during the last couple of years as I stopped writing about style and preaching about the quest for attaining such bizarre perfection, I realized I was cruising through life on auto-pilot and became utterly uninspired and dissatisfied with my clothes and even with the basic act of self-dressing (Luckily for me my mind was put towards my career and finding inspiration in traveling in the meanwhile). There was one major flaw (there are in fact many but let’s just say one for now) that I identified in following the process of curating the minimalist wardrobe, can you guess what that is?

My answer from my own experience is that this process de-individuates the wearer of the minimalist wardrobe with the purpose to make you fade into the mass. If you are happy with this idea then stop reading here, but if you are like me someone who would like to question more on the benefits of this process, then feel free to read on. During this life changing process (in my opinion it was, as parting away from so many clothes which express different facets of my personality was a tipping point of no return), emotions are running high, so not only this process takes away the individuality, creativity, and emotional aspect but it does not account for any psychological effects left on the individuals and I have the regret to state the following; there was no happy ending or any facts to back up the benefits of this cruel brain washing automated system of culling and buying items that some style guides (I used to have some pertinent ones here & here) and self-proclaimed stylists/bloggers sold.

And then when I opened this blog, I had the intention to discuss self-reinvention instead of merely recycling boring ideas or concept already over marketed in the internet. In here, after aligning with some fellow girlfriends of the web, I am looking for deeper meanings in describing personal relationships with clothes beyond the frivolous visual aesthetics. I pledge to bring up other aspects such as the psychology of fashion and the science (YES!!) behind the way we choose clothes. I read Professor Karen Pine’s book Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, where she delves into the psychology of what you wear and reveals that clothes have mind-altering properties. She is a renowned psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire and co-founder of Do Something Different. Since you readers and I enjoy clothes so much almost in a neurotic way (for me at least haha), isn’t it a good time to talk about clothes more intelligently and in the process hoping to find happiness in the choice of our clothes. So where shall we start?

If you asked the average fashion designer whether they saw their clothes as having the capacity to influence people’s intellectual capabilities, they would probably look at you surprise. For them, it’s more about the look, even though what’s on the outside can reflect and change what’s on the inside. Perhaps because they design for models- who are really just blank canvases used primarily as clothes horses – the person within is easily forgotten.

Without a doubt the world of fashion is still primarily aesthetic and visual, rather than psychological. It comprises glamourous and beautifully styles images, rather than intellectual ideas.

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

First, have you like me ever asked yourself:

What your clothes say about you? Is finding your personal style an ever evolving process or a happy ending static moment in time (like after the well curated wardrobe creation)? Is finding your personal style related to a state of happiness and self-worth? If yes, how can our image really help with being happy? Or the other way around, when we feel grumpy and moody, do we dress ourselves in dark clothes to camouflage our bodies so we avoid getting too much attention on ourselves? Then how do we reconcile the state of mind, the body, the self-perception, and the clothes? Can fashion really be a sort of therapy treatment? Should we consult a personal style doctor when there is sickness in our sartorial soul? Why do some people consider clothing as a second skin. Isn’t it because it is an important topic to discuss rather than a mere frivolity? I also came across Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You book that self-care starts with self-discovery so can style truly reflect our personality effectively? If yes, then how do we cultivate a style that is creatively ours and singular? And lastly, how to NOT suck at finding a sartorial-self haha? Just for curiosity, is there such a thing as the 30’s life crisis because I feel like going through one??!

Your choice of attire has powerful feedback effects; it sends internal messages which can boost or dampen your mood and even alter your thought processes and capabilities.

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

So to show that clothes have the power to do something to you and how they make you feel; a study from Northwestern University examined a concept called “enclothed cognition.” Researchers define it in their report as “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.” The researchers distributed standard white lab coats to participants, telling some that it was a doctor’s coat and others that it was a painter’s smock. All participants performed the same task, but those wearing the “doctor’s coat” were more careful and attentive because their actions were influenced by their clothing.

