How "Fashion Therapy" Can Help You Live Your Best Life

17th May 2020

I wanted to write an article about elegance initially, and the way I use it to feel good about myself. But upon deeper reflection, I realized that elegance is essentially just a fashion choice and the point I am trying to make is that fashion can change your perception of yourself and influence your mood. Usually, this can have a positive effect if you love what you’re wearing but it can also have the opposite effect if you don’t.

Kaleidoscope, 1960 - © Erwin Blumenfeld

According to a study conducted by cognitive psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinksy from Northwestern University, there’s a particular term used to describe the psychology behind the effects of clothing upon the individual that wears them:

“Enclothed cognition -  the systematic influence of clothes on the wearer's psychological processes and behavioral tendencies. “ - Adam, H. & Galinsky, A. D. (In Press). Enclothed Cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Fashion can mean different things to different people. It could only be a way of fulfilling an essential need to protect oneself from exposure to the elements, a simple matter of functionality. Throughout history, fashion also had a decoration purpose and a meaning attached to it: from status, occupation, gender identity, sexuality to self expression and beyond.

Today’s fashion still includes all of those elements and has evolved into a fluid concept that is more liberating than ever before - more and more rules get broken, concepts are constantly revamped and presented from a new and fresh perspective. What I love about living in this age of fashion is the fact that people are inclined to play and experiment more with their personal style as a means to express themselves and “wear” their power. Whilst you will still get the odd insistent stares on the bus, or unrequested opinions about your look from strangers on the street, it is safer than ever to go out on the street in what conservative people might consider “obnoxious outfits”.

Another thing that I love about today’s fashion is how the society standards shifted into a more accepting and tolerant perspective for women who are not into the stereotypical feminine clothing, make-up or hairdos. Just because you have a vagina and identify as a woman, it doesn’t mean that you have to like the “girly” aesthetic. After all, femininity is more than how you look and it’s something you should be free to express (or not) however you want. And speaking of femininity - I am also happy to see that men who share some characteristics that are labeled as “feminine” have also become more accepted socially. It baffles me that it took centuries of discrimination and forcing people to be what society wants them to be to get here, but I am thankful and pleased to see that things are changing for the better.

I think everyone who loves to experiment with their personal style shares a love for beautiful things, for color and shapes, and enjoys finding creative ways to come up with looks as a means of expression. The good thing is that it’s not a matter of money or status anymore to create a fabulous look - a little creativity can go a long way even if all your clothes are second hand. You can look expensive and be glamorous if you want even if you are poor as fuck (been there, done that).

Personal style will not only influence the way you see yourself, but also the way others perceive you. This can be a good thing that you can use in your advantage - clothes that fit well and compliment your figure will definitely make you appear more confident and powerful because you will actually feel that way.

Have you noticed how your fashion choices influence your mood? Does wearing particular items of clothing make you feel like the best version of yourself?

Before going more in depth, I just want to say that you have to constantly work on what’s going on on the inside in order to feel and look great on the outside. No amount of fancy clothes, accessories, make-up or hairspray will cover your insecurities, anxiety or sadness. However, you don’t have to wait until you “fixed” yourself in order to live your best,  fashionable life. Clothing can help you compliment your mood or change it for the better. It won’t be magic, but I can assure you it will be a fun, soothing experience.

In terms of developing a personal style, I was a late bloomer - especially because I didn’t get to choose my wardrobe until my late teenage years. On a conscious level, I was already fascinated with the femininity and fierceness I saw in old photographs of my late mother - she wasn’t a “standard beauty”, but she was elegant all the time. Her clothes complimented her silhouette, she didn’t shy away from patterns and color in her looks. She also wore a lot of clip-on earrings and beaded necklaces that complimented her outfits. My grandma, on my father’s side, was also a very elegant woman throughout her life and her looks were a little more on the sober side, but still classy nonetheless. These women were not “traditional beauties” and nor am I, but they were career focused and the main breadwinners in their families. Their jobs and subsequent dress codes shaped their fashion style - my mother was a language school teacher and my grandma was a primary doctor. Interestingly enough, they never wore any make-up other than lipstick as far as I know - but I guess that was a choice based on the idea that make-up ages your skin faster. Anyway, knowing their life stories and seeing those old photographs of them inspired me to become a career oriented woman and pursue my own fashion style. And as a romantic at heart, it does make me feel closer to them whenever I dress up elegantly and glam-up my look.

