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Shakaila Forbes-Bell

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Mental illness has long been a dark cloud hanging over the creative industries. Several decades of psychological research has found creative individuals to be overrepresented in mental illness diagnoses and fashion is no exception. The fast-paced nature of the fashion industry can often mythicize the idea of having a work-life balance and the onset of COVID-19 has only heightened these pressures. Amidst store closures, closed factories and cancelled shows, the fashion industry has turned into the survival of the fittest. 

Despite certain areas of the industry slowing down or even coming to a complete stand-still, others have switched to lightening speed with brands going into webinar and curated-content overdrive. When all of your energy is going into adapting and surviving there is often little room to attend to the all important task of maintaining your mental well-being. The figures have yet to come in but it’s clear that the collective mental health of the fashion industry is headed for swan dive so, how can we tackle this issue head-on and secure a safer landing?

To give you some ideas, this mental health awareness week, I spoke to 6 fashion industry professionals and creatives and asked them to provide the tips they’re using to manage their mental health in the current period.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Get into a routine

“I experience acute anxiety on occasions, so for me keeping my mind occupied to avoid it from wondering, has been the biggest challenge. I’ve found that it’s important for me to have quite a ridged routine; I set my alarm for 6.30am, do a yoga workout, have a shower, eat breakfast, set my agenda and start work at 9. After work my boyfriend and I will make dinner and play cards or a board game to avoid too much screen time, then I’ll usually watch something on Netflix and get ready for bed. I try not to look at my phone or have the TV on for at least an hour before bed, so I really wind down. My routine initially felt quite mundane but I’ve found it’s a great way to break up the week.”

Tip #2 Practice Self Care

“A classic, but a sure way to help me re-centre is to have a self care session. I’ve recently transitioned into natural hair care, so I tend to incorporate other beauty treatments on my weekly wash day. I like to do a manicure and pedicure (I caved in a bought an LED set off Amazon – shellac is life!) and a face mask. I also like to read for a few hours – I recently joined a book club which is great motivation to get my head into a good book. “

Tip #3 Set Boundaries

“I think initially when we started lockdown it was fun to have constant zoom quizzes with friends and colleagues, daily FaceTime with family but I noticed after a few weeks that I was exhausted and a bit overwhelmed with the constant virtual contact.  Before lockdown I wouldn’t FaceTime my friends everyday – sending a text would usually suffice (and I didn’t feel guilty for doing so). When I realised that with working and constant communication from home, my living space didn’t really feel private anymore. 

I wanted to ensure that whilst my flat is temporarily my office, barista and gym, it’s my home first and foremost. I spoke to my friends and family who were really understanding (some of them even expressed the same feelings!), we now have a weekly catch up on Zoom and keep in touch daily with WhatsApp. If we feel like having a call we will but it’s just nice to not feel the pressure to always be available.  This Pandemic is tough enough, I think the most important thing is to be kind to ourselves and take this time to truly put ourselves first for once.”

Tip #1 Take a closer look at your Mental Health 

I am about to release a fashion film which is solely focused on my experience battling my mental health issues. It forced me to learn a lot about  my personal mental health and it’s been a journey I am glad I took. Once your state of mind is too depressed, you are dependent on it and become a victim of your thoughts. Therefore, its important to first discover how your mind works and be open to new ways to improve by considering it a growth process.

Tip #2 Meditation

It may seem cliche, but meditation is the key. I attended a course by Emily Fletcher and it was a game changer for me. I truly understood the importance of meditation and I consider this technique to be like a shower for your mind. I have also become very interested in spirituality and Neuro-linguistic programming. 

Tip #3 Get a life coach

I wouldn’t have been able to battle my depression without the help of life coaches. Talking to a friend or family member can help, but only for a short time and also you can drag them down. You need to get out of your surroundings to get a clear perspective. It’s an investment, but truly the best you can do as it helps you be more productive, more aligned and understand yourself better from a non objective wa

Tip #1 Praying

My faith is everything to me so it’s Important that I pray in the morning and at night but also during the day. I also listen to podcasts and watch sermons. 

Tip #2 Take breaks 

It is so important for me to take breaks and this isn’t just about using the time to read a fashion magazine. I try to intentionally remove myself from fashion focused things. During this time I have pamper sessions, watch TV series, one of my favourite things to do during a break is to watch hair and skin care tutorials on Youtube. 

