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With the average woman owning 103 items in her wardrobe but reporting to only wear 10% of it, I think it is clear to say we have complex relationships with our clothing collections. But why do so many of us fall victim to these hoarding behaviours, how can we overcome them, and what does that mere 10% actually say about us? These are all questions the study of ‘wardrobe ethnography’ aims to answer. 

Wardrobe ethnography is a term used to describe the analysis of the items that accumulate, to make up our wardrobes. By looking at the relationship between ourselves and what we own or regularly wear, it can reveal a form of our identities. However, this can also extend to look at the way we organise items (what we choose to hang or fold, and how), and the places we keep gifted or inherited items, which may indicate the types of relationships you hold with those who gifted them. All of these small elements can tell a story; one which you may not even be aware of. 

 While the clothes we wear are predominantly for assurance and fashion, the process of shopping for and selecting items can also become an equally negative experience in becoming a breeding ground for body dissatisfaction (Tiggemann & Lacey, 2009). This means the relationship we have with our clothing and the decisions we make about what to wear incredibly important when we form perceptions of ourselves.

 However, it’s not just what we do wear that forms a reflection of who we are – what we choose to store in our cupboards unworn, forgotten, or treasured is equally significant (Woodward & Greasley, 2017). Our clothes and accessories act as an externalisation of our past selves, memories, and relationships so it’s only natural that as we evolve and grow, our wardrobes do too. 

By looking at the relationship between ourselves and what we own or regularly wear, it can reveal a form of our identities.

One clear example of this transition and change is the patterns of behaviour women show during pregnancy when styling themselves. After analysing the ways mothers-to-be interact with their wardrobes two key themes regularly emerge glamour and display (Gregson & Beale, 2004). When pregnant, many women choose to wear items of clothing that enhance their bumps – even if this is an area they would have previously sought to camouflage. Even so, the novelty of purchasing these maternity-specific items is often only endorsed for short-term uses like special occasions, rather than daily wear. After the postpartum period, maternity clothing is regularly seen to be passed on to other mothers-to-be – once again, reflecting the changes in our clothing and self-identity that occur simultaneously. 

 Despite its benefits, this seemingly interwoven relationship between what our wardrobes contain and our sense of identity is also proving problematic in today’s society. With almost-instant access to affordable fast-fashion, our desire to create the ‘perfect’ wardrobe are more prominent than ever (Petersson McIntyre, 2019). Our efforts to live more minimally and sustainably are easily overturned by the lure of weekly new-collections and the need to be perceived positively by others, with our value becoming increasingly equitable to the possession of materialistic objects (Crăciun, 2014)

But where does this leave us? Will we ever reach a harmony between achieving both wardrobe sustainability and satisfaction? 

 Well, one answer could lie in improving not only the physical durability of clothing items, but their emotional durability too. Emotional durability is a measure of the length of time an item remains relevant and attractive to its user. By designing products with the physical properties (i.e. appearance, functionality) as well as their emotional and symbolic values in mind, high-quality garments with great emotional appeal can be created (Burcikova, 2019). This encourages consumers to hold onto and care for their clothes, ultimately reducing the desire to aimlessly add new items to their collections.

If you’re now left wondering what your wardrobe could say about you, take our quiz to find out. 

Our clothes undoubtedly hold huge importance in our lives. Not only do we wear them every day but they allow us to portray different aspects of our personalities, depending on the situations we find ourselves in. However, our clothes may not only reveal truths about our personality traits, but our wardrobes can also indicate what sort of shopping habits we engage in. Using Fashion Psychology research we’ve created a quiz to help you discover what type of shopper you are, to help you learn more about yourself and make informed shopping choices!

Well, what are you waiting for?

Take our quiz!

Spring has officially sprung and with the majority of us spending more time at home than ever it is the perfect excuse to properly declutter and organise our wardrobes. Understandably this task can evoke anxiety, given most people don’t wear at least half of the clothes they own. However, it is almost guaranteed that letting go of our inner hoarders will not only tidy our wardrobes but also our minds. Here are some simple tips to help conquer arguably the greatest hurdle: getting started.

