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Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault 

The things we wear are often weaponized against us in instances of sexual assault or harrasment- but what if we could weaponise fashion in our favour? There is nothing someone could wear that deservingly incites sexual assault, but maybe there is something we could wear that would protect us from it, either through prevention or self defence. 

It must be said, the following article is not insinuating it is the women’s responsibility to prevent sexual assault- our government and education system holds the primary responsibility to keep us safe, however I will personally not hold my breathe as these institutions continuously fail us.

The Need For Protection

When Sarah Everard was brutally murdered at the hands of somebody who’s job was to protect us, it ignited a movement across the nation which was way past due. She was sadly only one of a series of murders and crimes against women, with school teacher Sabina Nessa being murdered months before in a London park.

Violence against women has not just been normalised, but decriminalised, with London’s prosecution rate for domestic violence claims plumeting to the lowest figure in 3 years, and only 1 in 60 rape cases resulting in a charge or summons.

When our justice system does not serve us, it is no surprise that women have taken it upon themselves to protect or prevent assault. One way this is being done is through fashion items that multi-task for anti-assault purposes.

Why Men Attack

The quest to understand why people commit crimes will forever be ongoing, but I believe when it comes to crimes against women, the answer may lie in the misogynistic attitudes and beliefs ingrained in our society. A major theory in Psychology named ‘Social Learning Theory’ by Albert Bandura could explain why gendered stereotypes can fuel such crimes. This theory explains that from a young age we are taught what are ‘gender-appropriate’ behaviours, through observing, modelling and imitating. Once these beliefs and attitudes are internalised, we encode them as schemas (cognitive frameworks that help us understand and interpret information).

According to this theory if you had positive role models, congratulations, you’re probably not out there murdering or hurting women. However, if you grew up with role models that often spoke about women in a derogatory way, hurt women themselves or altogether taught you to not have respect for women, chances are high that you’ve internalised dangerous beliefs and in turn behaviours.

There has been research conducted exploring whether social learning theory can work as a predictor of sexual violent behaviour later in life. It was found that the experience of physical and sexual victimisation at home was strongly associated with the development of sexual deviations or traits of psychosexual disorders. 

There is good news- according to behaviourist theories, what can be taught, can be untaught. Therapy and re-education is a great place to start.

Locker Room Talk

Furthermore, it isn’t just familial role models that can impact attitudes and behaviours-  one study explored men’s adherence to male hegemonic norms in conversation, or as more commonly known ‘locker room talk’. Findings indicated that exposure to peers who sexually objectify and disrespect women decreased prosocial behaviour and heightened misogynistic behaviour.

The media is also a huge contributor to warped ideas that women are inferior and for men to take advantage of. A very telling study by Middlesex University gave participants phrases to look at- half were taken from interviews with rapists and half were taken from ‘Lad’s magazines’.

The participants had to guess which phrases came from which source- having taken this test myself it was shocking to see how difficult it was to correctly identify the correct source as they mirrored each other in both language and sentiment. Some phrases included ‘Go and smash her on a park bench’ and other vile, derogatory language. 

This shows exactly how men are taught the misogynistic ideals that leads to violence against women.

So what can we do as women to protect ourselves? Many products have hit the market in recent years to try and combat this issue, here are just a few:

Anti-Rape Shorts

This company has designed shorts resistant to pulling, tearing and cutting whilst still being comfortable to wear during normal activities (e.g running, clubbing). The waist, thighs and central panels are protected with specially designed, cut resistant straps and webbing with the waist secured with a unique locking device- this makes it virtually impossible for somebody other than yourself to take them off.

Their idea stemmed from research that showed resistance increased the chance of avoiding a completed sexual assault, so designing an item which allows girls to passively resist an attacker was their goal. 

Xantus Drinkcheck Band

This wristband uses science to let us know if our drink has been spiked- all you need to do is place a few drops of your drink on the test field, and if it turns blue your drink has been spiked. Although not the most fashionable accessory, this wrist-band can help keep you safe on nights out by keeping you informed on exactly what you’re drinking. 

Night cap scrunchie

This ingenious design combines two things girls need: protection from being spiked and a hair tie (isn’t being a girl fun). The scrunchie opens up and can be stretched around any cup or glass, apart from allowing for a straw to be inserted, it provides air tight protection so your beverage can stay rohypnol free! 

Invisawear Charms

This brand aims to positively empower users in feeling safe, secure and connected. They do this through their necklaces and bracelets which have several functions to ensure our loved ones know when we are in trouble.

For instance, once you activate the button on the charm, it sends up to 5 of your loved ones a text message with your location and lets them know you are in trouble, enabling them to act quickly. There is even a feature which links your contacts directly to police near you, sharing your profile details in order to make it even easier for the police to find you- all at the press of a button.

