Sunday, 20 October 2013

Is clothes shopping a costly mechanism for maintaining self-esteem?

     Remember the first time you went out and bought yourself something to wear? With your own money and without your mum in tow? For many people this was a rite of passage from childhood to  adolescence. The time when possessions started to act as an extension of the self. When the clothes we wore were critical to the development of our identity. It's no coincidence that materialism peaks at mid-adolescence, just when self-esteem starts to take a bit of a dip. And fashion psychology tells us that, for many, clothes shopping becomes a lifelong (and costly) mechanism for maintaining a reasonable level of self-esteem.
     In the course of a lifetime it’s estimated that women in the western world shell out an average of £84,000 (or $107,000) on clothes. If a woman’s clothes shopping years extend roughly from age 16 up to 86 years (although more is spent in the younger than the older years) that’s 70 years, or 3640 weeks, of clothes-buying. And that works out at £23.07 per week. Every single week. It’s a frightening sum. And yet:

  • A survey I carried out revealed that 82% of people have at least one item in their wardrobe that they have never ever worn. 
  • I also found that one in ten people have at least ten unworn items still with the label on.
  • A US survey reported on said that 60% of women say they still struggle to find something they want to wear to work or on a night out
     Contrast this with Marie Curie, who got married in her navy dress and wore it every single day afterwards, because it wouldn’t show the stains from working in the lab.  Nowadays many women put effort into finding the perfect garment to solve her current wardrobe crisis. Or  current emotional crisis. And many modern woman are seduced into believing that each season must herald in at least one new dress, jacket, coat and pair of trousers. 
    But the secret of dressing well may lie in wearing what you’ve already got in your wardrobe. Reinterpreting those clothes in a stylish and individual way, without needing to add another item. In fact, having more clothes simply adds to the confusion and dilemma of dressing by creating option overload. And buying more simply leads to hedonic adaptation, as I have written about in an earlier fashion psychology blog.  
     Researchers know that our brains encode perceptual information in predictable ways. The brain groups together items that are similar and categorises each new experience according to how alike it is to a previous one. It is wired for sameness, so no wonder novelty feels so exciting. That's why simple changes like going a different way to work, rearranging the furniture or trying a new type of food can give the brain a stimulating prod, diverting it from the old well-trodden path and sending it down a new, excitingly different, pathway. 
     So next time you're tempted to make a 'quick fix' purchase take a step back. Ask yourself if you actually need something new. Or if just need some novelty, to give the sartorial part of your brain a jolt. If so, why not try the following with the clothes you already possess?
  • Mix unexpected fabrics and styles to create exciting contrasts; leather with chiffon, tweed and taffeta.
  • Forget dainty heels and mix the prettiness of a frock with socks and flat boots.
  • Soften the hard edges of leather by pairing a biker jacket with vintage lace or cashmere.
  • Try layering or mixing garments in unusual combinations. Wear one dress over another, layer two or more t-shirts, wear a vintage bra over a vest-top or a petticoat over a skirt.
  • Men’s clothes are often better tailored than women's; try a man’s jacket belted with a vintage brooch for a cool style. Or turn a large cotton man’s shirt into a shirt dress by elasticating the waist.
  • Reverse clothes, wear them upside down or inside out for a new quirky take on an old garment you’re bored with. Rip off and replace the buttons or tie dye the fabric.
  • Don't wear things in the way they were intended. A belt can be worn as a necklace. A table cloth transforms into a quirky wrap-around skirt. I have a scarf that’s actually the sleeve of a man’s jacket complete with paisley lining. The friend who made it also makes skirts by sewing lots of men’s patterned ties together. Sleeves sewn together can add up to a funky and unique skirt.
Upcycled outfit by Asli Jackson
  • Don't throw out old jumpers, use the sleeves to make cuffs, fingerless gloves or leg-warmers. 
  • Revive old trousers as shorts to be worn over funky tights, or unpick the seams and turn into a skirt.
  • Cut slashes in an old woollen jumper, hot wash it to seal the edges and create a lacy effect, wear over a contrasting colour t-shirt.
  • Take inspiration from artists, like Anu Tuominen who makes bunches of woolly gloves into a shawl, or a scarf from dozens of mis-matching colourful woollen socks.
  • Look out for workwear or old military or naval uniforms and make the most of their durable fabrics and stark simplicity.
  • Break every colour-matching rule. You will inject energy into any outfit if you STOP MATCHING EVERYTHING.
  • Look for recycled fashion labels like TRAIDremade who make an art and a business out of upcycling and transforming old garments into new.
  • Or From Somewhere who rescue discarded fabrics from the dustbins and floors of fashion rooms and turn them into beautiful clothes.

     It is sad to think that billions of tons of unwanted clothes get thrown away every year. And that millions of pounds worth of debts are racked up every year through people buying clothes they don't need with money they don't have. 
     So instead of shopping for new clothes why not use some of these creative ideas to save money and work on developing an individual style from the clothes under your nose.  Make your wardrobe work for you, instead of you working for your wardrobe.