My Shirt Feels...Our Emotional Relationships With Clothes

Everyday you wear two stories. There’s the public story: the collective image you’re projecting to your audience -- the persona that helps people understand who you are and how to communicate with you. And then there’s another more personal story -- the tale of the guy you met the first night you wore that dress, the promotion you got in those shoes, and your connection to those who wore that watch before you.

Self-presentation is not only about how you visually relate to the world, but also how your relate to yourself.  Those complex ideas of self operate beneath the surface, yet color the way we understand and judge the reflection staring back at us. And they are integrally tied to our emotional relationships with our clothes.

From Women in Clothes, a journal-like collection of women’s personal relationships with their clothing, to Worn Stories, which offers mini-memoirs of specific items told by their famous owners, the invisible narrative of the items that silently shape our identities is having a cultural moment. But this is not a new topic.

J.C. Flugel first delved into this issue in the 1930s when he published The Psychology of Clothes. As a psychoanalyst, Flugel approached the topic from a Freudian-inspired perspective (yes, even what you wear can be analyzed as an extension of your relationship with your mother). And today, when social media affords us the opportunity to publicly declare our motivations and feelings for everything, from the minutiae of our morning commute to the intricacies of our sock drawer, the psychology of self-presentation has never been more over-articulated.

It’s no longer merely about what you wear but why -- how you came to that decision and how it makes you feel. “I discovered this old t-shirt in a vintage bin -- I love its worn-in softness and aged patina; it gives me a sense of pseudo-nostalgia.  I like to wear it with my mother's old tweed blazer and my new suede boots that I’d been searching for online all year!” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but now that number has multiplied exponentially as image + words unite in abundance.

That’s not to say I find the lived stories these items embody to be uninteresting -- quite the opposite. They’re the material archives of our lives, the personally curated museums of artifacts from our individual journeys. And while they may not define us, but they do trace our actions and mark time.

So when you’re getting dressed tomorrow, think about the two stories you’ll tell.  Contemplate the image you’ll project, but take a moment to relish in the private secrecy of the unadvertised volumes that also line those garments.

 What stories do your clothes secretly embody?