Tip #3 Talk to your family and friends 

Talking to friends and family daily no matter how busy things are It’s a must. To vent, laugh, discuss, seek advice and much more.  This is a very crucial step as having a strong support network is everything. If you allow yourself to isolate yourself this will cause you to overthink which can lead you into a negative space.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Make sure you have a health-focused routine

I’m doing my best to combat future-related anxiety with consistent routines – it’s my way of making sure I feel accomplished at the end of the day. Now, after two months at home, It’s incredibly satisfying to see the results. For me, getting enough sleep, eating regularly (I’m transitioning to a plant-based diet right now) and exercise makes all the difference. I was never the person that maintained any kind of routine, so I find these habits very restorative.

Tip #2 Have social media breaks

To maintain balance and prevent falling into the rabbit hole of FOMO, I take social media free weekends and I “dose” my screen time daily. It helps me to mange how reactive I am to my surroundings. In addition, that’s one of the ways to take a break from the implicit expectations on platforms such as Instagram.

Tip #3 Get ready even if you have no place to go

Getting ready helps me to stay motivated. Putting on make up is what I do before I leave for work or school, so this is the exact thing I do to boost my mood and prepare for the day. I’ve created home office “uniforms” and I make sure the clothes I’m wearing create a comforting, tactile sensation so that I feel good in my second skin.

fashion mental health covid-19

Tip #1 Have strict working hours

Even though I run a company with employees I make sure that I have a strict cut off time that I stop working every day. 

Tip #2 Exercise daily 

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo activity. My wife, daughter and I do exercise with Jo Wicks on YouTube every morning. 

Tip #3 Indulge your hobbies

Make sure you don’t forget your hobbies while on lockdown. I make music in my 

spare time and I play PlayStation to help take my mind off the current situation as it helps me to escape while still being creative outside of fashion. 

Tip #1 Don’t give up on makeup

I find putting mascara on to be a simple yet helpful process when dealing with life stressors! It helped me get through my 10 months of maternity leave with smile and a sense of femininity! When I feel down, my mascara really helps!

Tip #2 Family is everything

I make sure to not get too caught up in my work and put time aside to be with my family and play wth my now 5 year old twins!

 

Tip #3 Make other people smile

It’s important to not be too self-focused during this difficult period. Step out of yourself once in a while and try to bring light to people around you. I find bringing other people happiness to be the key to my wellbeing.

Do you have any mental wellbeing tips you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

What is the baby-face stereotype and how does it give bloggers an advantage?

We all know someone who looks ridiculously (often suspiciously) good for their age. Grown men and women who look like they’ve found the map to the fountain of youth and proceeded to dive into it. Psychologists, quite simply refers to this youthful disposition as baby-facedness. Baby-faced people are those who have large, wide set eyes, high eyebrows, a large forehead and cheeks and a small chin. Research suggests that being blessed with a perpetual baby-face can benefit your life beyond saving money on expensive face creams with added youth-enhancing chemicals like Q10 (what even is that?).

What’s the first thing you think of when you see babies?

“Aww”, “how adorable” and “I want one!” are usually the spontaneous responses elicited from people when gushing over tiny toes and chubby cheeks. Even the baby-adverse among us are not exempt from our evolutionary disposition to nurture the infantile. But what happens when you come across a baby-faced adult? Whilst you’re unlikely to make silly faces and poke at their tummy’s you do make subconscious and positive inferences about them. Research has shown that baby-faced adults elicit stereotypically protective responses from those around them because people associate their youthful facial features with the naiveté, helplessness, honesty, and innocence of babies.

The effect of baby-facedness is so strong that it has even been proven to be a helpful defence tool in court. A study by Zebrowitz and McDonald found that as defendants increased in baby-facedness they were more likely to win their cases, even those involving deliberate and intentionally unlawful actions. The study also found that baby-faced plaintiffs were awarded higher monetary pay outs than those with more mature faces.

When it comes to fashion marketing, research suggests that baby-faced models, bloggers and brand ambassadors alike may have a slight advantage. Because of their innocent facial features, reviews conducted by baby-faced individuals are deemed to be more truthful suggesting that any positive reviews made by such people will be more successful. A report by Lidwell, Holden and Butler also argued that testimonial commercials in particular will benefit from featuring baby-faced models whose innocent, cherub-like faces make them appear more believable. The report also suggests that brands seeking influencers to create reviews on more serious products like medical procedures for example, should avoid those with high baby-facedness as they “have difficulty being taken seriously in situations where expertise or confrontation is required”. However, this seemingly negative judgement is not universal as a study by Zebrowitz and Franklin found that older adults believe baby-faced people to be more competent
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Do you think you have a baby face? Check out the slideshow below to discover some baby-faced celebrities and bloggers.

Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François sheds light on the recent rise in  lockdown hair transformations.

