Being the girl who only had hand-me-down polos and cargo shorts to wear, it has always been hard for me to lift my head up and look at girls my age in their sparkly princess dresses and sequin kitten heels as my eyes sparkled in envy. Living in a conservative Chinese family, I grew up with the mindset that fashion was frivolous, that all effort and time invested in fashion could be used in something much more ‘purposeful’, but is fashion really pointless?
Imagine a five-year-old girl wearing a nice, bright turquoise polo shirt and jeans as she played in the playroom with her two cousins who wore puff sleeves blouses and mini skirts. Although she was only five, and she didn’t know much, she knew enough to feel different and left out. As she slowly grew up and when she finally discovered the dynamic world of fashion, she realized the power of clothing. That was when she truly understood how significant a role fashion played in one’s everyday life and how the clothing we wear directly affect our mood and emotions.
Growing up, I never got to choose the clothes I wore, and I always hated how I looked when I left the house. Being dressed in whatever anyone purchased for me, and most importantly, whatever was most convenient, had put me in such a bad emotional state that I never truly realised until now. It might be too far-reaching as to say that it deeply affected my mental state at that time. I always looked down on myself among my friends. During my teen years as I slowly started to explore fashion and began experimenting with different clothing styles, family relatives would always comment on how ‘inappropriate’ my clothing was even when it was just a simple tank top.
There were so many rules and restrictions regarding dressing habits in my family. Whether it was “no black* clothing”, “no ripped jeans” (the rips are considered bad luck as well because they are deemed as damages, which means bad luck), “no bodycon skirts” (they’re figure-hugging, so they’re too provocative), and my favourite one of all, “no funky stuff” (weird colours such as neon pink or clothing items that will attract attention such as a layered tulle skirt).
To say that I felt trapped in the environment might sound quite harsh, but I never felt comfortable not being able to wear what I wanted to. I even had “uniforms” to wear for different occasions - a red knee-length dress for Chinese New Year, a long-sleeve shirt and jeans for family dinners, a beautiful blouse and jeans for lunches with friends. I remember one time when my mom and I were about to go to a shopping mall, I wanted to try out something different.
*In Chinese culture, the colour black is considered bad luck in Chinese culture because it is commonly associated with death and mourning.
I wore a T-shirt tucked into an A-line skirt and a pair of black platform boots, and I remember the excitement in my chest when I slid into my new, unworn boots. However, the elation didn’t last long when my mom saw my outfit and gave me a scrutinizing look. “Why are you wearing that?” — the excitement I felt mere seconds ago vanished immediately, and I was filled with a sense of overwhelming anxiousness. Although this was more than four years ago, I can still remember the judgemental look in my mother’s eyes today.
All along, never being able to wear “fashionable” or “trendy” clothing items was an unspoken rule between my parents and me. Honestly, I’m not too sure why I never questioned it. It wasn’t until post-high school when I began to “dress up”. This became normal as I started going out more. Even then, I never strayed too far from the rules I grew up with, still sticking by “family-friendly” clothing options (as I would call it).
Being dressed in whatever was most convenient had put me in such a bad emotional state that I never truly realized until now...
It started with ditsy floral blouses and skinny jeans which slowly evolved to strappy dresses and a cardigan. Slowly, I realized how I felt more and more comfortable with myself and how I began to regain confidence in presenting myself. Although there were times I noticed my father sneaking disapproving glances at me, he never said anything. He understood what fashion meant to me and how it built me as a person.
One of the first analyses of the links between positive psychology and fashion was run by Christoph-Simon Masuch and Kate Hefferon. The researchers found that clothing practice habits predominantly enhances positive emotionality and moderates negative emotionality. It was also suggested that clothing practices were used as vital tools to negotiate selfhood, befriend the body, and manage mood. In a follow-up study done by Rebecca Smith and Julia Yates through analyzing participants’ experiences with wearing a happy outfit, three subordinating themes emerged - “shaping my identity”, “social identities”, and “coping strategies”. The results affirmed Masuch and Hefferon’s findings on the impact of clothing on well-being, successfully proving that exploring and strengthening identity issues is a legitimate component that ties positive psychology and fashion.
In a research study, Klepp argued that it is quite impossible to analyze the relationship of clothing choices, comfort, and well-being, and what participants meant by a particular garment “feeling right”. Instead, Klepp used the link between comfort (feeling) and well-being as being a physical element that induces comfort with slight consideration of the emotional aspect of “feeling right” in one’s clothes.
For all I know, this might’ve been the reason I never felt comfortable wearing clothes I didn’t like — I wasn’t presenting myself as a whole to the people around me.
When I started genuinely dressing for myself and choosing clothing items that would give me a sense of joy, I began to feel more confident with myself. Perhaps choosing the right clothes for myself was the first step of loving myself. Acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong in enjoying fashion and embracing my love for “frivolous” dressing-up made me happier and plays an essential aspect in my life today. Even if fashion isn’t your thing, doesn’t it mean something when you hate how you look and feel when you leave the house?
Dressing up isn’t just about expressing yourself in terms of style, it portrays how we respect our own bodies and how we want to be viewed by others. If you can’t even love yourself enough to put on clothes that you like, how can you expect people to treat you the same? In the 21st century, the brightness of the colour can create a sense of freedom. In contrast to the excitement the colour red creates, white can provide a sense of calmness, being associated with the notion of purity. Those who wear white are often thought of as people who care about hygiene are open and creative thinkers. Optically, white is the integration of primary colours. Therefore, the neutrality of this particular tone seems to make it suitable for everyone.
Different colours can affect your mood by associated them with something meaningful. For example, the bright yellow colour of the sun gives you a sense of positive energy. The shade of pink resembles the colour of love and relationships. Green reminds most people of nature and consequently brings a sense of freshness. In comparison, the colour of white seems a little dull, yet it is the colour that can add on to any other colour in fashion.
Consequently, this clean colour can bring different emotions to us and positively affect our well-being. White is more open to interpretation and works as a neutral add on. However, there is no “best colour” in fashion. Instead, you need to investigate how the different colours affect your emotions, rather than following what the trend says. As already mentioned, the colour is infused with emotions due to associations. Every individual can have similar but different memories. The most important thing is to feel good in the clothes you are wearing, this will make a real difference in your life and health.
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