With that in mind, find below a sort of visual style diary (almost feeling proud of myself for being able to document this by the way so I can now and in 10 years reflect upon it) I collected the past few months to better understand the power of my choice of clothes had on how I felt.

My Visual Style Diary 2017 Edition

After analyzing over these ootd images and even recollected visuals from 10 years ago, there was clear evidence that someone is stuck in some sartorial comfort zone and this could also signal a stalled frame of mind; but the truth is that my taste, body, mind and life change. Then, how do I explain that my style remains still and not evolving as I am ageing. Could this be due to a loss of confidence and the fear of taking risks? Is there a lack of transparency between the image I created of myself and what I truly feel? Am I afraid of standing out because of the choice of my clothes?

A failure to change and over-reliance on habits and routine may also signify that the person is stuck in a psychological rut, or in a relationship which has stagnated.

It seems that when life appears meaningless or stagnant, it’s easy to slip into a sartorial myopic wardrobe rut

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

Then with the attempt to resolve these internal conflicts projected onto a style rut, I want to address these questions: What if I could understand my appearance as a representation of my inner unresolved conflicts and then assemble a wardrobe to match the way I wish to be perceived and how I feel in the now. How do I describe my relationship with clothes in a more meaningful way using life experiences, growth, experiments even, learnings, cultural influences, financial behaviors, self-concept and body perception, peer pressures, environmental stressors, and others’ views on myself.

So I laid out some common threads from my wardrobe analysis, and I noted the following by observation:

  • A penchant for neutral palettes (navy, grey, black, beige, white, brown). Rational: obviously this pattern of color scheme means a sartorial safety zone
  • A coordination of outfits by pertinently using building blocks of a minimalist wardrobe: A trench, a white shirt, a white tee, a straight leg black trouser, a pair of blue jeans, a navy pea coat, a cashmere jumper, black ballet flats, a blazer, and a simple minimalist like structured bag. Rational: utilitarian approach for getting dressed quickly and for having a perception of appearing well put together.
  • A great comfort found in jeans and very soft jumper. Rational: Casual and Comfort! And when I’m depressed or just going to school or both!
  • A modest way of wearing clothes; I enjoy clothes that are oversized in shape and revealing just enough of flesh that I find appealingly sexy such as the wrist bone, the symmetry of the collar bones and the curvature of the ankles. Rational: slightly out of touch with femininity.
  • A gravitation towards gold details, bateau neck top and straight legs bottom. Rational: Personal choice, no justification!
  • An addiction of tailoring, I have way too many blazers and a personal tailor. Rational: Suited up = Power up! Structured clothes put us in the right frame of mind that of confidence and are shown to increase hormones needed to display dominance. But a sharp blazer, a formal clothing piece, is also known to be a protective professional looking armor which may in contrast signal a lack of confidence… hmmmm

Never allow yourself to get stuck in a style adopted at a particular age… You’ve changed, time has changed, and fashion has too. By all means carry on expressing your style, but never let that translate into boredom, a lack of interest in new trends, the absence of desire, clinging to habit and routine, fear of change or making a mistake- NON! Accept that you will get some things wrong. Everyone makes mistakes when they’re out shopping- take it as an (encouraging) sign that you still dream of reinventing yourself! For me, a loss of interest in dressing well and using make-up is a form of depression. Far from making radical changes, the Parisian knows how to evolve her style as she gets older.