I lost a bet to my colleague earlier this year. Fresh off my trip to Trinidad for carnival in February, I was positive that we wouldn’t have to work remotely because COVID-19 would go as quickly as it came. After I monzoed her the £5 and set up shop at the desk in my bedroom, the next thing I did was give myself super bright waist-length braids. I’ve never experimented with a colour so bright before but I felt compelled to make the change and it appears that I wasn’t alone in these feelings. According to Brand Advisory Platform Wearisma, in the UK, social media content related to hair transformations has grown by 57% between March and April this year. While many may assume this collective desire to change our hair is simply a side-effect of lockdown boredom, psychological research would suggest that there are deeper factors at play.

Me featuring lockdown blonde knotless braids

For many people, hair is inextricably linked to identity. Whether you’ve had the same style since childhood or are constantly reinventing your look, hair can go a long way to help you express the identity you have forged for yourself and the one you choose to express to the world. Having a good hair day is more important than you may think. A study commissioned by Procter & Gamble revealed that being dissatisfied with your hair can lead to increased levels of self-criticism, social insecurities and can even reduce your belief in your ability to achieve personal goals. When the psychological risks of having an unflattering style are so stark, why are we jumping at the chance to tamper with our tresses in the wake of COVID-19?

One significant reason is control. All over the world, people’s daily lives have been disrupted by restrictions put in place in an effort to quash the rampant spread of Coronavirus. While these efforts are without a doubt vital for our collective safety, they have amounted to a sense of a loss of control. One thing that you do have control of however, is your hair. The instant gratification that comes with making a drastic change to your hair can provide you with a much needed sense of control in a time where many of us feel helpless. To delve deeper into the significance of hair in our lives and how we can safely experiment with new styles during this period, I spoke to celebrity hairstylist and educator Vernon François who has worked with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles, Serena Williams and many more.

What role do you think hair plays in people’s lives?

Hair is an important part of our identity, how we choose to wear it reflects how we want to be seen or perceived by the outside world. It can change according to the stage we’re at in our lives, our lifestyle, how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us. Hair can also have cultural, historical, social and geographical relevance. It has links with heritage as certain styles and methods of braiding are associated with different tribes in Africa, it can show which “tribe” you identify yourself with from a fashion or societal perspective. Historically certain types of braided styles were linked specifically to Greek, Egyptian or Roman communities, also the Vikings and Celts have trademark styles and ways of braiding hair. Different qualities are seen as desirable depending on where you are in the world, and the symbolism tied with how people wear and decorate their hair is a vast area to explore.

A good hairstylist will always talk with their client about the role that hair plays in their life, whether they do or don’t embrace their hair’s true texture and the reasons around that. Understanding the client, their needs, desires and expectations is crucial to achieving successful outcomes beyond the salon chair. There is always a bigger picture to be explored beyond the style itself, which is as personal and unique to each individual as their hair texture is.

Celebrity Hairstylist and Educator Vernon François
Have you had many clients come to get their hair done after a significant event?

It is not unusual for clients to have their hair done after a significant event in their life like having a baby, following a break-up, or starting a new job. People say the effect is often a sense of feeling reinvigorated, and that particularly going short after having longer hair feels liberating. A change of any kind, small or dramatic, with the hair’s cut, colour or style can be up-lifting. Many women have told me that having their hair cut short has made them feel more confident, expressive and feminine. I’ve always been a huge fan of short hair.

Psychological research has proven that as we get older, life altering events and changes in personal appearance go hand in hand. In 2013, researchers Megan Stitz and John Pierce found that “stressful life events may prompt body image dissatisfaction and underlie motivations for changes in body appearance to promote self-image. Successive or dramatic appearance changes may be an important signal of stressful experiences.” Alongside zoom quiz nights and the pillow challenge, hair transformations are a signifier of this extraordinary moment in history but as Vernon cautions, having a little patience is one of the best things we can do for our hair.


The most important piece of advice I’d give to people experimenting with their hair at home is don’t be tempted to cut or trim your own hair, even a small amount, please wait for your hairstylist to start back.  You might end up doing more harm than good which could be costly and time consuming to fix when the salons open again.  Also, it’s a skill that takes many years to learn and the scissors that you have at home will not be as sharp as those in salons, which can easily cause split ends and damage.
Another piece of advice is to take the time to prepare and style your hair for bedtime, which will help promote good condition and encourage the shape of your kinks, coils, curls or waves to form overnight.  Prepare hair by sectioning then spritzing from root to tip with the Overnight Repair Treatment Oils from my collection, which are fantastic for helping to keep hair moisturised and looking and feeling healthy.  Finger twist or two-strand twist a section of hair, then coil it around itself leaving the texture fluffy at the roots to encourage volume, and pin in place.  Repeat this all over the head, don’t worry about being neat.  Ideally sleep with hair covered in a silk cap so friction isn’t an issue as you move around in your sleep.  Unravel in the morning in an environment that’s not steamy or humid and let the hair be free.

