The psychology of clothes

Well wear (ha ha) to begin – probably with Adam and Eve in the biblical sense, but in Darwin’s sense then with the climate I would imagine. The earliest quote on clothing (I can find) is from Epictetus (a philosopher) year 55 “Know, first, who you are, then adorn yourself accordingly” so discovering our body shape and then buying our clothes is and always has been how to do it.

Clothes are a major part of our life 7 days a week and for some of us 24 hours a day as well if you wear pyjamas/nightie so it’s no wonder we spend a lot of money and time trying (and I emphasis trying) to get it right. We have so much to take into account – what’s available, the climate (and for Britain, as we well know, that means 3 outfits in one day quite often) and the suitability of attire to allow us to do what we need, and also allows us to ‘fit in’ with what everyone else is wearing.

Our family upbringing and home life, our religion and even what sports we play all contribute to our style of clothing and on top of all that we have a personality that we want to show through our clothes. Because of the many dimensions of dress we, as the human race, are inclined to go for a uniform to create our identity and to make us a part of a group (uni – unify, form – formation) – I know I’ve been there (see how did I get here – Nov 09) ; think of the obvious – school, football team, nurse, police – then the not quite so obvious, the suit (both for males and females), fashion, punk, mod etc etc. When we dress for that night out we are looking to blend in with the crowd and some of us want to look better than the crowd and be noticed. Not too many years ago I went to what I thought was a fancy dress party dressed as a pink lady from Grease – how uncomfortable did I feel getting strange looks all evening – if I had been dressed ‘ way out’ such as a lion it would have been obvious and funny, but because pink ladies weren’t out-landish I just got strange looks all evening because I was out of kilter from the rest of the group. I’m sure a lot of you have worried about what everyone else is going to be wearing to ‘a do’ and then spent all night comparing ourselves to the others there.

A lot of this anxiety about what we’re wearing comes from the subconscious knowledge that we are being judged like we judge others. Let me tell you a short story. A few weeks ago I went to a networking meeting that had a speaker on creativity, I had arrived late and so didn’t get the introductions. When the gentleman stood up to do his talk, I switched off; he was dressed in a light grey pinstripe suit, with a pale multi pin striped shirt, no tie, and brown loafers added to this was his hair was in need of a trim, greying at the ends and slightly wavy. He was about 5’6″ in height; none of these things were bad on their own, but the overall look was insipid – he used to be business/corporate man and was now something else but hadn’t left the suit behind. As I said he failed to press the right buttons with me because his look didn’t match with his subject. Now I like to believe that I’m a none-judgemental person, but he had to work harder because I didn’t believe in him from that first moment. I have to say, however, that after 5 – 10 mins of speaking he had me totally enthralled and I learnt loads, but ………. We all do it! – even if you get over it slightly quicker than I did!

This happens in our day to day lives – some of us have our uniform for various times down to a fine art and are simply good at dressing smartly in a suit for work; this allows us to hide behind that suit very well and everyone knows the person in the suit – but the panic that can ensue from an invitation saying smart/casual can be significant and I have to say for myself that is also the worst sort of invite to receive as it’s so hard to define!! We’ve all gone to some function or event feeling either over dressed or underdressed. So I hope you’re beginning to get the idea that it’s not that easy or straight forward to always wear the right clothes for the right occasion – but what if we turn it all on the head and say we can go out of the house always knowing that we look good – and everyone can no matter what their body is like – we just need to dress for that body and that means taking your body on as it is – warts and all. We all have parts of our bodies we don’t like and in this day and age with the impact of the press and media, models and celebrities, we are even more judgemental of ourselves than we ever are of anyone else. Part of feeling good in our clothes is accepting our bodies, and so dressing to make the most of all our good parts, the bits that are in balance (we all have something) and balancing out the not such good bits (we all have these as well) can send our self confidence soaring; then when we go out it’s not all about “how do I look compared to others” and “what do they feel about it”, it becomes all about us feeling confident in ourselves and our choices.

When we get it right the world opens up to us. Let me tell you another story. MC was a successful Feng Shui consultant and business coach when she came to me wanting to update her wardrobe and look. MC had come from a corporate background and felt happy in a suit, but felt with her change of direction she needed to have a much softer look, which she had achieved, but had ended up with an image that aged her and really didn’t do her justice. Her look was quite ‘hippy’ with long skirts and shapeless tops and long wild hair. This did nothing to show off her great hour-glass figure and her very outgoing and vivacious character. We re-assessed her look and went for a much more girly fun look – the skirts became shorter, knee length instead of calf, the jackets and tops became more structured and tailored and her hair became a short cheeky bob. She loved this look and very soon became confident in it and herself. This allowed her to grow, not just personally but in her work life too. To date she is a publisher author, has just recently been on stage as a speaker with Jeffrey Archer and she is now raising 1 million pounds for a charity (www.themonastery.co.uk) in just 3 months with all the wonderful contacts she’s made, and on top of that a couple of TV producers are interested in her!

Back to Epictetus “Know, first, who you are, then adorn yourself accordingly” so let’s find your body shape and for that we need a few measurements – don’t panic – no waist or bust sizes, but you do need:
1. A friend or partner to help
2. Two tape measures one a firm metal builders type and then a soft dressmaking type
3. A piece of paper and a pen
A. Stand with your back to your partner with your shoes off!
B. Measure your height with the firm tape measure and record it.
1.6m or less and you’re Petite
1.6m – 1.65 you’re Average height
1.65 or above then you’re tall
C. Next Measure your inside leg and record it as your leg length
D. Take away your leg measurement from your height measurement and record that as your body length.
This will then tell you whether you have Short Legs and a Long Body or Long Legs and a Short Body – record this on your paper.

Next
A. From the side of your body measure the distance between your inside leg length and your armpit. As shown by the red line.

B. Again from side of your body, measure the distance between your natural waist and your armpit. As shown by the red line.

C. Take away B from A. If B is Less than C then your Short-waisted and if C is less than B then your Long-waisted and record which one your are.

Next
A. Stand with your back to your partner and get them to measure your shoulder width. As shown by the red line.

B. Stand with your back to your partner and get them to measure your hip width

If your shoulder width is wider then you are an inverted triangle
If your hip width is wider then you are a pear shape
If they are the same (ish) then you’re are either an hourglass (obvious small waist and put weight on everywhere)
Or you’re a straight/softened straight (not much definition of a waist) boyish type figure or if very rounded at the middle then an apple shape.
Last but not least measure your wrist 14cm or less then you have a fine bone structure
14cm – 16cm then a medium bone structure
Over 16cm then a grand bone structure.
Record this

Next month we look in more detail at these body imbalances and shapes.

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