In the mid-1980’s in Manhattan, I was a personal shopper for professional men and women.
It was good experience for the psychotherapist I would eventually become: everyone’s insecurities make a strong – and often unexpected – appearance when it comes to buying clothes for ourselves.
Whether you like clothes shopping or hate it, let me share some ideas for making it more pleasurable. To me,
Clothes are meant to be fun and functional.
Clothes are not meant to do anything but amuse us and let us do what we want to do in them.
Clothes exist to serve us, not vice-versa.
Clothes are benign, but we often project our entire future onto our clothing’s ability to “impress” other people, e.g., a hot date or important job interview.
Clothes just sit there on their innocent little hangers, unaware of all we expect them to do for us. How did clothes become such emotion-laden “tools” of seduction, manipulation and competition?
When you go shopping for clothes, shoes or other fashion stuff, what happens? When I used to work as a personal shopper, I saw totally competent men and women become scared little kids when they had to dress themselves. What happened to their confidence? Why didn’t they trust themselves?
To help find your own confidence in choosing clothes for yourself, try this experiment the next time you go clothes shopping:
As you go into a clothing store, notice your emotions: just notice. If you are hyperventilating because everything’s on sale, notice it. If you are hyperventilating because you’re totally confused and feel helpless, notice that. This is your fashion baseline, and it is malleable (so relax and breathe).
Just walk around the store or mall and give yourself permission NOT to buy anything. Take the pressure off yourself. Just look at the clothes. Notice what you find yourself drawn to. Don’t judge, just observe. You may surprise yourself.
Give yourself permission to try some things on, knowing that you do not have to buy anything, it’s just an experiment, remember? Before you look in the mirror, see how the clothes feel: comfortable, or not? Then look in the mirror, do you like what you see? Even if you shock yourself (e.g., I could NEVER wear THAT in public), just notice if it pleases you.
Leave the store and walk around. Don’t buy anything yet. Get a coffee or soda. Then see how you feel about what you tried on. Do any of those items “beckon” you back to the store? If so, go back and try them on again.
Give yourself permission to buy 3 items- no more – knowing you can return them if you freak out tomorrow. Remember, this can be FUN and playful, it’s just an experiment.
Go home and don’t try them on. Not yet. Wait until the next day. See how they feel. If you decide to keep the clothes you brought home, don’t feel a need to wear them right away. Let them “sit” a bit. You might wear them around the house to see how you like them (oh, glamourous you!).
If your attitude towards clothes has been negative, why not change it and begin to use clothes to express yourself, amuse yourself, and feel good. Even if you have to buy a business suit, which suit pleases you the most? How can you make it “your own”? Even if the suit is kind of boring to you, is there anything you can wear with it that you feel good about? Like shoes, cuff links or ties?
Don’t treat fashion magazines as the bible. It is their job to push clothes that are trendy and expensive. Don’t fall for it. Many magazines portray fashion in a way that encourages social and sexual competition. They hook us by calling into question our feelings of belonging and of being good enough.
Stick with the wisdom of Harriet Gill, a friend of mine who used to speak on fashion for KPBS:
“I vow to learn from fashion, but not to collapse into it, to adapt its best ideas, ignore its absurdities and find and keep my own way…fashion is a wonderful servant and a most difficult master.”