Has your relationship with your hair changed during lockdown? Let us know in the comments!

A new feature this week in my favourite publication refinery29! I spoke to the lovely Georgia Murray about the irresistible appeal of the colour yellow and why every designer from Emilia Wickstead to Christopher Kane is having a love affair with the hue at the moment. 

In the natural world, too, colours which sit beside yellow on the spectrum mix with it to create putrid shades that bring to mind acid, pus, poison and toxic foods and flowers, causing revulsion and fear. Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and founder of Fashion is Psychology, notes that it’s the colour most associated with urgency and alertness. “Having a greater effect on attention compared to cooler colours like blue and grey, yellow has been proven to induce feelings of high arousal which activates the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) in the brain, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure, mobility and readiness to respond,” she explains. Think of the use of yellow in everything from road signs and horror films (Kill Bill, we’re looking at you) to graphic designer Harvey Ball’s 1963 smiley face, later adopted as the symbol of rave culture. What gets hearts beating faster than ecstasy and two-stepping?

Click here to read the piece in full and scroll down to see my favourite yellow outfit gifted from the lovely folks at Next. 

Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell
Fashion psychology shakaila forbes-bell

We’re currently living in one of the most tumultuous times of our lives. Every thing about daily life has changed, chiefly our daily routine getting up, getting dressed and getting out of the house. While it may be tempting to spend the entirety of your day in your pyjamas, you can’t forget that the clothes you choose to wear are constantly impacting the way you think and feel.

I spoke to Happiful’s Digital Editor Ellen Hoggard about the way clothes can shift your thinking, lift your mood and improve your confidence. 

The best route to discovering your personal style involves first acknowledging that your personal style is an extension of yourself. Once you accept this, you need to decide which version of yourself you want to portray to the outside world.

Research has found that we all have a dynamic relationship with clothing that impacts the three different ways we view ourselves: the person you want to be, the person you hope to be, and the person you fear to be.

Think about the qualities that make up the person you want and hope to be, the things they do and the places they visit. Do you know anyone that embodies these qualities and lives this lifestyle? How do they dress? Take inspiration from them

Read the full article on Happiful‘s website. 

The Durag is one of those pieces that you either wear religiously or you’ve never heard of at all. If you’re in the former category, then you’ll be aware of the cultural significance they hold. To celebrate cultural icon Rihanna’s latest British Vogue cover shoot, I spoke to Vogue’s Contributing Editor Fumi Fetto about the psychological importance of the headdress in the Black community. 

The popularity of durags amongst black men, says fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell, is closely related to the way the black community values hair and community. “Those playful Twitter videos, where young men gather together to untie their durags for ‘wave checks’, are a testament to the way hair and fashion interact to unify the black community”.

Visit Vogue.co.uk to read the rest of the article. 

When discussing female empowerment, the feminist movement and its success in improving women’s wellbeing within patriarchal societies, the impact of clothing and fashion might be pretty low on the list. However, as we have highlighted on this platform, clothing can play a pivotal role in driving political conversations, in forming group dynamics and just generally improving the confidence of women the world over. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have identified 4 garments that have all positively impacted the lives of women in one way or another.

Boots

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: WashingtonPost.com

The ones we hate to love, high-heeled boots. No one will deny that high-heels are a health hazard. ‘As early as 1881, a British physician reported an occupationally related backache caused by “the wearing of high-heeled boots, which necessitates the continuous action of the muscles of the lower part of the spine, in order to maintain the proper balance and erect position’ (Linder, 1997). Despite the associated pain, women continue to wear high heeled boots for one reason; they make us feel powerful, or if you’re Elle Writer Estelle Tang, they make you feel like a “Powerful Witch”. In a survey conducted by MIC respondents noted that heels helped them to “flip a switch” in their minds that took them from “girl” to “woman.”

Psychologically speaking, it can be the case that high-heeled boots evoke a sense of power in women simply due to the fact that it makes them appear taller. Indeed, in US presidential elections the taller candidate is always more likely to win because we simply process taller people as being more authoritative (McCann, 2001). Interestingly, studies have also found that powerful people overestimate their height. If by adorning those few inches you can be perceived as more powerful, feel more powerful and even be more likely to win an election then as the saying goes: no pain, no gain.