Raising Self-Efficacy in Women

Although I am thankful these products exist, it is infuriating that they need to. But these items may have more than one use; along with actually protecting us, they might also have a great impact on self-esteem and self-efficacy without even having to use them- ‘Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people’s beliefs in their ability to influence events that affect their lives”, as explained by Bandura.

Research shows women have worse perceived self-efficacy than men, feeling they are less able.This may be because we are constantly reminded of our (false) inferiority to men.

However, if we are able to feel more empowered by protecting ourselves, or knowing we could if needed, using wit instead of brawn, our self esteem and positive view of our female identity can be improved through anti-assault fashion.

I spoke with Charlie Culverhouse for Guap Fashion to unravel the reasoning behind consumers fascination with the past. 

“One of the reasons why it’s appealing to revisit past decades in fashion is due to the positive impact of nostalgia. Early research previously identified nostalgia as a negative experience due to its association with negative psychological states, but we now know that the reason why those in negative psychological states are more prone to nostalgic thinking is due to the psychological benefits of nostalgia.”
“After engaging in nostalgia-inducing activities, research has shown that people experience higher self-esteem, are more optimistic, feel less lonely and more socially connected, and, as a result, are more creative. This induced positivity fosters creativity, illustrating some of the reasons why fashion lovers, creatives, and fashion and accessories designers look back to go forward.” 
“Studies have shown that outlandish dressing carries a type of tension release dimension because these styles can trigger a form of escapism, helping you to step outside of the mundane daily routines that make up pandemic living.”
“Similarly, when you put more effort into your outfit and wear something that speaks to your personal tastes or holds sentimental value, you’re inadvertently engaging in ‘dopamine dressing’. It’s something we’ve all experienced. When we wear something out of the ordinary, something that we love and looks great on us, our confidence increases, and we feel happy.”

Discover the full article over on by GUAP’s Fashion

I spoke with Nicole Kliest for The Zoe Report on the move to using clothing as a tool to celebrate our bodies and the emotional impact of revealing clothing. 

“Afterpay is seeing items with cut-outs selling out over 34% earlier this year in the US,” she says. “It’s the modern day version of the Roaring Twenties aesthetic that many predicted we would experience as we move through the pandemic. At the start of COVID-19, we saw people using their clothes as a tool for comfort, this has now progressed to people using clothes as a way to celebrate their bodies.”
 “While research into the emotional impact of revealing clothing is limited, interestingly, survey data has revealed that those who spend time in the buff around others tend to be happier, more satisfied with their bodies and their lives overall,” Forbes-Bell says. “It all depends on your perspective. If you deem revealing clothing to be provocative and tied with objectification then the emotions conjured when wearing these clothes will likely be negative. However, if you consider the adoption of these styles to be a celebratory and expressive act, positive emotions will follow suit.”

Go ahead an read the full piece here

I was thrilled to speak with Naomi Racmay for Stylist Magazine on the psychology behind 00s trends.

“Studies have shown that people are likely to take a trip down memory lane when feeling low or times are hard, as nostalgia has been proven to improve mood, and self-esteem and even make you feel physically warmer. Nostalgia can be evoked when we wear clothes from former and fonder eras, allowing us to physically embody this warm and fuzzy feeling.” 
“The pandemic caused a shift in the way people viewed their clothes from “how does this make me look?” to “how does this make me feel?” As a result, we demanded more from our clothes to make us look and feel good, both physically and emotionally. Our style has become an easy tool to embody positive feelings like comfort and joy so it’s understandable that people would be drawn to clothes that remind them of a time when ‘life was good’.”

Please click here for the full article.

From Subculture to Mainstream

Pear shapes, apple bottoms, and clothes that accentuate these fruity figures were once looked down upon by the mainstream. These standards of beauty were really only valued by “us folk.” The ability to create our own standard of beauty and style speaks not just to the oppressive systems that made it necessary but to our ability to thrive and create when the larger socio-cultural system did not recognise our value.

No longer relegated to certain neighbourhoods or alternative media, urban and mainstream fashion have merged. The days of a few fashion magazines telling us dos and don’ts are no more. Now we are influenced by a wider range of magazines, sites, and influencers who look like us; and we can make our own rules and determine for ourselves what qualifies as fashion or style.  This is great but it also comes with greater responsibility.

Shift in Mainstream Culture

As is common in a democratic society, we all have a right to express ourselves through fashion. You might see someone outside in their PJ’s or in a designer gown complete with opera gloves. There is no longer a consensus of what constitutes good style, and with the democratisation of style you may very well be praised for wearing something that has traditionally been known as bad taste if you have enough social power to do so.

