Can We Dress Our Way to Feeling Better?
A friend texted me last week with this question: if we’re not feeling the part, can we use our clothes to help us feel better? She referred to it as working from the outside in, and questioned specifically whether dressing up when we're in a slump can help us get out of it, even if it simultaneously feels inauthentic. She was getting dressed for work, so I answered quickly with an emphatic yes, suggesting something as small as a touch of lipstick or a pair of earrings to help her feel more braced to face the day.
Since our exchange, I’ve been thinking a lot about her question because it hits on so many of the topics at the heart of this site—matters of appearance, authenticity, the psychological and emotional functions of our clothing, and the relationship between who we are and how we look.
If we're not feeling great about ourselves, what are our choices? We can dress up as a way to feel better, but we might end up feeling like a fraud. We can dress down as a means of matching our external facade to our internal mood, but we might end up losing out on a chance to use our appearance to feel better. The former feels like dressing as armor, the latter as dressing authentically. If for the moment these functions appear to conflict- which wins out?
While I am a big believer in the need for authenticity in dress, the importance of our clothing as armor wins out every time. Our clothes are our tools—they are extraordinarily adept at giving us strength, shoring us up, and supporting our needs as a means to ultimately enabling us to show up as the best version of ourselves that we can each day. If we look better, we feel better. Importantly, I don't know if sartorial authenticity and armor are actually in conflict when we're feeling down. It is authentic to acknowledge that we're not at our best. To struggle. And it's human to grasp for things to help us feel better. Luckily, our clothes are never far away. So the next time you need it, I say, go ahead put a great outfit together, wear that red lipstick, put on a hat, try sequins, or stack on as much jewelry as you please. Then look in the mirror and tell yourself it's going to be ok.