Flourishing Fashion

Can we choose to make ourselves happier by intentionally selecting an outfit?

There is a saying in academia “all research is me-search”. I suspect this is even truer when the researcher is a psychologist. All my life I have loved clothes. I have worked with fashion and design in some form or other since I was fifteen. I switched careers to become a therapist and am now completing a positive psychology masters. It was natural to turn to dress and fashion as a research topic.

I could chart my life’s ups and downs, the emotional highs and lows, through the clothes that I wore. From my wedding dresses (two) to the dress I wore for my brothers funeral, or the party frock I have on in the photo of my fifth birthday to the jumpsuit I wore for my fiftieth, or one of the many stripy tee-shirts I have owned in the last thirty-five years, every garment has a story to tell. Embedded in my wardrobe is the journal of my states of mind. Fashion functioning as a way to both express my mood and create the way I want to feel; to communicate and enhance.

For the most part I am no longer the disturbed distressed person I was a young adult and my wardrobe reflects this. I still love black (can black express happiness?), but on occasion will choose colour. There is no mood that can’t be lifted by putting on red lipstick and some type of striped top.

I am nearly always happy. And if I’m not I can reframe it in some way to provide a positive outcome.

I am intrigued by the way other people use dress, clothes, fashion, call it what you will, to show who they are and how they feel. I want to know if there is a formula for wardrobe wellbeing, if I can find some way to ad(dress) depression with a simple positive psychology intervention based on getting dressed in the morning. Can we choose to make ourselves happier by intentionally selecting an outfit?

I need to understand a little of why this research is so important to me in order that I can allow for this prejudice in my interviews and analysis. Part of the emotional response I have to clothes is the link to my mother and sisters, all beautiful women who used fashion to their best advantage. I associate being happy with a new dress, I link joy with the feeling of great fabric on my skin; I connect contentment with being wrapped in a cashmere cardigan or the pleasure of a certain pair of shoes creating the excitement of a chance encounter. Fashion for me is psychological and all about positive emotions.

I have chosen 10 images which represent happy outfits for me. I’ll share a little of why and what they mean, however some of the emotions are so fleeting, as if made of gossamer, that they have been hard for me to catch. A whiff of happiness like a lost perfume, I know that at that moment when I wore that dress I felt great, but thinking about it in the present moment is often tinged with sadness; I am unable to recreate the feeling even if I put that dress on, it needs the context. There are other garments that haven’t lost the power to make me smile years down the line, what might it be about them that they can still make me smile? If I could work that out would I have a recipe for flourishing fashion?

  1. Luella shoes. Even if I just put these shoes on with jeans I would jump for joy; well not exactly jump because they are high but they make me so very happy. I wore them for my second wedding but they were love-worn long before then. They made me feel successful, in control of my own destiny and very special. I have loads of shoes which make me feel truly great but this pair is the best ever. Thinking about them makes me want to go and get them right now and wear them whilst I am writing. These shoes represent freedom, fun, and being a fabulous-forty-something, recreating the life I wanted, just for me on the Kings Road. Chelsea Girl shoes!

2. Red Pyjamas. These were very soft winceyette and clashed with my hair, they were just pretty enough, not too little girly. I loved getting home and putting them on. My flatmate had almost matching ones, we often looked like bookends on the sofa. I still love the comfort of a great pair of PJ’s, they make me feel loved and as if I am being cuddled. This particular pair, this photo, reminds me of a great time living in LA. I wish I still had those red pyjamas.

3. Ghost-silver grey ‘wedding’ dress. Of course the dress you wear to get married in will always be special but this dress is more than that; it falls in such a sensuous way, it caresses your body so you feel really sexy. The cut is soft and flowing. It makes me feel a bit Hollywood, like a screen goddess and that’s a nice feeling. You can see how happy this dress made me on my wedding day and it hangs in a special spot so whenever I pass it I want to stroke it. It makes me very happy just knowing a dress as good as this exists.

4. Leather Jacket. This isn’t about the chips it’s all about my trusty black leather jacket. I could wear it with anything and it makes for a happy outfit. This one is a luxury but any I have owned have had the same effect; instant feel-good. I love black and white one of my best combinations… a sort of striped t-shirt effect but without the shirt or the stripes. If I needed to make myself feel strong and secure and very me I would wear my leather jacket and nothing else would matter.

5. A Stripped T-shirt. If I had to have a desert island happy making wardrobe I would fill it with stripy tees so had to add another one. My black jeans also make me happy and you can just make them out in this photo.

6. Another Striped Tee-shirt. This one happens to be black and white but could just as easily be navy and white, any of the many I own have the same instant positive effect. They make me feel on top of the world…tickety-boo…putting on a stripy tee is my version of Prozac. I could wear one every day and the world would be OK. I don’t really know why I have any other items in my wardrobe. Stripey tees are my ultimate happy garment.

7. Paris T-shirt and check skirt .I have removed the leather jacket but it’s all part of the wellbeing-ness in this group of clothes. A tee–shirt that I go to when I don’t want to wear stripes but want the same feeling. For some reason I Feel like Simone de Beauvoir in this outfit and that’s a good thing. I like feeling clever. I also feel swishy in this skirt, its soft and comfortable and young (I’m sensing a theme). It has a feeling a bit like a school uniform. I look happy here.

8. Kenzo summer dress . I don’t look obviously happy in this photo but this is a genuine happy frock. It’s sunny and bright and jolly. I always take it on holiday because it is fun and a bit silly and that is how it makes me feel. It’s very young. I want to be just a bit outrageous in such an ebullient dress. It really is too short at my age but I just don’t care…if I could turn cartwheels I would do it in this dress and flash my knickers, that’s how good this makes me feel.

9. White shorts, printed top, gold sandals. My standard beach outfit, always have some variation of this going on when I’m on holiday. White shorts make me feel that summer will go on for ever. This little top is so old but I love it; the print spells LOVE and that’s how I it makes me feel; young, sexy, relaxed and in love. The gold sandals are also ancient but make me feel beachy; I love pretty feet.

10. Black jump-suit. Hmm black and white again, with giant pearls and red shoes. Jumpsuits sound childish, there is something not very mature about them so perhaps that’s why wearing this one at my fiftieth birthday made me happy. If I wear it with a t-shirt and leather jacket it makes me just as happy. It’s a bit like a pair of pyjamas in the comfort league but with glamour. I do love these shoes if I teamed them with the red PJ’s and leather jacket that would be a very happy outfit.

I am conducting an experiment on myself and for the next ten days I will be dressing each day with the sole intention of being happy, no outfit will be allowed if it doesn’t bring a smile to my lips when I look in the mirror. I shall be dressing mindfully, asking myself how I feel rather than how do I look. I need to understand happy dressing for myself before I can analyse how to make it work for others.