– Parisian Chic, Inès de la Fressange

After having analyzed the pattern with creating my personal style, I further noted in my journal this list on evolution/growth/learning through experimenting or find the so called “happy clothes” space or “catalyzing cheerfulness” as Professor Pine calls it with the power to protect us against ever feeling miserable :

How one small item, a twist of tailoring, a splash of color or wardrobe tweak, can alter how we think, feel, and behave. And we’ll explore the  ripple effect that flows from this, the consequences it can have for our lives. – Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

  • I am recently giving it another stab at skirts and dresses but I identified that the length must be right at or below my knees because I dislike them and I find that they are the least flattering part of my body.
  • Interesting cuts in soft fabrics: a year ago I started exploring more feminine blouses mainly in silk. I think there is something quite sensual about the touch and feel of the fabric and the way it hangs and moves with my body. I really like the Pajamas’ style collar that stands out more than the classic version.
  • Enjoyed wearing heels more and more. I started off with the Camille block heels from Repetto and the Isabel Marant Dicker wooden stacked heels perhaps 5 or 6 years ago, then onto the 10 cm high Castañer espadrilles which I was then coined at the office to be “the tall girl who sits in the corner” and I find that flattering. I might keep up with getting higher and higher haha (I’m already a 1m72 so why limiting myself).
  • Lose it up! I used to feel so comfortable tying my hair up but lately I like to wear it down a bit whenever it behaves.
  • Casual fridays with slogan tees helped me a lot with socializing more with my colleagues. I looked more fun and approachable!
  • New color combinations (olive, cream, black and grey see picture above). Would love to explore more combining colors as maroon, and even light pink.
  • Mismatched items (leather jacket over a floaty dress, formal with informal, masculin with feminin) create a small nudge on my sartorial rut.
  • Anything that marks me out as an individual (colorful bandanas, the mirror lenses sunnies, a very large hat, red shoes, the printed scarves, the funky details on the belts). That explains probably why I finding myself most happy and overtly excited at music festivals with the way I dress… (here & here)
  • Loose clothing allows more freedom in the movements and I am super adventurous and energetic most of the time.
  • Natural fibers (linen, cotton, wool, silk) help me stay in touch with whatever is earthy and calms me down.

Simply breaking free from their usual wardrobe habits, experimenting a little, dressing more consciously and less automatically, improved their positive emotions and feelings about life in general.

How easy it is to reinvent oneself in a more positive guise, simply by changing one’s clothes. By donning one atipical, unsual, out of character item, you can, paradoxically, release your real inner identity.

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

Some failures I jogged down too but are good for learning and it’s ok to get it wrong sometimes:

  • Tried new colors (a red blouse) but it was a constant challenge to pull it off! I ended up wearing it twice the most so I gave up and it goes for sale (will post more on this soon!)
  • Bf and mom’s jeans, Never! It’s unflattering seeing that I have big hips so I am far from looking like the celebrated garçonne look. Just NO!
  • Too tight and ill fitted clothes. No need to develop here!
  • Anything too delicate worries me too much!!

We use these small positive actions, or Do’s, to provoke people into re-inventing the ways in which they wear the clothes they own. To remind them of how to put things together in new and inventive ways. To resurrect past loves and breath new life into them, It seems to breath new oxygen into their lives too. If you’ve been neglecting your sartorial soul maybe it’s time to reconnect with it? – Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

So have we reached a solution yet? Here is a summary…

Who doesn’t occasionally feel that their life is stuck in a rut? As humans we are designed to create routines and procedures, to automate much of our daily living and maintain a schedule that indicates a sense of comfort and reassuring security; the brain is very good at regular behaviors. The more we repeat a behavior, the more the neural pathway in the brain along which the signal has to travel gets used. And the more likely it is to be used next time. And because signals travel more easily along the those pathways, we are more likely to select them in the future. And so we become creatures of habit, well and truly stuck in a rut. The way out of the rut is to break habits, creating exciting new experiences. The brain may be a habit machine but it also like novelty. Its reward pathways are activated when presented with something new and unfamiliar, and that creates a sensation of pleasure. So if life is feeling more than a little monotonous, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are in a wardrobe rut too. Injecting some novelty into it could really spice things up.