Slogan T-Shirts

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: Essence.com

For years, slogan T-shirts have allowed women to literally wear their hearts on their sleeves and take centre stage in many political spheres. As highlighted by Phyllis Martin in her 2004 book ‘Fashioning Africa: Power and politics of dress’, clothing has always had the capacity to “be threatening to observers and even dangerous for wearers. As sensibilities about gender, sexuality, age, and status converge, the dressed[…]body may be a site for contestation”. From ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Time’s up’ women have being utilising clothing in the form of Slogan T-shirts to ignite social change for several years.

British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett is often credited as one of the first to create a politically charged slogan T-shirt. When meeting the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 she unzipped her jacket to reveal a shirt with the anti-nuclear sentiment that read “58% don’t want Pershing”. Since then, several female fashion designers including Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney have all created slogan t-shirts that allow women to express their political viewpoints.

Sadly, a study by NatWest found that when voicing their opinions, a fifth of women have been negatively described as ‘opinionated’, while one in 10 has been called ‘feisty’ or ‘vocal’. These perceptions can often negatively impact a women’s confidence, forcing her into silence. Luckily, Slogan T-shirts can lift the burden of vocalisation by speaking for women in a way that cannot be misinterpreted or go unnoticed.

Bras

Fashion Psychology

A controversial entry on the list, bras has often been seen as an antithesis of female liberation; an instrument created to contort women’s bodies for the male gaze. When digging a little deeper though, you’ll find that bra-burning is less of a feminist staple and more so a trope pushed by anti-feminist media. According to author of Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism W. Joseph Campbell stated that the during the event in 1968 when the burning happened, bras certainly weren’t the only garment thrown into the fire.  “Invoking bra burning was a convenient means of brushing aside the issues and challenges raised by women’s liberation and discrediting the fledgling movement as shallow and without serious grievance,” Campbell wrote.

When looking at the history of bras you’ll find it has always been routed in providing women with increased comfort and support during times of increased activity. The first bra patent was granted to Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914 in New York who, upon fashioning a bra made up of handkerchiefs and ribbon celebrated the fact that she could “move more freely”. Whilst studies have shown that bras, particularly ill-fitting ones can cause back pain, not wearing a bra when exercising means that your back, neck muscles, and trapezius (a major muscle in the back) are also going to have to work a lot harder to balance out your weight. Similarly, Livestrong reported that ‘sports bra helps minimize the movement of your breasts, which can help to reduce pain and discomfort caused by stretched skin and ligaments caused by working out’. 

The number of women playing sports regularly are increasing and after Nike’s recent impassioned ad featuring Tennis Champion Serena Williams, we’re sure these numbers will continue to climb. There’s no denying that bra’s, particularly Sports Bras have played a significant role for women in this arena.

Shoulder Pads

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: TheDollsFactory.com

During World War II the epaulettes that graced the shoulders of soldiers manoeuvred their way into the fashion industry as women donned shoulder pads as symbol of solidarity with the brave fighters abroad as they contributed to the war effort at home. In post-War times, psychological research has found that shoulder pads have a positive by-effect for working women. In the 80s-movie classic Working Girl, Melanie Griffith’s character dons larger than life shoulder pads to legitimise her new position as a respected business woman and thus the era of power dressing was born with designers such as Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana showcasing the style on the runway. In the 80s and during its revival in the early 21st century, shoulder pads were the clothing equivalent to the ideology of ‘leaning in’ – taking charge and embodying power in male dominated industries. But why do we associate shoulder pads with power?

Broad shoulders are typically associated with males, with studies showing that men with broad shoulders are not only perceived to be more masculine but they also possess higher testosterone levels (Kasperk et al, 1997). As shoulder pads broaden shoulders, when wearing them women can also be perceived as possessing more masculine traits. It’s certainly true that women should not have to ‘man-up’ their wardrobes in order to level the playing fields. Shoulder pads could lessen the impact of the negative stereotypes that some men hold of women when applying for roles in traditionally male-dominated workplaces.

Did we miss any wardrobe staples? Let us know in the comments

Header Image Source: Variety.com

The Carnival outfit, coupled with the freeing backdrop of the Caribbean can evoke an impassion response, particularly in women. In this piece, we’ll discuss the psychological research behind the outfits appeal and how its strong historical roots makes it deeper than simply a cute costume.