While we have an omnipresent media to keep us informed, we can get swept up in other peoples’ styles. And when everyone’s clothing choices seem cool and of-the-moment, it can feel like no one’s does. So the challenge becomes how do we create individual style with such an overwhelming amount of media?

I think we can look to Black and other historically marginalised style makers whose sense of style reflected a unique self-expression that developed within a very specific sociocultural context. Eighties hip-hop artists donned the styles of their communities; and amplified trends like door-knocker earrings and Addidas sneakers’, forever altering the mainstreams’ perception of desirable dress (think suits with sneakers). And in the 60’s, the afro exploded into a whole socio-political discourse about beauty and acceptable dress. And somehow, the decision to embrace one’s own “natural hair” became a symbol of strength and courage.  

According to psychology, behaviour can be explained by some combination of environment, genetics, and psychology. Thus, these style makers may have been influenced by mainstream and subcultures, predispositions to certain styles, and their distinctive ways of interpreting it to create something unique. So how can we create individual style within our unique sociocultural system?  We may not be able to alter our environment and genetics, but we can have some control over our psychology. Here is how psychology can help us hone our individual style.

Using Clothes to Communicate a Specific Message to Others

Research shows that fashion communicates a message to others. And we interact using clothing symbols that guide our behaviour. So wearing a wedding gown typically means marriage, or wearing a bathing suit typically means swimming.  Are we aware of the clothing symbols attached to our clothing? Love it or hate it— leggings once worn only for workouts or around the house have now become a legitimate part of the outfit. It may be seen as sexy by some, and as lewd by others. And you will have to have enough cultural intelligence to know what to wear when in order to communicate the message you intend.

One theory proposes that people attach specific meanings to appearance cues, or parts of the outfit that stand out. And they use these cues to make inferences about other people. For instance, large hoop earrings may signal spicy, sexy, or sassy while studs may say something more understated. Are you aware of your appearance cues? What stands out on your outfit— the colour, a shape, a piece of jewellery? What message does it send? Consider the look you want to convey and determine which look closely matches that.

Using Clothes Communicate a Specific Message to Yourself

Our fashion choices not only send messages to others but to ourselves as well. Research shows that the meanings we attach to our clothing are validated by others’ responses. So if your pants suit says you’re about business, and people respond to you with a certain reverence, then your message is validated; and will reinforce your perception of yourself as someone to be taken seriously.

Studies also show clothing we wear triggers us to act differently depending on the symbolic meaning the clothes has for us. What symbolic meaning do your clothes hold for you? Do you feel good because you are wearing shoes you saw X celebrity wear? Many of us are driven by the emotional experience that occurs when we wear something we saw on someone we admire. 

We feel peer validation by evoking the image through our clothing; and this reinforces positive feelings about ourselves. It is through this process that clothing as symbols are strengthened. And the more we are aware of it, the more we can be in control of our style choices rather than feel controlled and overwhelmed by them.

I spoke with earing pink can change depending on how you see yourself.

A study in Japan showed that only men with low self esteem felt worse after wearing pink. Our internal belief system has the power to override our natural reaction to certain colours.

Find the full piece here.

During The Sustainable Fashion Forum 2022 conference I joined the conversation about the psychology of fast fashion.

I spoke on what fashion psychology is, the science behind why we buy what we buy, and how fashion psychology can help shift consumer behavior towards sustainability. 

Take a watch below to discover all! 

I had the pleasure of speaking with Alison McGill for Brides to discuss size inclusivity as it relates to wedding attire. As well as the importance of size inclusivity and what it means to me. 

“In the case of bridalwear, stores have to carry more sizes and styles of wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses in-store as samples. This is critical so anyone over a size 12 can try on purpose-designed pieces with their bodies and proportions in mind.”
“For a brand to be size-inclusive, it means that they have adopted ‘design thinking,’ which is a human-centered approach to fashion tackling problems like restrictive beauty standards geared towards size 12s and below. Size inclusivity in clothing options and in promotional images not only allows people to easily imagine themselves in a wedding gown, but it has also been proven to positively shape one’s self-perception.”
“Limited clothing size options might just seem like an inconvenience, but it can have a disastrous effect on body image. This kind of marginalization is easily internalized, causing people to consider their bodies unworthy—subsequently impacting their mental well-being and self-esteem. Growing up watching 90s and early 2000s runway shows made me feel othered as I certainly wasn’t seeing my body type reflected as the pinnacle of high fashion or beauty. This personal experience, plus my research as a fashion psychologist, has made me acutely aware of the positive psychological impact that media representation and size-inclusive offerings can bring.”

Please take a read of the full piece here and hear what other fabulous creatives have to say on the matter.