I have something of a clothing habit.
I was thinking about why this might be the case the other day, because if I could get rid of my clothing habit, it would be better for my space constraints, not to mention my budget. I know I can get quite nostalgic about my clothing, but that’s not all it is because I gave away whole heaping bags of nostalgic clothing a few months ago, and yet my clothing habit still exists.
But I realized that for me, what’s exciting about clothing is its representation of possibilities of identity. There’s a reason there’s a stereotype of teens being obsessed with clothing (and really, appearance in general) right at the same time that they’re exploring and experimenting with who they are. And I have all those possibilities of who I could be hanging in my bedroom to be pulled out at any time.
Of course, appearance and other markers such as vocabulary and accent are used by people to categorize each other. And as much as we might not like that this is true, it is true. How we present ourselves to the world matters. People will treat us differently based on the assumptions they’ve made about us, and some of those assumptions are based on what we’re wearing and how we’re carrying ourselves.
But what’s really interesting to me is how we can use things like clothing and hair style and posture to change ourselves from the outside in. If I’m wearing a cute skirt and blouse and boots, I feel very different from when I’m wearing a fitted T-shirt and jeans, which feels very different from if I’m wearing extremely baggy clothing. So my closet becomes about having access to the choice as to how I want to feel today. Do I want serious practical “I’m taking on the world today and getting stuff done” clothes? Or do I want active sporty “I might actually exercise today” clothes? Do I want “I am elegant and refined and fascinating” clothes? Or “I am sick and just want to hide out at home all day” clothes? If I’m wearing a Disney T-shirt, that says something very different from if I’m wearing a black shift.
It’s not just clothes either. A few years ago, thinking it would improve my writing, I read The Definitive Book of Body Language, by Barbara and Allan Pease. After reading the discussion on posture, I decided to experiment on myself. I tend to cross my arms in front of me (or do a half-cross like in the above photo), which isn’t a very open posture. So whenever I thought of it at parties or conventions, I would deliberately put my hands behind my back in a more confident posture. Once I got past the initial awkwardness, I began to feel more confident as a result of standing differently. And now I stand that way more often without thinking about it. Pretty neat, huh?
Unfortunately, this train of thought did not lead to me ditching my clothing habit. But it reminded me that sometimes playing with our identities, even if it’s only in small and outward ways, can help us both learn more about ourselves and change ourselves. It’s a way to honor the fact that our identities are often complex and multi-faceted. And it is a way to remind ourselves of how much of life is really making believe and playing pretend, just as it was when we were children.