This time last week I was awash in a flurry of gems, sequins and feathers and I’ve never felt more powerful. Together, these pieces formed part of my masquerader costume as part of Trinidad Carnival – a yearly celebration that takes place in the days leading up to the Lenten period.  Now, before I paint you a clearer picture of how an outfit (which, on paper sounds like a young bedazzling enthusiasts fantasy) could insight such forceful emotions and even before I describe what the term ‘masquerader’ means, I must first give you a brief insight into the history of Carnival

Dating back to the 18th century, the history of Carnival in Trinidad is tied up with colonialism and catholicism. While transporting slaves to the Caribbean, Europeans, hailing from France and Spain brought their Pre-Lenten celebrations with them. Carnival originally started as a period for rich White elites to celebrate before the sacrificial period of lent while Black slaves were forbidden from partaking in the festivities. Through a series of emancipations and uprisings, Carnival was reimaged and evolved to what it is today – a cultural jubilee climaxing in the ultimate street party.

Revellers ‘play mas’ or simply, join in on the festivities by becoming ‘masqueraders’: Members of a Carnival group or ‘mas band’. Mas bands create elaborate and whimsical costumes for their masqueraders to wear. In every mas band masqueraders are split into sections. Each section has its own style of costume which come in varying degrees of flamboyance, from delicately placed gems to floor-length tassels and six-foot-tall feathers that would make Big Bird green with envy. Trinidad, where my family hail from, is known as the ‘mother of all Caribbean Carnivals’ so you can understand my innate infatuation with the event. 

Now that we’ve got the history out of the way, let’s get back to what you came here for – the fashion. I can spend another couple of paragraphs talking about the series of stellar outfits required for the multitude of parties leading up to Carnival Tuesday but like your white dress on your wedding day, there’s only one outfit that really counts.

“My body was decorated as if it were a prize to be celebrated..”

Global Carnivalist playing for Yuma Band in the Cloud 10 Section

For Carnival Tuesday, I chose to play mas with a well-known band called Yuma. Yuma elicited the talent of Rawle Permanand (@rawlepermanand) to design the costumes in the section I chose called cloud-10. The name possibly referred to the white base colour of my costume, complemented by iridescent pink and blue gems. In my opinion, it referred to the cloud 9 (but better) feeling I experienced when I wore the full outfit, complete with my modest feather backpack and my striking crown. For many people, who don’t quite understand the liberation and freedom associated with Carnival, walking out of your house (for about 5 plus miles thereafter in the parade) in what is essentially a decorated bikini can seem indecent and too risqué. However, it’s possible that these views have a lot to do with societal pressures, particularly those applied to women and their attire. 

Sadly, psychological studies have shown that wearing fewer items of clothing can actually negatively impact the way women think about themselves and can even impact their presumed intelligence. In one study, entitled ‘the swimsuit becomes you’ (by Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn and Twenge), researchers asked a group of female participants to complete a math test. While some of the female participants completed the exam in everyday attire, the other participants completed the exam wearing a swimming costume. The results revealed that, despite there being no difference in the intelligence between the two groups, the participants wearing the swimming costume performed significantly worse on the maths tests. The researchers concluded that this occurred because women often internalise the perceptions of others regarding the way they dress. It’s certainly true that in many Western cultures, women who choose to wear less clothing are deemed to be unintelligent, are sexualised and in some cases even vilified. These pressures can lead to self-objectification which produces body shame, “which is manifested in diminished mental performance”. Interestingly, the same negative effects were not experienced for the men tested in Fredrickson and colleagues’ experiment. 

So, why did I feel powerful? I believe it has a lot to do with the environment. For the most part, in the Caribbean, the woman’s form is celebrated. I didn’t experience the lustful looks or hear the tsking of an older person when I had more skin on show than they would have liked. My body was decorated as if it were a prize to be celebrated and being among other women, who were all dressed similarly if not the same, can heighten that freeing feeling. That feeling of camaraderie was certainly felt by experienced masquerader Globey (@GlobalCarnivalist) who has travelled the world playing mas in 15 plus Carnivals. “I do feel a stronger sense of community when [playing mas]. Most times the other masqueraders in my section will look out for each other; fix a costume string here, tuck a panty line here, mention “hey you’re about to have a nip-slip”. It’s amazing how a Carnival costume can bring strangers together on the road.”

Some scientists would argue that the impassioned response that many masqueraders have to their head-to-toe sparkly costumes has an evolutionary component – a topic we discussed in the piece ‘Sciencing Beauty with Pat McGrath’. Evolutionary psychologists claim that our attraction to shiny things is linked to our ingrained need for survival. For example, in a study on children, infants aged 7-12 months old were found to put their mouths to glossy plates much more than to dull ones. Children had also been seen lapping shiny toys on the ground, the way an animal might drink from a puddle. Researchers have concluded that the connection between drinking and shiny design was an evolutionary artefact–a sign that “our crush on glossy fabrics is rooted in a primitive desire for water as a vital resource” (Coss, Ruff & Simms, 2010).

