All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…
(William Shakespeare, As You Like It)
If a movie was being made about your life and Hollywood legend Edith Head was designing your costumes, what kind of clothing would she put you in to telegraph to the audience information about your character? To help you get “into character” easier?
I’m going to share with you a concept that one of the fashion design professors as my university shared with me recently: Enclothed Cognition (This is a YouTube link that does a great job of explaining it). Even though the term is fairly recent, I believe costume designers have known about this phenomenon from the get go and used it to their advantage. Basically, enclothed cognition is about how the symbolism of clothes not only influences people’s perception of you, but when you wear certain clothes, they also influence your perception of yourself and it causes you to behave differently. The psychologist in me is totally geeking out about this concept (click here to read the scientific study where enclothed cognition is introduced).
What this means for us: We have to be very careful in choosing what we wear because there is a reciprocal process going on. We really do become what we wear!
So, who better to help guide us in creating a wardrobe than the woman who understood the profound symbolism of clothing herself? That’s right, we’re going to turn to Edith Head’s How to Dress for Success.*
Miss Head advises us to think of building a wardrobe much in the same way as building a home. It needs to be comfortable yet meet all of our needs. In order to do this, we need to conduct a calm, rational analysis of our lives. The size of our wardrobe depends upon the variety of our roles, responsibilities, and activities.
If you’re like me, you have a soft spot for certain types of clothes whether you need them or not. Often we are engaging in “wish-fulfillment shopping.” For example, even though I don’t usually wear vintage clothes, I have found myself fondling beautiful cocktail dresses and wishing they were in my size. But, even if it were, we don’t live a lifestyle that requires beautiful cocktail dresses. I’m usually “overdressed” as it is in a basic black dress with vintage jewelry when we go to artist receptions in our community.
To counteract the impulse to buy “wish-fulfillment” clothing, make a chart of all of your activities and the clothing that each activity requires. Miss Head says to ask yourself how often you:
- Engage in business activities?
- Go to the market?
- Go out dancing?
- Go to the theater?
- Go to informal dinners?
- Go to formal affairs?
- Go to picnics and backyard barbecues?
- Go to sporting events?
- Go on trips?
- Go to dinner in a restaurant?
- Go to bridge or card parties?
- Entertain at home?
- Go to school functions?
- Participate in church activities?
When this list is completed, along with any other activities you think about as you do it, it will become obvious what kind of garments you need for your wardrobe. It is time to go back to the closet and do an analysis of what is in it. Do you have too many of one type of garment and not enough (or none) of another? Are the garments appropriate for your lifestyle and community?
And, most importantly, do your garments fit your “movie character” and project the kind of image you want to convey to others? And to yourself?
Edith Head closes her introduction by telling us
Throughout my career I have used clothes to turn drudges into princesses, plain Janes into glamour girls, frumps into fashion plates. As one of my star friends insists, ‘If Cinderella had Edith Head, she’d never have needed a Fairy Godmother.’
Women come in a vast variety of recognizable basic types: the cute type, the majestic type, the dainty type, the boyish type, the clinging-vine type, the outdoor type, the sexy type, and many others. Decide right now which type you are. Ask yourself how big a part your clothes have played in making you that type. Would you rather be a different type? Would you prefer being chic to being cute, looking dramatic to looking majestic, appearing more feminine, less mousey, more striking? What you were, more than any other factor, can improve the type you are or change your type completely.
Remember, enclothed cognition tells us that our garments can help us become the kind of people we want to be. But Edith Head already knew that…
*This is an affiliate link. I get paid a little money if you decide to buy the book. Thank you for supporting Modern Retro Woman.