Fashion & Beauty

The Psychology of Fashion, a new book

What is it about fashion that captivates most women?

What is the psychology behind keeping up-to-date with style trends and eagerly embarking on shopping excursions for clothing and jewelry that are most likely to elicit compliments?

One important aspect is that every woman can feel creative, adventurous, and expressive. Although she may not have her own couture designer label, ‘spotting’ and putting together an outfit requires artistry. She can produce beauty on herself. Searching for a new ensemble taps into her  own playground of imagination.

Fashion is also a tool for retaining feelings of youthfulness and vitality. A person does not have to feel ravaged and like damaged goods as the years pass. Some individuals are quite dismayed that, as one said, “My anti-wrinkle cream doesn’t work anymore.” But experimenting with new fashions can always be invigorating. Textiles, color, and accessories are available to add liveliness to every stage of life.

Let’s not forget the sheer feel of fabrics and designs. The physical touch of clothing reminds a woman of her own sensuality. Growing mature does not have to mean losing touch with our animal nature, and slipping into the embrace of clothing keeps us grounded in our physicality. What a source of invigorating power!

For some women, shopping for new clothes involves partnering with a valued friend. They gain a supportive ally in an activity, shopping, which can sometimes arouse anxiety about how they look in various outfits. Subtle social bonds between them are also reinforced. A variation on these themes is hiring a “personal shopper,” who is an authority who lending confidence to the shopper. Confidence is also sought through acquiring fashions that will denote belonging to a chosen group – such as a wealthy, bohemian, or sexy clique.

A woman’s interest in fashion, however, may be the tip of the iceberg: emotional difficulties can be lurking below. Without being aware of these issues, she is hoping to work out deeper psychological problems by working externally on her wardrobe. The casual terms “textile therapy” and “retail therapist counseling” actually address the fact that certain women manipulate their outer attire to deal with inner insecurities or even feelings of ugliness. If they inwardly feel ugly, they search for clothing to soothe and enhance themselves. Such inner “ugliness” can refer to many different qualities: harboring angry or envious impulses, feeling unlovable, being fearful and shy. Shopping, dressing, and accessorizing comprise an often non-verbal arena for fantasies and attempts to heal emotional wounds. They want to gain control over their self image, and therefore self esteem, through fashion. Along these lines, there is even a new brand of underwear called “Commando.” One ‘technique’ of dressing, although it may not sound like taking control, is to try to shrink from view or cover up what feel like flaws. Other techniques include dressing in fashions that may feel like costumes or various identities. Clothing can thus function as a kind of self-protective ‘armor.’

For other women, dressing fashionably can be an opportunity to ‘show off.’ There is a continuum between proudly showing one’s wardrobe and aggressively flaunting it. Unusual examples of showing off aspects which some people would shudder to reveal can be found in the clothing of the designer Alexander McQueen. His couture includes bloody medical slides, bondage type leather masks, and pain-inducing pants suits with sharp nails protruding. Such displays might indicate that there are very unclear lines between beautiful fashion and pathological exhibits. Nevertheless, McQueen has millions of devotees, so he speaks to their sense of what fashion can do. And it comes with high price tags! Perhaps there is bravado about strutting deep, ‘messy’ qualities. Perhaps they are being provocative.

Some particularly insecure women endlessly feel great pressure to amass new fashions. If they obsessively shop as a consuming passion, there are very likely underlying emotional difficulties new outfits cannot solve. That of course is because no outfit is perfect enough to solve conflicted feelings.

In any case, fashion is a venue for experimentation and inventiveness. It is usually highly enjoyable and stimulating. Years pass, but a flair for living zestfully does not have to fade. An interest in fashion can be a colorful way to continuing to approach each day with zest, individuality, and confidence.

Ellen Sinkman’s book, The Psychology of Beauty: Creation of a Beautiful Self.

Image: Alexander McQueen fashion show.

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