Style isn’t just about fashion. When we get dressed, we have the freedom to highlight aspects of ourselves – our mood, our fantasies, roles we’d like to play – through our clothing choices everyday. Personal style is our conscious self-expression. The question is, how do we figure out what to say?
This week, Dr. Karen Pine, Author, Psychologist and Professor of Fashion, talks about style from the inside out.
What are your thoughts on clothes as a means of exploring individuality and self-esteem?
Our clothes are an expression of how we think and feel, and of our self-confidence and self-esteem. I am constantly surprised that this is still a much-neglected area in psychology, and that I am one of very few psychology professors taking fashion seriously. After all, our clothes are a form of human non-verbal communication; they are the language with which we express ourselves and an extension of our personality. We all wear our inner world on the outside. By understanding the psychology of clothing, we can unearth the inner reasons why people wear what they wear, and help them to reflect their best self.
I’m interested in the idea that our clothes can carry projections of who and how we aspire to be. Your thoughts?
I have written a lot about women who hide behind ugly clothes, as well as the fact that people are more likely to wear a pair of jeans – rather than a favourite dress – when they are depressed. This has inspired me to investigate the concept of ‘happy clothes’, or what academics call ‘enclothed affect’. This says that clothes not only express how we feel but have the power to change how we feel. Imagine being able to prescribe an outfit for a person, rather than a drug, to lift them out of depression!
Describe your own style, and how you discovered it.
I have always loved clothes. I don’t view my interest in style as a mere frivolity either. It is absolutely integral to who I am as a person, as an individual, as a woman. When young, I was more influenced by what I saw around me, in the shops, in the media and on other people. Over the years I’ve discovered my own style by isolating myself from these homogenising forces that pervade modern society. We have to try to ignore the merchandising voices that insist we wear what they have decided is the ‘latest’ look, because they are not interested in our style – they are only interested in profit. And profit comes from producing clothes in high volumes, then everyone ends up looking the same. If clothes express your personality, why let someone else decide your look?
So I got rid of my TV ten years ago. I never buy ‘women’s’ magazines. And I never shop on the high street or go to shopping malls. These steps may sound extreme, but the mass-market production and selling of clothing murders individuality. Luckily I‘ve discovered a few makers who sell their clothes on the internet (I love Walkers of Pottergate) and a few obscure shops. I’m fortunate to also work in Istanbul where my friend Asli Jackson and I have fun concocting clothes together. She organised the photo shoot and clothing in these images. The top I’m wearing was once a man’s jacket. She’s taught me not to be afraid to alter, rip apart or turn inside out a piece of clothing if it improves the look.
What would you say to someone looking for their own style?
Don’t look in shop windows or magazines for inspiration. Look at great art and see your style as an art project. Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t hang on your wall. Cherish the hand-made, the natural, and the timeless design. Adapt tribal, vintage or ethnic pieces that have been lovingly and artfully made. Use the aesthetics of beautiful clothing to express yourself, rather than trying to be on trend. Make choices that allow free unrestricted movement (tight clothes and high heels do the opposite). I also find short hair incredibly liberating (seen here in an image with my vintage safety specs converted to cool sunglasses!). Don’t obsess about making everything match. Mismatched items (e.g. a leather jacket over a floaty dress, formal with informal, vintage with new) work because the brain enjoys novelty and surprise. Experiment, be adventurous, be bold, put on a hat, have fun. And remember, your smile is a great accessory.
What’s so great about finding your own look?
Well it is very nice when strangers compliment you, or fashion bloggers stop you in the street to take your photograph. But that’s not what it’s about. Finding your own look is about allowing your inner beauty to radiate. Finding your own look is integral to growing and developing as a person. It’s all about making sure that when you buy clothes you are investing in who you are.
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Like this? Last week, Master Image Consultant and Author, Sue Donnelly, talks about finding your own style.