As a teenager, I wasn’t rationalizing the beginning of developing my personal style. It wasn’t what I saw and believed of these significant women from my family that drew me to fashion in the first place -  it was my desperation to become feminine and to be perceived as a girl by the boys in my class. Since forever, they were addressing “Tincu”, almost in a condescending way, because they were addressing all the other girls on a first name basis. And it wasn’t just the name thing - boys were bullying me for my humor, the way I laughed, the way I looked. They were mean to me, picking on me, calling me names, making fun of the fact that my mother was dead (more about that here). When it came to the other girls in my class, who had better clothes and a better financial situation, were more refined and girly, wore make-up and had the coolest, trendiest gadgets, the boys would treat them with respect, always talking that sweet talk. I turned to fashion and beauty as a means to gain their respect. Of course, my attempts proved futile because I was just a collateral victim of their inner struggles.

Nowadays I use fashion to express myself creatively. I choose the clothes I wear, my make-up and hairstyle for the day based on how I feel - the crappier I feel on the inside, the higher the complexity and glam of my overall look. Don’t get me wrong - dressing up is fun and I feel good doing it. But it’s also the armor that helps me power through tough moments and cope a little better with anxiety inducing situations. From my experience, most people treat you more respectfully when you’re dressed to impress. Yes, this is a shitty thing and it’s not always going to stop assholes from ruining your day, but hey, at least it’s a visual trick you can use on those who care about appearances. And it’s also a visual reminder,  wherever you go past a mirror on a bad day, that you look awesome, despite feeling like crap.

“Always dress like you’re going to meet your worst enemy today” - Coco Chanel

This quote may seem like a very extreme, bold view on fashion choices. But hell, it’s comforting to think that at least you looked fabulous when you bumped into someone who hurt you badly in the past.

For me, sometimes it’s hard to choose between wearing something that helps me feel better vs. more like how I want to feel - a powerful, strong, goddess. Due to living with anxiety, I often start most days feeling like I’m about to meet my worst enemy 😂. So it’s compulsory for me to aid my wrenching gut with at least a beautiful piece of clothing, cat-eye makeup and a nice hairdo. No matter how much I would love to wear a bold, vintage-inspired look on the daily, I don’t always have the time or (clean) clothes to pull that off. So I just whip-up a simple look that makes me feel beautiful and strong and I go about my day. I lost count of how many times I’ve been asked “how did you do your hair like that?!” - and I always say that my secret is desperation 💁, bobby pins and creativity (the desperation is because I am bad at organizing myself and never have enough time left to do my hair).

From my experience as a young woman trying to “make it” in this world, the way I present myself fashion-wise, my make-up and hair, and the illusion of a confident attitude others perceive from me can go a long way. It’s not a need to stand-out or prove something anymore, it became an extension of who I am - one that compliments my personality.

When I started to experiment with fashion, people’s negative opinions of how I looked really bothered me. Yes, sometimes I looked like a grandma or a clown, or wore clothes that I liked but didn’t compliment my figure - sue me! And until I got the gist of using make-up, my liquid eye-liner looked like panda eyes, and my highly pigmented red lipstick would spread on my face after a few hours and I looked like the Joker. But after years of experimenting I started to nail my looks and makeup, and strangers started to compliment me on the street back when I lived in England. Upon returning to Romania, I noticed that many people in here are still conservative and would just stare insistently at me when I went out in style. So I got into the habit of just staring back at them until they crack and look the other way. And because of the way I am now, almost no one dares to comment on my looks to my face. But if they tell me that they don’t like my outfit it’s totally fine - they are entitled to their own opinions and I am entitled to not give a fuck. It’s a win-win situation.

Even though I would love to spend my days all dressed-up and made-up, the truth is I’m not always in the mood for it or don’t have time. So my looks are usually straight up hobo, casual with a hint of vintage aesthetic or full on glamazon - there is no inbetween. The only thing I do almost every day, no matter how I’m dressed, is to not go out of the house or show myself to the world without cat-eye makeup, because you never know in whose direction you need to throw a shady dramatic look 😂. And I gotta be prepared!

"You gotta have style. It helps you go down the stairs. It helps you get up in the morning. It’s a way of life. Without it, you’re nobody. I’m not talking about lots of clothes. A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere - it’s the life you’re living in the dress.” — Diana Vreeland

In a sense, developing a personal fashion style is connected to discovering who you are, owning it, and wearing it with pride. I really want to encourage you to experiment with the clothes from your closet and play dress-up at home. If it makes you feel good and it feels like you’re channeling your inner badass, try going out like that when you’re ready and see how it goes.