Me playing for Yuma Band in the Cloud 10 Section

Designing a costume is not as simple as throwing together some gems and hoping for the best. “The costumes are as diverse as the islands, colourful like our homes and innovative,” says Globey.  Not only are the costumes intricate, delicate and skilfully designed, they tell a story of a people who underwent unimaginable suffering to evolve free; free to celebrate their presence in a way that forces you to take notice. 

The cultural significance of the Carnival costume was brought to light recently when Nigerian-American YouTuber Jackie Aina and Filipino-American YouTuber Patrick Star partnered with Uoma Beauty for a Carnival-Inspired Campaign. While the campaign claimed to be inspired by Nigeria’s Carnival celebration, the costumes featured were more reminiscent of Caribbean Carnivals like those held in Trinidad and dissimilar to the costumes worn at the Calabar or Caretta Carnivals in Nigeria. Naming a set of lashes in the collection “Trinidad” was not enough to halt the wave of disappointed tweets, some even coming from me. Many were upset at the fact that the campaign featured Non-Caribbeans donning Caribbean cultural attire, a move which can be interpreted as cultural appropriation. Others were disappointed at witnessing a routine that often happens in black communities, that being, when a community adorns a garment that’s unique to them they are at best misunderstood and at worst deemed derogatory. However, when that same garment is worn by a more visible person, detached from the community, they are celebrated. Thankfully, living up to her reputation as a champion for inclusivity, Aina listened to her followers and swiftly selected 4 Caribbean influencers to take part in Uoma’s campaign.

Today I’m back in London. My feathers did not survive the 8-hour flight. My two-piece is missing a couple gems and I have a few scratches on my arms from careless attempts at dancing with fellow gemmed-up masquerades. However, I will never forget the freeing feeling wearing that outfit and having my body and all of its curves not simply accepted but championed.

In many articles, I’ve discussed the positive psychological impact of dressing comfortably but how can you dress comfortably if you can’t find clothes to suit your frame? While we’re lucky to be living in the Body-Positivity era where women are calling out brands for their one-size-fits-all offerings sadly, research has shown that 57% of women feel that there are no clothes to suit their body type. In an effort to help all women feel more confident in their clothing choices I’ve used psychological research to identify clothing styles that will suit women with the following 4 figures: Hourglass, Petite,  Pear Silhouette and Tall. 

A portion of this article was originally printed in Cosmopolitan Germany

Hourglass

fashion psychology
Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan Germany

Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology made up of a series of principles that provided the foundation for the modern study of perception. If we consider some of these principles when dressing, we can ensure that we’re emphasising the parts of the body we like and de-emphasise the parts of the body we don’t. For example, the Gestalt principle of figure/ground lets the eyes know what it should be focusing on (the figure) and what it should ignore (the background). 

In a garment that has two colours, our eyes will focus on the part of the body that has the least amount of either colour (the figure) and the areas that have the most amount of colour will be ignored (the background). People who have an hourglass silhouette typically determine their trim waist to be their best asset and want to emphasise this. To emphasize this feature, they can utilise the figure/ground principle by having a single block of colour in the middle of their waist that breaks up the rest of their dress/outfit. This can also take the shape of a dress that has a concentrated print along the waist, or, for example, a white dress that has a black coloured belted waist, anything that draws the eyes to the centre of the body. Accessories such as belts should be placed at the smallest point of the waist to create more of an impact. 

The styling rule that I’d like to abolish for people with an hourglass figure is that they should ‘avoid frills’ for fear that it will make them look “too big”. As long as frills or volume-adding features don’t over-shadow the waist, they can serve to complement an hourglass figure. For example, a blouse dress that cinches in at the waist or has a belted waist will be perfect. 

Having said that, peplum-style dresses that have added fabric around the waist should be avoided if you want to truly embrace your hourglass figure. High-neck, mid-length dresses in a figure-hugging material are extremely complimentary to people with an hourglass figure. Dresses in this style will hug the body at its three smallest points; the neck, the waist and the knees – fully honouring the hourglass shape. While short jackets will draw the eyes to the waist and highlight this area, women with a more adventurous style could embrace longer ‘ombre-coloured’ jackets to draw attention to the waist. 

Petite

Fashion Psychology

The best kind of dresses for dainty/tiny women are short dresses as these emphasise the length of the legs, elongating the body and allowing the wearers best assets to shine. Empire-waist dresses will also help to create this elongated effect. Two-pieces are also perfect for dainty/tiny especially when a crop top is paired with a high waisted skirt as again, this will make the legs appear longer. If pairing an outfit with heels, closed-toe pointed heels will be best as these also create the illusion of a longer leg. 

