Thursday, 23 July 2009

Style Psychology

Images thanks to jessica flavin and digital sophia

I’ve been thinking a lot on this topic just lately, about just what it is that causes us to wear jeans and a t-shirt over a bright mini-dress, knee high socks and a beret. I know the answers: anxiety, feeling accepted, being uniform, being normal. But where do these needs come from? And why are they restricting us? 9 times out of 10 when I see somebody out and about who is dressed against the grain, I support them, I think they look great; they add interest to my everyday scenery. So why do I restrict myself from wearing ensembles that are equally ‘out there’?

What is the psychology behind my sense of style?

There are many things that go through my head when I get dressed in the morning, and I’ll admit that ‘what will people think?’ is right up there with ‘does my bum look big in this?’ in fact, these worries are inherently the same thing. But, really, what will people think? I’ll never know. I might judge a glance that’s completely passive as a look of scorn, just as someone might tell me I look fantastic and actually mean the complete opposite. I can’t win with caring about what others think and, ultimately, it will always be what I think that shapes and interprets all the comments and glances anyway – like my own personal anxiety sieve. So why not focus just on what I think? Mine are the only thoughts I have control over, after all.

Generally, I’m quite experimental with what I wear and try to find interesting new ways to combine my clothes by way of layering etc. But, often, I am stunted in my style experiments by a particular worry: who do I think I am? I’ve never worn anything like this before; I’ll stand out like a sore thumb. I’ve caught myself doing this lately and questioned where it stems from; why don’t I allow my style to develop and change? In reality, no one has ever said to me (outside of school!) that something I was wearing was too eccentric, too unlike me, too much for the occasion, and, more times than not, I’ve been complimented. Sure, I might have had a few extra looks on the street, but it is up to me how I handle this attention, and what I take it to mean. If I want it to mean I look great, that I’m something special, that I’ve caught my public’s imagination – then it can mean that!

Why does my mind differentiate between one outfit and another as ‘me’ and ‘not me’ and why do I keep myself confined to these completely self-fashioned restrictions? Is it television? Magazines? The high street? The blogosphere?

Where am I getting the notion that dressing one way is better than another?

The truth is, the people who will judge me for what I wear (because this percentage will always exist) are likely to be the people that would judge me all over; for my opinions, my friends, my family, my career choices… In short, people I have no time for anyway, closed-minded people who sit so far out on the perimeters of all that I take to be good in this world, that to care one inch for their opinion would be idiocy like no other. People whom, admittedly, I probably judge for the way they are dressed - so what do I expect?

The people whose positive attention I will catch are the people I want to know; people who are prepared and excited to accept alternatives; people who see the personality in my attire rather than just an oddball. The people whose own attire I can celebrate and revel in.

Of course, by plotting my own style path, I am bound to make hideous mistakes, we’ve all seen Sex and the City and, certainly, Patricia Fielding did not always get it right; but that’s just the fun of it! C’est la vie! We wouldn’t pressurize ourselves not to make any mistakes elsewhere in our lives, we understand that this is part and parcel of growing and learning as people, so why put such strict reins on our fashion choices? How can we learn to dress in the best way for us as individuals if we are never prepared to experiment, to put our wildest ideas into action?

To slip under the radar in jeans and a t-shirt is easy. Like anything else worth doing, dressing up and doing it your way is difficult.

You’ll meet negativity, you’ll probably feel silly, but won’t the habit of asserting your personality be worth it? There is such a thing as dressing for the occasion, of course there is, but what kind of occasion do you want your life to be? A mundane and ordinary one, or and exciting and inspiring one? Any occasion is exactly what you make it.

Being and feeling ‘normal’ is a coin with many sides; would you choose a ‘normal’ career just because of what people thought? Would you simply have ‘normal’ friends because your most interesting friends got you too much attention? Would you sacrifice your dream home for a ‘normal’ two up/two down? In all situations, it is the people that do it differently that stand out, that make their mark, that earn the most of our respect and admiration. Doing it differently does not have to constitute doing it wrong; we must trust our own instincts to guide us. Life becomes a life lived only through the choices we make, how we choose to experience our everyday. Feel the fear, and then make the right choice for you.


Claire said...

Hear hear!!!!!