1. Take it all out

To see what you have really got to work with, it is best to take everything out of your wardrobe. This way, not only can you give the crevices of your closet a deep clean, but you’ll have a blank canvas to create innovative, efficient organisation solutions. Placing the contents onto your bed allows you to form clear piles, such as one for charity, swapping with friends and selling on websites like Depop. Creating the barrier between yourself and your bed will also ensure your motivation does not drift, and the task cannot be postponed for another day. 

2. What brings you joy?

When it comes to deciding what to keep and what to part ways with, it can be daunting. Many of us are plagued by an inner voice that endorses hoarding behaviour – but are you really going to wear that skirt again, which made its one and only appearance four years-ago? In true Marie Kondo style, the short and simple question to ask yourself when stuck in such a debate is: does this item spark joy? Or in other words, does it make you feel happy, confident or inspired?  

Sometimes, there’s a need to be a little more ruthless. I’m sure we all own garments that provoke memories of positive times and special people – but that doesn’t mean we will wear them again. So, if you’re still struggling for space after the first cut, maybe ask if the curated collection of clothes projects an image you want to portray. Look to Instagram, Pinterest or even street-style to help build a personal image. If your wardrobe reflects this, not only will getting dressed in the mornings help you to embody the powerful, elegant or alternative person you wish to be, but it will also ensure items can be worn interchangeably to maximise their versatility and potential. Furthermore, replacing automatic negative thoughts with ones that focus on the benefits of refining your wardrobe, will encourage a more positive mindset and successful spring clean. 

3. Donate

With the hardest part of the spring clean accomplished, it is important to dispose of your unwanted items sustainably. One of the most effective ways to do this is to donate. Charities will always be grateful for new clothes to sell in-store, especially if they’ve been washed and are still in good quality. More formal pieces, in particular, can be donated to Smart Works, a UK-based charity that helps disadvantaged women enhance their employment prospects. They provide support in building employability skills and searching for employment, which includes providing an interview-appropriate outfit.

Giving to others has personal benefits too. Research has found that carrying out moral actions, such as donating to charity or helping another person, enables people to show greater physical and mental endurance. The perception of this increased self-control can influence subsequent behaviours by encouraging us to perform additional moral acts, to confirm this self-perception.  

4. Organisation

Image source: sawinery.net

Now you’ve gone out with the old, it’s time to put everything in with a new organisational approach. An effective method to maximise ease and minimise the time spent searching for an item, is sorting clothes by category and further by colour. Once rails have been sectioned into jackets, blouses, jeans, skirts and dresses, try to create a colour gradient from dark to light. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing but colours can be used to compliment or even influence our moods. One study found significant associations between consumer perceptions of specific colours. For example, the colour red was associated with excitement, black with sophistication and white with sincerity. Having a clearly visible colour palette will help identify looks which can embody and enhance appropriate emotions. 

5. Mindful storage

A tidy wardrobe can create a tidy mind, so no matter the shape or size of your closet, mindfully storing clothes helps to maintain garment quality and importantly, mental clarity. Prioritise hanging longer, delicate garments while folding heavier items like jumpers and jeans. T-shirts, pyjamas and gym-wear can be rolled to create more space inside drawers and prevent creasing. To be even more storage-savvy, try to store your most-worn clothes at eye level or organise drawer contents in the order you get dressed. These simple tricks aid the automatisation of our actions and decision-making, opening mental space for making more accurate judgements on issues with arguably greater importance, than what we are going to wear.   

A wardrobe clear out is not a quick nor easy job but reducing and reorganising your collection of clothes has both aesthetic and cognitive benefits. Maximising the efficiency of closet space and organising it to complement implicit ways of thinking, can make small yet significant changes to our daily routines. When making future purchases, try to adopt a ‘one in, one out’ rule and question if you will get one hundred wears out of an item, to ensure only sustainable and economically effective decisions are made.