– Mind What You Wear: the Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen J. Pine

I really enjoyed reading about dressing for pleasure and not out of routine or utility in one of my fav bloggers Lin, whose post is here. So you may find in this blog that my goal is to talk about minding what I wear and how it affects my inner self (how I feel in the moment and what I think of myself) as well as how I’d like to be perceived by others. I like to also do a better job at tracking shopping habits, making notes (mental and visual) on my style evolution and identifying a pattern like earlier. By the way did you know the top 3 reasons why we choose clothes the way we do: according to Prof. Pine’s research, top 3 goes to confidence, comfort, and self-expression. And surprisingly to look professional goes to #5. So you probably have read in other posts here and even in my old blog about french dressing (not the cliché ones here and here) about confidence and how the French get it and there is more to come 🙂

I also wanted to mention and thank someone truly inspiring to me in the past few weeks who is like minded, a beautiful woman of a certain age with so much wisdom to share but more importantly, I totally identify myself with her in being a bit rebellious and questioning the establishments. For the Frenchies, listen to her Podcasts called Chiffon where she interviews diverse personalities both famous as well a lambda person to discuss clothing and their personal relationship with clothes in an intelligent way but what’s more is that it’s totally hilarious and I am so hooked on it! Sorry it’s only in French… Merci mille fois Valérie Tribes!!! J’ai le courage d’écrire ce que je pense véritablement sans contrainte ni peur dans ce blog maintenant grâce a toi.

To be continued…

 

PS: I’m flying to Seoul, does anyone from Korea wants to meet and does anyone have any tips for me. Thanks in advanced!!!

4 comments

  1. Rosi

    Where are colors? You need color in your life. All of us need colors! I have a uniform: straight trousers or dark jeans and bottom shirts. But my shirts all have colors. Every tone of blue, pink and some violet. Please, add colors. Best wishes.

    Reply

    1. eizhowa

      I disagree. Personally, I consider myself colorful enough on the inside, so wearing color on the outside is just overkill 😉

      And really really personally, wearing colors makes me want to lie down on the floor and cry. I feel deeply unattactive in colors, but the worst thing is that I do not feel like myself in color!

      Brown, camel, grey, black and white. Those are my best colors, and with those I can make endless outfit combinations that make the most of my natural coloring (and they never make me want to cry, which is a huge bonus).

      Seeing as colors bring me no joy (unlike a beautiful brown tweed or grey herringbone), I stopped trying to make myself wear them.

      Reply

      1. Sovannary

        Hey There! Hahaha I totally felt and thought the same for a long while, and maybe remains a bit the same in that note on being colorful enough in the inside as I love to have fun in anything I do everywhere I go. (Side note, I love partying too much that now my health is really starting to degrade and having some embarrassing moments in Seoul) But indeed wearing colors outside can seem an over-expression of myself but being in a style rut I thought of trying to experiment more… rather it’s a success or failure only time will tell.

        I am like you a die-hard of neutral and muted colors like grey, navy, black, camel and a bit of brown, I’d love to add as well. Making outfits in these colors is more than sufficient and gives lots of freedom for creativity.

        But you bring a good point in color wearing, if they bring no joy then don’t wear them, as I experienced with a red top from APC which I admire from the afar but seeing myself wearing it didn’t correspond that much with me. I’m selling it as I barely wore it once. I failed at styling it too!! However, I’d like to give it a try for other hues other than red if a mustard or olive in the right tone and form could give me satisfaction in wearing it:)

        Reply

    2. Sovannary

      Hello Rosi! I perfectly agree with you on having colors in life or it gets boring fast. For a long while, I thought colors and fun was already within me and how I love to have fun but indeed it doesn’t get expressed enough through my personal style. In the past year or so I started playing a bit with shirts with a dash of light pink pattern and even red (although that didn’t work out too well for me…) but thanks I’ll keep that in mind! A modest dressing with a mix of dark straight cut bottoms and a top of an-out-of-the-comfort-zone hue like perhaps mustard, olive, or pastel pink could be a bit fun but still having an overall put together appealing look 🙂

      Reply

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