I mean, at least push the boundaries where appropriate - obviously there are some times when it's not appropriate to wear exactly what you want all the time (ie can't wear lingerie to look after children, or denim mini skirts and knee high socks to interviews for office jobs). But in your free time, you should wear just as you want!

Leia said...

I don't often meet negativity, but the main thing that stops me from dressing up the way I want to is unwanted attention from men. Even when I have got everything covered (which I don't feel I necessarily should have to do just because some men are pervs - but still end up doing because I just don't want the attention), if I have put a little bit of effort into the way I look (make-up, properly dressed up, etc.) I get attention from men and it really puts me off. It makes me want to put on jeans, a t-shirt, swipe my hair into a pony-tail and leave the house without make-up on. But then I feel dowdy and gross all day! Most of the time, I just ignore the men and carry on with my life, but it can be difficult sometimes.

Christina Crowe said...

I completely agree with Leia! I hate dressing up and getting countless stares from men. It only makes me feel more self conscious, especially when they go as far as to whistle when I walk past or toot the car horn when I'm walking down the street.

It can be very difficult and I haven't yet been able to master ignoring the attention without feeling self concious and ready to disappear. I'm pretty shy around guys especially.

Thanks for the article. I'm actually glad I'm not the only one out there feeling this way.

Aury said...

yeah i understand what leia means...unwanted attention of that kind can be really off-putting but sometimes in life you just have to weigh the pros and cons of a situation. Is the happiness that u derive from wearing what u want more than the disgust you feel by such remarks?

Brooke Logan said...

Really good post! I think that some people just enjoy being different or express themself with fashion or even provocate and wait for the reaction..., and the others enjoy the safe way of dressing.

Brooke Logan said...

Now I read the comments and I´m just speechless :O
You hate the attention from men? I don´t get it?!? OK, I´m from Eastern Europe, that is maybe ehy I am different and all the girls I know here are too...But feeling sexy and beautyful is nice, and attention just makes it nicer and approves my good feeling I have about myselt, isn´t it?
Btw, the men in my country are so used to beautiful and sexy women, that they do not freak out like some perverts seing a sexy woman ...THOUGH I must say (!), in Germany I don´t dress that sexy, because there I feel that the men are not used to it and then they really are watching you like some kind of perverts and some even have asked me if I am looking for some "adventure" and that was really sick (and that was only because of hot pants with a hot weather!!!). My dream society is the one I have in Estonia, where being sexy is normal :)

Voila Megan said...

All good points ladies! I didn't even think of the whole men oggling issue, it's not something that bothers me a great deal. I think alot of the time I don't even notice, my boyfriend says he sees someone 'checking me out' but I haven't even registered it. I think the more you let it bother you, the more they do it!

It upsets me that it's making a few of you so self-concious, I don't know what I can say apart from that there's very little you can do about it, some men are just sleazy and becoming a wall-flower is not the answer! Hold your head high and walk on by, in the knowledge that they're probably trying their luck with every other girl they come across and they are not even worth the chewing gum on your shoe!

A little attention from men (and I mean a little, I know so many of them take it way too far) is just human nature, and perhaps you should just embrace that many men will find you physically attractive! Let it empower you not bring you down!

Just some thoughts...

Eternal*Voyageur @ Venusian*Glow said...

Brooke Logan I hate to tell you this, but the negative attention you get in Germany has a lot to do with your nationality. My friend, who looks Thai, also gets similar approaches from men, even though she doesn't dress sexy... I am east european living in Germany too, by the way (but I don't look or dress east european since I've lived abroad since I was a child).

Sara said...

Love this post! Very true, and the part about not ever *really* knowing what others think rings true with me. I sometimes forget I can't read minds!

A lady at work stopped me last week to tell me she always admires my style, and wishes she were younger so she could wear the same things as me. It really made my day, and made me realise that people might be thinking good things as much as bad!

Vintage Girl said...

I have been telling my husband how tired I am of seeing blue (jeans) on the lower half of most of the population. I decided a while back that I have about 80 years on the planet and I'll wear what I really love. So I wear dresses and skirts everyday. Once you start, you won't look back!

Kelly said...

I. Love. This. Post.

Faby said...

Just the post that I needed!!
I discovered your blog yesterday & I can't get enough of it :D

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