Gestalt’s principle of similarity states that when two things appear similar to each other, our eyes group them together. So, dainty/tiny women who choose to wear prints should wear dresses/two-pieces where the print along the chest varies slightly from the print directly under the chest area. The way the eyes will perceive these prints as two groups will make the bottom half of the body appear longer and make the wearer appear taller. Similarly, a short jacket will work best for this figure-type as it will allow the waist and areas below to shine. Based on this principle, dresses with a drop waist or short dress with a high concentration of colour or print at the very bottom should be avoided as it will make the legs appear even shorter.

If you find yourself coveting a garment that is too long for your body type either take a visit to the tailor or take a shortcut using hemming tape. Hemming tape is super easy to use and works on most fabrics, all you’ll need is an iron and a few pins. 

One styling rule that I’d like to abolish is that dainty/tiny women should avoid ruffles as these might make them look “too cute”. In fact, if ruffles are placed exclusively around the chest area or even around the shoulders this will draw the eyes up making the legs appear even longer. To avoid the “too cute” look, it’s all about placement. For example, a Molly-Goddard style dress with frills and volume all over the body can swamp the body making you look like a child playing dress-up. 

Pear

Fashion Psychology
Source: Girlwithcurves.com

Women with pear silhouettes either want to embrace/draw attention to their lower half or they want to minimise it. The types of fabrics that you wear around this area can help you to either emphasize or de-emphasize it. For example, glossy fabrics reflect more light, attract the eyes and make the surfaces underneath it appear larger. Matte fabrics absorb light and make the surfaces underneath it appear smaller. Rough surfaces also absorb light more unevenly than dull surfaces. If you want to emphasize your lower half and make it appear even bigger, wear a shiner material on the bottom, one that reflects light. If you want to minimize your lower half wear dull, uneven materials on the bottom like linen or perhaps sequins on a night out as these will absorb more light. 

For women who want to balance their body and make their top half look more in proportion to their lower half, harness the power of stripes. Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that horizontal stripes make the body appear smaller while vertical stripes make the body appear larger. So, if you would like to emphasize the chest area, wear a dress that has vertical stripes on the top and horizontal stripes on the bottom. Adding another layer up top for example,  by adding a t-shirt under a slip dress will also create balance by drawing the eyes to the upper half of the body, making it appear slightly larger. Make sure that the t-shirt and the dress are contrasting colours to achieve the desired effect. A mid-length, volume inducing jacket, like a puffer jacket for example, will also achieve the same results. 

Many women with a pear silhouette find it hard to locate dresses that don’t have a large chest area. One dress style that avoids this issue is a wrap dress. Traditional wrap dresses will allow you to adjust the fit of the dress to make it tighter at the top to accommodate your smaller chest area while draping loosely around the lower half to provide comfort. 

One styling rule I would like to abolish for the pear silhouette is that those with this shape need to avoid slip dresses. While many slip dresses were designed with a straight figure in mind some are cut in a way that allows more room on the lower half of the body to suit pear shapes. If you’re on the look-out for a slip dress, pay close attention to its cut to see if it goes in at the waist and gets wider at the bottom. This will allow it to drape nicely around your curves. 

Tall

Fashion Psychology

Women who embrace their height should wear maxi dresses. Maxi dresses are the perfect dress for taller women as it makes them look statuesque. When wearing midi dresses, taller woman should opt for form-fitting dresses especially around the lower half of the body. Midi dresses are very popular at the moment but can look unflattering on tall women if they flare out too much just under the knee or around the calf, creating the appearance that the dress was meant for a shorter individual. However, if the dress is form-fitting and utilises a figure-hugging fabric, the length that the dress stops at won’t matter because it will look deliberate.

Tall women should pay close attention to their proportions if they want to create a balanced look while also embracing their height. If you have longer legs, then perhaps avoid empire waist dresses as this will serve to make your legs look even longer. If you have a longer torso, a dress with a drop waist will over-exaggerate this portion. Find a dress that cinches in at the natural waist or use a belt to achieve balance. 

For both tall and androgynous women who feel like they’re wearing ‘a costume’ when wearing a dress, focus on tailoring. Dresses that have more volume around the shoulder area can create a more masculine aesthetic as studies have shown that people deem those with broader shoulders to possess masculine traits. Picking dresses with tougher fabrics such as leather can also add to the effect. When in doubt, throw on a classic biker jacket or tailored blazer to create a more androgynous look.

The styling rule that I would abolish for tall women would be to ‘avoid heels’. Tall women should not shy away from their height and embrace wearing heels. If the thought of towering over people is too daunting, throw on a pair of three-inch heels; not quite kitten heel, not quite high-heels but a happy medium. 

Do you have any styling tips that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments!