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Style is undoubtedly beneficial for individual exploration and group identification. However, it should also be noted that style can have negative implications too if the power of what we wear, and its symbolism, is abused. One noticeable example is the stigma that the media and fashion industry has created surrounding the natural process of ageing. With drab clothing lines purposely designed for the older population and the stocking of shelves with copious ‘anti-ageing’ products, it’s no surprise that ageing has become a fear for so many people today. 

 .. the danger of the ageing stigma in making people feel a lack of control over their own bodies.”

Implicit rules surround us in society about what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do, including what we should and shouldn’t wear. And whether we are aware of this or not, to some extent, most of us are abiding by these restrictive regulations. Along the high street, multiple clothing lines have been purposely designed for the older population, ‘cut generously with longer and looser shapes, lower bust seams for women and higher rise trousers for men’ (Twigg, 2013). The reduction in clothing options for  older people, indirectly suggests to the public what is and is not ‘acceptable’ to wear at a particular age. These expectations and assumptions can be internalised through the process of enclothed cognition, whereby what one wears can influence cognition through an item of clothing’s symbolic meaning and the experience of actually wearing the clothes. This can be detrimental and degrading to self-concepts by creating feelings of frustration and sadness towards one’s image and capabilities. 

However, the presentation of ageing as a negative process is implied to consumers from an early age. Skincare products aimed at young adults are marketed as ‘anti-ageing’, with the use of the preposition ‘anti’ presenting ageing as something to fight against and be seen as the opposition. Therefore, there is arguably a social pressure to remain youthful, which creates a limited perception of what is considered as ‘beauty’. Research has found that women are more likely to consider cosmetic surgery and purchase anti-ageing products when their appearance is important to them (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2003). However, women are also reported to be largely sceptical about the effectiveness of anti-ageing products, yet the mere act of using these moisturisers, cleansers and toners creates a feeling of control over our own health and progression of ageing (Muise & Desmarais, 2010). This highlights the danger of the ageing stigma in making people feel a lack of control over their own bodies.

Furthermore, the fashion industry largely underrepresents or rather ignores, the presence of ‘older’ women in the market. One study found over 50% of readers of top-selling magazines like Cosmo and Vogue are over 35 years old, yet the images they include are of ‘youthful and slender, smooth-skinned and able-bodied individuals’ (Lewis, Medvedev & Seponski, 2010).  This encourages readers to internalise these standards, leading to self-destructive behaviours such as restrictive eating, low self-esteem and mental health issues like depression. The power of fashion in constructing ‘ideals’ is therefore somewhat significant and dangerous if not managed responsibly. On the other hand, this also demonstrates how the fashion industry can use its status to empower women, reducing the stigma that surrounds ageing and the connotations of deterioration it holds. 

It is evident that ageism is a pressing issue in today’s society; the narrow beauty standards the media creates and promotion of products aimed specifically at the older population shapes our society’s negative perceptions of ageing. However given the fashion industry’s significant presence across all platforms, it has the potential to reverse the negativity that surrounds ageing and open up the market, so older people feel less isolated and more empowered. 

We often see style as a projection of ourselves; a way to emphasise personal uniqueness or seek group similarity. But whatever the purpose of our fashion ‘identity’, the acute awareness societies have accumulated across places and time could actually be a method of self-affirmation and consequently, protection from potential mental disorders.

Cultural dressing and mental health

What we wear is a reflection of who we are and knowing who we are as individuals can help improve mental wellbeing by giving us a sense of direction, purpose and security. For example, clothing preferences can influence mental wellbeing and reduce the general risk of mental health issues – so long as it is synonymous with an individual’s social groups (Bhui, et al, 2008). For some, making culturally traditional clothing choices can lead to a lower risk of mental health problems, but for others making ‘integrated’ clothing choices (ones which are trend-led) can reduce this risk.

Wearing traditional clothing can feel protective; it reflects a sheltered upbringing and adherence to religion, whilst wearing trend-led pieces can give others a sense of social status and confidence. Therefore, perhaps it’s not literally what one wears that enhances wellbeing, but rather what it stands for in our social circles. Adopting another culture’s traditional clothing style can not only be interpreted as cultural appropriation, it can also create intrafamilial conflict as it differs to the identity of your peers. Therefore, style potentially has the power to mediate relationships with others, affecting our mental health.

Dress yourself happy

Having a sense of personal style may also be influential at a cognitive level. Having positive self-evaluations, and an exaggerated perception of control and optimism can promote a positive mental state (Taylor et al, 1988). This may seem self-explanatory but what you may not know is that fashion can be a mechanism by which we can enhance our self-perceptions. By giving ourselves the power and freedom to dress as we please, we can enhance our preferred features and mask our insecurities, contributing to an increasingly positive, optimistic view of oneself.

Having a positive illusion of our bodies and capabilities has been reported to aid us in dealing with negative feedback more constructively. Therefore, the next time you have an important event, make sure to wear those special heels, your favourite tie or even your lucky underwear – it could be your secret weapon to happiness.

Take Pride in your Appearance 

With all of this in mind, much of our mental well-being arguably pins on our levels of self-esteem. Having high self-esteem can help to reduce the livelihood of suffering a mental disorder to displaying antisocial behaviours (Mann et al, 2004). Therefore, encouraging young children and adolescents to take pride and care in their appearance could stretch further than vanity, rather it could be used as a preventative measure from troubled behaviours and poor health later in life. Focussing on boosting self-esteem via fashion may in fact be beneficial in healthcare and education programmes – it will give individuals more confidence and security in who they are. This can also have the additional benefit of boosting job prospects; by knowing how to dress well improves first impressions and chances of succeeding in an interview. The additional income and ability to maintain busy can also keep people out of trouble – also giving wider societal benefits.

Fashion clearly has a role to play in promoting a positive self-image and reducing mental health issues in individuals. Although it may not be the sole cure to mental disorders, feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin can boost your sense of identity and self-esteem, which consequently improves mental wellbeing. Treating yourself to a new t-shirt or tie may not necessarily be something to feel guilty about – it could be contributing to a positive self-image and protecting you from a predisposed mental health issue.

If you haven’t been able to get your hands on the Jacquemus Le petit Chiquito, it’s because the mini bag has sold out. Measuring a little more than two inches and priced at $258, the micro sensation falls under the category of ‘meme fashion’. 

These are unique items, produced with oodles of humour and idiosyncratic character, always managing to immediately kick up an internet storm – exactly like the Le petit Chiquito that Olivia Heraud, a London-based stylist has been eyeing for a while. ‘It is even worse in terms of size!’ she says, comparing the ‘it’ bag to its predecessor, the slightly larger Le Chiquito bag she owned previously. It’s interesting to note that Heraud’s current obsession isn’t big enough to even hold her keys. 

To say that meme fashion is ‘popular’ would be an understatement; it’s driving hordes of consumers like Heraud to shell out precious dollars for products that are ridiculous and expensive. “Fashion has always been driven by an urge to be ‘in the moment’ but today that moment changes more rapidly due to the internet,” says Michael Solomon, a speaker and consumer behaviour expert. “This is accelerated further by the fear of missing out (FOMO) as people strive to show that they are au courant at all times and maybe at all costs. Moreover, we live in a disposable society with an intense need for stimulation and instant gratification, often derived by purchasing novel items.”

The list of such novel – albeit ‘crazy’ ‘ugly’ & ‘impractical’ – items is increasing. The Balenciaga layered parka worth $9,000 that was a viral reminder of Joey Tribbani from Friends. The Y/Project ‘Janties’ and the infamous Viktor and Rolf Spring 2019 couture dresses. The Kylie Jenner-approved Jacquemus La Bomba hat that is big enough for a village to camp under it. At some point, these items have been scrutinized, criticized and ridiculed but, never ignored. Exhibit A: the Balenciaga platform crocs which sold out on pre-order in a day

NYC-based Josh Klinski owns a pair in yellow. ‘My wardrobe is filled with pieces that most people would consider unwearable off the runway,” says Klinski. “I would regularly stop by the Balenciaga store in Soho to check if the crocs had come in yet. One day they did and $900 later I was wearing them. It’s a personal challenge to present them in a way that even the haters would say, ‘it makes sense on him.’” Like Klinski, Andre Braggs too felt an instant connection to the crocs, spotting the covetable pair while on a sneaker hunt. “They screamed my personality – weird, bright, and the centre of attention,” recollects the food & fashion blogger. “I couldn’t leave the store without them. I had to have them because I knew no one was walking around in those shoes every day.”

What’s a better way to make people think than to shock them a bit?

Though this need to be seen is making meme fashion win over a slew of fans, it isn’t the sole driver of sales. When it comes to identity creation, these unconventional products offer something that mainstream fashion doesn’t: Individuality. “While making a purchase, consumers are considering other options than the ones advocated by traditional gatekeepers of fashion,” says Solomon. “Often, objective aesthetics have little to do with adoption. In fact, sometimes consumers take great pride in wearing outlandish products that show they are individuals even though, ironically they’re conforming!” Not surprising that ‘meme fashion’ was the most searched keyword in 2018, according to global fashion search platform Lyst.

This phenomenon has come a long way from being relegated to the realms of Instagram to infiltrating wardrobes of consumers, especially the ones looking for some fun. Or ‘woke’ fashion enthusiasts offering a sense of rebellion with sartorial commentary. “The world around us is very serious and often grey in design,” elaborates Kate Nightingale, consumer psychologist & founder of Style Psychology Ltd. “There’s disastrous news everywhere and not much that we can do other than showing up – physically and digitally – and taking a stand. We can start a discussion and wake people up. What’s a better way to make people think than to shock them a bit? And that shock is best delivered with some humour.” 

However, every item that gets thousands of ‘rofl’s and retweets doesn’t necessarily have the potential to take over retail. “Make it fun but also make it meaningful,” is Nightingale’s advice to brands looking to join the meme-athon. “The product must tackle a consumer issue,” she elaborates. “Designers should understand what impact an item & the meme created from it will have on someone’s identity and self-esteem.” Speed and innovation are equally important. A cookie-cutter approach is bound to fail, resulting in a product that gets immortalised only as a meme. “A brand that wants to catch a viral wave has to look carefully and be prepared to jump quickly,” stresses Solomon. ‘This is true of any fad product, where the first one into the market tends to reap the rewards. By the time “me-too products” enter the race, it’s largely over. The best thing a brand can do is to constantly monitor its best customers: Don’t market to your customers, market with them.”

Colloquialisms like ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ have been present in the English language for decades, and although rather wise and largely true, psychology would suggest that to an extent, what we wear is in fact a reflection of who we are. 

Style is undoubtedly a significant part of our society; the fashion industry is thriving with its regular coverage in magazines and the media, globally-celebrated ‘fashion weeks’ and attention on social media through the work of online influencers. People are style-conscious; we take great pride in what we wear and where we shop, suggesting how we look must stand for more than just vanity. In fact, psychology has indicated it can boost our self-esteem, create a personal identity and reinforce a sense of belonging.

Perhaps the most prominent use of clothing is to build a sense of style and consequently, identity. In doing so, it has been argued that we build relationships between ourselves and our clothing. These can express three views of the self: the ideal self (‘the person I want to be’), the actual self (‘the person I am most of the time’) and the ‘person I fear I could be’. These self-concepts can be translated to our peers, colleagues and even strangers we pass in the street; before we even speak to another person it is likely we have, consciously or not, already built an idea in our minds about who they are. 

Although this may seem somewhat abstract and rather trivial, research has proved the significance of this sense of ‘self’. For example, it has been found that our self-esteem is lowered when we experience a large difference between our perceived actual and ideal self (Self Discrepancy Theory; Higgins, 1987). We feel frustration and disappointment if the person we see in the mirror isn’t the person we are aspiring to be. However, clothing can be used as a way to reduce this discrepancy and enhance self-esteem, if successful. Women have reported that through their clothing they are able to maintain an identity. They feel valued and liberated when their clothing successfully conveys to others ‘the person they want to be’. By developing and refining a personal style, it can be empowering, creating a feeling of control over our bodies; we can enhance aspects of ourselves we like, and conceal those we are more insecure over (Guy & Banim, 2000). Having a sense of style is, therefore, more than just an obsession with one’s image – it is a way to boost confidence, express creativity and empower. 

While we may use personal style to independently build an identity, it is also often a successful and arguably beneficial way to prescribe identities to others. This may seem domineering but having some externally-appointed identities can also boost our self-esteem; it encourages the formation of in-groups and consequently a sense of belonging. For example, in Cape Verde, fashion is known to be used amongst the ‘youth culture’ to construct both individual and social identities (Saucier, 2015). A key style worn by teenagers is inspired by hip-hop culture. They often describe it as ‘the blackest of cultures’ therefore, ‘to be young and black is to dress within the confines of hip-hop culture’ (Gilroy, 1994). The styles adopted by a teen can communicate who is authentic and sincere racially and culturally, which shaped personal and group identification. Other more widely-used ways clothing is used to construct identities is through the use of uniforms. Not only does it ensure students, employees and group-members are dressed appropriately but it encourages a feeling of responsibility and belonging between pupils, colleagues and friends. Therefore, although our old school-uniforms may not have been the most comfortable nor stylish outfit, they would have held significant symbolic meaning, shaping the people we are today and those we surround ourselves with.

Clothing most poignantly provides a medium for self-expression; colours, tones, textures and shapes can be used to experiment and explore what we like, feel good in and find enjoyment in wearing. Whether we choose to follow seasonal trends, take inspiration from celebrities and time periods or just do our own thing, what we wear has something to say about us as an individual, our group memberships and society we live in. Although perhaps more importantly, psychology has suggested that there’s more than meets the eye; style can support our self-esteem, empower us as individuals and aid the relationships we create. 

Having a sense of style most certainly isn’t the cure to all our problems, but there’s no shame in holding pride and autonomy in what you choose to wear as it could contribute to improving your quality of life and psychological well-being. 

Another Fashion Month has arrived! With conversations around mental wellbeing taking hold in the fashion industry, many have began to wonder whether the seemingly never ending cycle of fashion shows are necessary in our modern climate. While there are many reasons why the industry can slow down and produce less, we’ve revealed the Psychological reason why that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“Fashions fade, style is eternal” any fashion lover worth their salt is aware of that famous Yves Saint Laurent quote. But if style is to be coveted over seasonal and seemily temporary fashion collections then why do we salivate at the thought of more collections and more shows in more cities around the world? Aside from the big 4, buyers, editors, bloggers and stylists are heading to increasingly well attended events in cities such as Copehagen, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and Florence. Aside from Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, in the article ‘What the Hell Are Resort and Cruise Collections and Why Are They So Lucrative?’ Kam Dhillon illustrates how designers are having to hastily create lines throughout the year for Pre-Fall, Pre-Spring and Resort all to suit consumer demand. Oftentimes however, consumer demand and creativity do not go hand in hand. You may remember when Riccardo Tisci cited exhaustion as one of the reasons behind his shocking departure from Givenchy in 2017. Two years prior, when WWD asked ‘Is Fashion Heading for a Burnout?’, fresh off the heels of his departure from Balenciaga, Alexander Wang brought up the intensity that comes with having to churn out an increasing number of collections.

Specifically speaking about the show system, I think that’s something everyone is challenged with — the immediacy of things, and the idea of how to deliver in this system, where the attention span has become nonexistent.

If the mental wellbeing of designers isn’t enough to stop the seemingly unending fashion show cycle then many argue that social media would surely slow it down. When discussing whether Fashion Shows still matter Jenna Igneri, associate fashion and beauty editor for NYLON had this to say:

I think fashion shows are becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on. Thanks to technology, anyone can view a fashion show or presentation from anywhere in the world—sometimes even live—so that glamorous feeling of exclusivity has long been lost.

Originally the concept of a fashion week presented as a clear solution for industry professionals to either report on or order from designers across the globe in a  convenient and timely manner. Now, as social media has afforded consumers the ability to live stream fashion shows around the globe from the comfort of their own homes many, like Igneri have come to wonder, are these large scale productions required every 4-6 months? While the true answer may be no, as fashion shows become increasingly consumer focused, psychological research indicates that they’re unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Every time a fashion show launches consumers are offered something new and that in itself is something simply too rewarding to pass up. Studies have found that we are hardwired to be attracted to novelty. In a study published in Neuron, researchers showed participants a series of images. After participants had become familiar with those images, researchers added a new “oddball” image. Measurements of participants brain activity revealed that the brain’s pleasure centres lit up when this new “oddball” image was introduced resulted in a flood of dopamine, the same chemical that is released when we eat good food and have great sex. In another study conducted at the University College London, participants were shown 4 cards one of which had a monetary reward. When the participant chose this card their brain’s pleasure processors lit up. After a time, researchers introduced new cards to participants. The result? Participants tended to choose novelty cards over the known money-making card. While this appears to be incredibly counter-intuitive, it clearly demonstrates the power that novelty has over us.

Shiny new things are not just for babies. If fashion consumers and industry professionals are no longer presented with the rush of dopamine that occurs every time they’re presented with a new show or collection then they will likely give up on the brand and look for pleasure elsewhere. Research into brain health also shows that regular experience of novelty is essential to a long and happy life. The next challenge that the industry faces is mitigating this need for novelty alongside the need for designers to maintain their mental wellbeing.

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My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy…you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.” –

Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of Vogue U.K.

It’s one thing to know in your heart that racist comments like this are not true but another type of satisfaction arises when you scientifically prove it to be incorrect. In my new paper published in The International Journal of Market Research, I’ve done just that.

Before I had the language to articulate it, I knew that my relationship with fashion would always be somewhat one-sided. As easy as it is to get lost in the flourish of patterns, shapes and fabrics, as a young Black woman, you can’t help but notice something’s missing and that something is you, or rather, a reflection of you. At the moment, the number of active models of colour are on the rise. It’s true, fashion shows and magazine covers are becoming increasingly diverse. However, many of us still remember the days when if someone asked you to name 5 black fashion models you’d say Naomi, Tyra, Alek, Beverly and then your voice would trail off into a mumble.

I’m happy to say that this list is growing everyday but to say that fashion has fixed its diversity problem would be a step too far. Last year, the Guardian published data after analysing 214 covers from the 19 best selling glossies in the UK with less than positive results. In two months in 2017, the front covers of every publication featured images of white people, exclusively. The covers of four magazines – Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima – did not feature a single person of colour throughout 2017. When analysing children’s magazines, the data revealed an even more dire lack of diversity where 95% of the cover models were white.

Increased inclusivity in fashion and movements like #unfairandlovely and #blackmodelsmatter will continue to be celebrated but for people of colour, our brains are simply hardwired to be hyper-aware that the industry is still not truly representative. 

‘Distinctiveness Theory’ refers to “the idea that people define themselves on the basis of traits that are numerically rare in their local environments.” Research suggests that race and ethnicity are two of the most meaningful self-defining traits associated with distinctiveness and are often the first things that pop into your head when you’re asked to describe yourself. So in general, minorities are more “saliently aware of their race” “and consider their race a prominent factor in their interpersonal communications”. As our race and ethnicity are prominent self-defining features, we’re more acutely aware when an industry, that has an important by-product in its ability to legitimize and publicize the existence of often-ignored ethnic groups, doesn’t.

The bi-product of underrepresentation is the fostering of the belief; especially among younger people of colour, that they’re undesirable. Hashtags and protests are powerful tools of change but money will always be the most persuasive motivator of change. It was this realisation that made me embark on my latest research paper investigating racial representation in fashion and beauty media. Ethnic minorities have a $3.9 Trillion Buying Power and yet very few brands consider us when creating advertising and marketing campaigns.

Fashion is Psychology
Example of stimuli used in the experiment

In my new paper ‘Testing the effect of consumer-model racial congruency on consumer behavior’ published in The International Journal of Market Research I tested the consumer behaviour of Black and White consumers when presented with adverts featuring Black and White models. The results proved that both black and white consumers will spend significantly more money on product when its advertised by a Black model. Models of colour have tremendous value. 

With this research I hope the industry will fully wake up to the damaging impact of  underrepresentation by understanding that it not only impacts the mental wellbeing of their consumers but it also impacts their bottom line.

As environmental concern reaches new heights, sustainable fashion is gaining traction, populating online, high-street and runway collections alike. But the psychology behind a consumer’s choice to buy Green may not be as altruistic as it appears. Do we really buy sustainable fashion for the sake of the environment, or are ‘conscious’ purchases for our own conscious benefit?

The fashion industry is distressingly damaging to our environment. It accounted for 2-10% of the EU’s environmental impact, 79 billion cubic metres of water, 1,715 million tons of CO2 emissions and 92 million tons of waste in 2015 (source). Once discarded, more than 50% of all clothing was found to end up in landfills or incinerators, and of the clothes collected in, less than 1% of the materials were recycled back into new clothes. Last year alone Burberry burnt £28.6 million of unsold clothing and cosmetics (source). As information around Fashion’s impact becomes more readily accessible and transparent, it comes to no surprise that calls for sustainable and environmentally conscious fashion production have emerged. However, the motivations behind choosing sustainable fashion aren’t cut and dry. There are a number of social and individual factors that drive environmentally conscious behaviour, and they do not always place the environment as the sole beneficiary.  Is it the environment, or actually personal gain, which motivates the purchasing of sustainable fashion?

Sustainable fashion is more than just charity shop bargain hunting. It has evolved to focus on the ecological impact of the fashion industry as a whole; promoting the reuse of materials, creating timeless designs over on-trend items, reducing chemical waste and promoting the wellbeing of employees at all stages of production. Unfortunately, due care in a product’s life-cycle comes at a higher premium, which is placed upon the consumers. 

Reason 1: Selflessness

While benefiting the environment, choosing to buy ‘conscious’ collections (see H&M) comes at a financial cost. Our awareness and contentedness of this follows the environmental concern perspective (Bamberg 2003) where people engage with green behaviours because they inherently care about the wellbeing of the planet above their individual gain. An equivalent piece of clothing may exist for a lower price (visit Primark if you require an eye-opener) but deciding to purchase items from more responsible beginnings demonstrates a genuine desire to benefit the environment over personal and financial gain. 

Reason 2: Popularity

So far so selfless. But beyond inherent environmental concern, forwarding green issues and buying sustainable fashion signals to other people that one is prosocial. One can gain a reputation for being environmentally conscious and concerned about the betterment of the whole, and as such appear more cooperative, helpful and more valuable to a social group. 

Reason 3: Power

Popularity begets power. Prosocial individuals, like those who actively support sustainability ‘are desirable to have in positions of power’ and therefore ‘prosocial behaviour may be a viable strategy for attaining status’ (Griskevicius et al, 2010). Self-sacrifice and deferring one’s individual benefit for a collective benefit has been shown to increase the self-sacrificer’s status within a group of strangers (Hardy & Van Vugt, 2006). For those genuinely interested in conserving the environment, such a reputation is merely a bonus. However, for individuals more interested in status, environmentally conscious behaviour could act as a tactic to elevate their social standing. The extent to which someone actually lives sustainably may be capped at what is merely observed by the social group; the value and reputation of being prosocial hinges upon the perception of others, not on what one does away from the public eye. An individual may wax lyrical about only wearing repurposed cotton clothing, but still put their food waste in their recycling bin. 

Reason 4: Moral Identity

However can morality exist independently of ourselves, of our own benefit? It can be widely agreed that buying sustainable clothing is seen as the morally ‘right’ thing to do for the environment. But moral behaviour hinges upon a moral identity : our position on various moral scales concerning a number of ethical issues, including sustainability and conservation. In a meta-analysis, it was found that ‘moral identity strengthens individuals’ readiness to engage in prosocial and ethical behaviour’ (Hertz & Krettenauer, 2016). A strong moral identity can result in a more environmentally conscious and active individual. For shoppers with a firm moral identity or a pervasive consideration of the environment, the question ‘am I a moral person?’ may do more to inform their sustainable fashion decisions than ‘how much does it cost?’. Researchers found that individuals are more likely to experience emotions of guilt and shame when they do not act in accordance to their moral identity. And with growing concern for the environment and the increasing transparency of the fashion industry’s production practices, guilt and shame are accompanying our consumption decisions more and more. Environmentally conscious consumers may therefore act in a way that supports their perceived morality, by buying sustainable fashion, just to avoid costly emotions; nobody wants to cry over a pair of rip-off Gucci pumps, afterall. Although benefiting the environment, confirming our beliefs on who we consider ourselves to be and avoiding guilt are still acts of self-interest and personal gain. 

Reason 5: It’s Fashionable

For those whom sustainability isn’t a chief pillar of their moral identity, choosing sustainable clothing can be an inherently selfish act. Buying slow fashion can serve a moral imperative: it supports a more responsible clothing industry, one that does not depend upon speed and constantly changing styles to fuel the market. Slow fashion also offers items with a longer life, of greater value relative to other consumables, and a virtue of remaining ‘in fashion’ beyond trends and seasons . They are investment pieces with tangible pay-offs for the individual alone.

Reason 6: You’re just a good person Goddammit

It is key to recognise that the opportunity to choose sustainable fashion is a privilege for those who can financially afford it. The recent criticism of the Extinction Rebellion to ‘check its privilege’ highlights this principle. One may be environmentally conscious, with a strong moral identity and deep sense of obligation to environmental activism, but financially unable to take a day off work to protest. Yet, for those with less who still commit to sustainable consumption, activism and to embodying the change they want to see, can we plausibly consider them selfish? The constant hold financial strain has over our fiscal and notably our mental health (Selenko & Batinic, 2011; Sweet et al, 2013) may dwarf the benefits of identity validation and status of the economically disenfranchised. And yet there are still those who shoulder these economic and psychological pressures, for the sake of the environment. 

Sustainable fashion can even come at a social cost as well. Fast fashion can enable a sense of belonging within a fashion zeitgeist and wider society, particularly for those with fewer economic freedoms. The opportunity to buy into the demanding global fashion arena, to express oneself and feel a sense of belonging in our cultural climate may be a currency that some people are unwilling to lose. So given not only the costs of sustainable fashion, but the benefits of fast fashion which are passed up, it’s obvious that self-interest cannot be the only motivation for green behaviour.

Indeed, it is clear that the motivations to buy sustainable fashion are not always clear, a melting pot of each individual’s ‘moral’ self and the personal costs and benefits. Ultimately personal gain underpins many of the drivers of green behaviour, but sustainable fashion is not mainstream nor cheap enough to come without financial or mental cost. It is unreasonable to suggest that swerving the easy, cheap, behemoth fast-fashion movement – forgoing the additional disposable income and the ranging social and psychological benefits – is a selfish act. Without an inherent desire to benefit the environment, sustainable fashion wouldn’t be a consideration.

I spoke to Stylist Magazine about a new cult classic, that spotty, relaxed-fit, midi £39.99 dress from Zara. The dress is everywhere, so much so that it has its own instagram account @hot4thspot. How does a dress transform from a simple garment into an ‘it-piece’? Social proof and versatility provides the psychological explanation behind this transition. 

It is, says fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell a prime example of how current trends for women’s fashion revolve around comfort and practicality.

“We’ve moved away from the height of the bodycon era,” Forbes-Bell  explains to me. “As a community, we’re realising that comfort and relaxed fit dressing key – it’s got such a large part to play in how we navigate our lives and how well we complete our daily tasks.

