So here is the next blog of Grey Door Therapy Clinic.
By the time you read this we may be able to meet our family and friends face to face, we may be back at work, we may be shopping in a ‘normal’ way, we may be able to walk past strangers without walking into the road to avoid them or duck into a driveway until they have passed OR we may still be in some kind of lockdown and practising social distancing or worse social isolation.
The internet is loaded with advice on how to keep safe, keep well, keep sane, keep busy, keep relaxing, keep whatever. The majority from very well informed and well meaning people who want to help others get through this extremely weird time we find ourselves living through. So without a doubt I am wanting everyone to stay as safe and as healthy as possible but this blog is about something that although we perhaps instinctively know - perhaps not something that is discussed very much.
The way we dress. Especially the way we are dressing during this time and the impact it may possibly have on us.
I suppose being a therapist for these many years now I am curious about this aspect of lockdown - the clothes we wear, the make up we put on, the perfume/aftershave we apply. The name given to the study of this very phenomena is Enclothed Cognition (Adam Galinski)
Enclothed Cognition is a study that ‘captures the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes’ - i.e. what we wear can impact on the way we think and behave and possibly improve or conversely be detrimental to our emotional state along with our levels of performance.
Molecular biologists say that humans invented clothing at least 100,000 years ago which was when the body lice that lived in the seams of clothing genetically separated from the head lice that lived on hairs. One would guess this clothing originated as a protection from the cold or perhaps from the sun - I’m thinking animal fur for cold weather and large leaves on our heads for shade which of course would vary upon where in the world you were living.
As time went on clothing styles changed according to perhaps religion, genders, age groups and professions and as the fashion houses will testify one large purpose of clothing is how we are looked at or thought about by others. However how does what we wear affect us as human beings. How is lockdown influencing our clothes and what impact could it be having?
So since March 23rd when I returned from a trip to Dubai to visit my daughter I have worn leggings or jeans or shorts, t-shorts or sweatshirts, soft (no-underwire) bras, mismatched underwear, flip flops or trainers and absolutely no makeup (except SP50) and no perfume or manicured polished nails. My pedicure was a Shellac pedicure so the top half of my toenails are painted and the bottom half is au natural! I wash my hair when it becomes a health hazard and then when I do I drag it up into a rough bun on the top of my head. Most importantly for me I haven’t worn earrings! I do shower every day but that is a habit like cleaning my teeth. All this casual - or it is careless - look despite seeing some clients via Skype or Zoom. What on earth is going on?
Is the nature of lockdown such that there is a miasma of helplessness and out of controlness that manifests as ‘can’t be bothered’? Is it such that when we are under a threat and we have to adjust to sets of unfamiliar rules, we just don’t have the inclination or head space to bother with how we are presented to the outside world? When I have spoken to friends and family about this I have discovered that I am not alone in this behaviour. So I guess there is the aspect of wanting to dress for others and to present a certain image to the world and then there is the question of what is ‘down’ dressing having on my psyche?
Am I actually in a low mood and this is being expressed by the clothes I wear? Or are the clothes I am continually choosing to wear every day influencing my mood?
In her book ‘Mind What You Wear” Karen Pine talks about the link between women’s moods and their choice of clothes and how she discovered that women are more likely to wear jeans when they are feeling low or depressed. There has also been recent research linking stress and the narrowing of their world resulting in them not wearing as much as 90% of their wardrobe.
There is also the question of the difference between men and women and the impact of the clothes they wear on themselves and the concern of what others may think. It has been discovered that men are more concerned with the functionality of the clothes they wear and not on the impact of their choice of clothes on others and so therefore the correlation of their clothes and their mood would not be so dramatic as for women. In fact a study by Barbara Fredrickson in the 1990’s ‘found that women who were given a maths test performed worse when wearing a swimsuit than in a sweater, although men’s scores were unaffected by their clothing.’ She goes on to say ‘the researchers attributed the women’s poorer maths performance in a swimsuit to the fact that self-objectification consumes mental resources. When her body is on display, a woman is concerned about others evaluating it, while the men in this study were less affected by this and could keep their minds on the sums.’ So if we as women are not being exposed to the outside world are we not either self objectifying or feeling judged by others outside the home?
If you are a woman reading this and are able, perhaps take a look at the men and women around you during this time and do you notice a difference in their mood and gender and the clothes they wear?
What would happen I wonder to my demeanour, my energy or my sense of me if I woke up tomorrow and decided to put on something pretty, wear makeup, apply my favourite perfume and generally ‘bother’ about how I present myself?
Or are there degrees? Inasmuch as I do put lip gloss on to walk my dog every day, as I said I do shower every day, I do brush my - sometimes very unclean - hair and put it up every day and my clothes are clean every day.
Is there a correlation in the degree of not ‘botheredness’ between just how low we feel and just how unkempt our clothes, body and hair are?
Lockdown as we know is having an extremely detrimental effect on those who already have some mental health problems and if you are one and are reading this I am by no means minimising the anguish and pain you are going through by suggesting you put on a brightly coloured jumper and some jewellery and you will feel instantly better. My heart goes out to you if you are suffering even more during this time and I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for you. I do hope you are able to access the help you need and may like to think about this theory of Enclothed Cognition? If you can it may have a positive impact on you? I really don’t know but if you are able it may be worth a try?
There is a school of thought that maintains that formal clothes give us more confidence and are therefore able to alter our thinking and for us in turn to become more adept negotiators or creators and our thinking more conducive to conducting business.
On the other hand it has been discovered that wearing this formal wear is not helpful for socialising and can prevent us from relaxing. In addition our brains associate certain clothes with certain activities - for instance track suits and trainers for the gym or training and pyjamas for bed. So what does these suggestions mean at this time of lockdown for many people. When we have to join in a video conference and we are wearing t-shirts and maybe not much else what is that doing to our thinking capacity?
What if you are on furlough and not working at all? As a result of some research it is suggested that we do get up and shower and although may not get ‘suited and booted’, if that is our normal work wear, at least wear clothes that we would normally go out in - comfortable clothes that make us feel part of the world even though the isolation and social distancing can seem very otherwise.
So I’m wondering if there are a number of elements to this hypothesis of Enclothed Cognition and the situation of COVID-19 that we find ourselves in………
The clothes we wear impacting on our mood and performance.
Our mental health dictating our mood.
The age old patriachal objectification of women and the impact that has.
The self objectification women have and the fear of judgement of others.
Keep safe and happy and healthy folks.
'Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune
without the words
and never stops at all’