Many of us own possessions that transcend their function. They become embedded in our identity, and our sense of self…

In world of mass consumption, where the fashion industry is worth trillions of dollars, it is interesting that many of us own possessions that transcend their function. They become embedded in our identity, and our sense of self, and are valued no longer in terms of their monetary worth but in terms of the emotion invested in the item.

In a study entitled “enclothed cognition” Adam and Galinsky found that clothing can affect our thoughts. In their experiment, some participants wore a garment described as a doctor’s coat and others wore an identical garment described as an artists’ coat. Participants wearing what they thought was a doctor’s coat performed better in attention tasks than those who thought they were in an artists’ coat. The findings suggested, that clothing can affect the wearer due to its symbolic meaning.

The notion that we can imbue our clothing with a symbolic meaning has been widely discussed within the fashion industry with numerous websites, books and artworks exploring the intangible meaning. Garments, like other possessions that are of great sentimental value, can be psychologically appropriated and become vessels of symbolic meaning.

Much like a child’s favourite teddy bear, attachment garments are unique to the individual, their symbolic significance is pertinent to the owner and a brand-new version or a replica of the item would not contain the same meaning. Clothing can act as a security blanket, enshrouding and encasing the wearer not only in a familiar fabric, but with a comforting intangible essence. Some garments can become so precious that they are no longer worn, instead they are nurtured and preserved – hanging unworn in wardrobes or lying folded in drawers for fear of causing any harm to the item.

Yet, other items may be worn and worn and worn becoming dishevelled and threadbare, often left unrepaired for fear of altering their symbolic meaning. Garments that are so highly appropriated, may longer be held to typical ‘fashion norms’ the aesthetic appearance of the garments is outweighed by the meaning or essence of the item.

​As Adam and Galinsky’s study found “enclothed cognition” can affect how participants feel, and so there is great potential for the memories, narratives, and sentimental connections that the garment is imbued with, to positively affect the wearer.


Rebecka Fleetwood-Smith is an interdisciplinary researcher / designer with a background in fashion textiles and psychological research. Fascinated by the way in which our clothing becomes more than just a second skin,' Rebecka's work explores the reciprocal relationship that can occur when we become emotionally invested in our garments.

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