There was a 2015 study that found wearing more comfortable clothing impacts your cognitive performance in a positive way but uncomfortable clothing is associated with distraction and cognitive load.”

But comfort alone does not a cultural phenomenon make. That’s where the print and cut come into play.

“The black and white polka dots suit a variety of skin tones,” says Forbes-Bell. “And the cut is very flattering for a wide range of body types. If you see someone similar to you wearing something, it’s easier to envision yourself in it. So if it suits so many people, you’re far more likely to see someone else like you wearing it – and that starts off a cycle of what we call ‘social proof’.”

Read the rest of my comment and the piece by Moya Lothian-McLean in its entirety here.

Empathy is a concept that I am sure most of us are familiar with, but what about applying it to what is in our wardrobes?

When going through the daily routine of getting dressed, we often overlook the fact that our clothes have passed through many hands before they make it into our wardrobes. From the designers and buyers, to cotton farmers, spinners, dyers, and machinists, each have played an important role in producing our clothing.

Each item of clothing has a broader narrative, and we are only privy to part of that story. This narrative began well before the clothing came into our hands. Even looking inside our garments, the clothing label yields only a small part of that garments story – often only the final point of assembly.

There seems to be a disconnect between consumer and what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ (or ‘seams’ for that matter). Could empathy help bridge this gap?

Following the empathy-altruism hypothesis, looking at our wardrobes with more of an empathetic eye, in an attempt to gain a better understanding and insight into the lives of our garments and their makers, may be just the motivation we need to enact change, and make more socially responsible purchasing decisions.

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I started taking a more empathetic approach to my wardrobe last year, being more curious about what I owned. I now find myself looking more closely at garments, examining their construction, and labels, wondering how many hands the garment has passed through, and the continents it has traveled across. Needless to say, my consumption habits have changed dramatically. I find myself buying less (on a ‘need’ rather than a ‘want’ basis), researching before I buy, and trying to purchase only ethical and sustainable items.

One thing I have encountered that may not be helping the problem is the lack of empathy in media reporting. Employees of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were forced to work in a building that was known to be unsafe. On 24th April, 2013, the world watched on in horror as the factory collapsed, killing 1,133 people and injuring another 2,500 (mostly young women), making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history, and the deadliest garment factory accident in history. Unfortunately, this is not the first tragedy to hit the Bangladeshi garment industry.

Kanchana Ruwanpura PhD, from the University of Cambridge, a garment industry researcher, reports a lack of empathy in the media’s portrayal of these workers, with a tendency to “flatten the voice of labour by reducing workers to a homogenous category or to slaves”. A prime example of this, is the media’s representation of her account of the Sri Lankan Garment Industry. After being asked for input for a piece for Broadly, Ruwanpura detailed the highly educated labour force, the high standards in building regulations, and protective labour legislative framework. What however, was published showcased complete disregard for the reporting of the positives points she had made in relation to the Sri Lankan garment industry. Instead emphasis was placed on the lack of living wages and barriers to unionisation.

The tragedy that was the Rana Plaza factory collapse has been a catalyst for activist groups, including the formation of organisations such as Fashion Revolution. Fashion Revolution have provided us with insight into what life is like for the individuals who make our clothes living in developing nations, enacting genuine change in the way in which clothing is made, while encouraging us to ask one simple, yet powerful question – ‘who made my clothes?’.

The ‘Garment Worker Diaries’, a project of Fashion Revolution, is just one project that is encouraging us to look down at the shirt we are wearing with a renewed sense of empathy. This project takes an intimate look into the lives (and wages) of some of the women in the Cambodia, India and Bangladesh garment industries. The diaries provide us with insight into their daily routines, their weekly earnings and spendings, how they manage their meagre wages, the conditions in which they work (e.g. length of shifts, brands they work for, injuries), and their family responsibilities.

Adopting a more empathetic approach to our wardrobes could help us connect with the people who make our clothes and understand their stories, helping us as consumers to gain a better understanding of the social side of manufacturing. As a result, this could encourage us to make more ethical and sustainable decisions when it comes to our clothing consumption.