Fashion and Mental Health

Express Yourself

Fast Fashion is making us want more, spend more and waste more. Accessibility through low costs and an abundance of styles has boosted our need for newness and we’re topping up our wardrobes at an expedient rate. It taps into our need for conformity and our desire for self-expression, but at what cost to our mental health?

The way we consume fashion is only one expression of the values dominating today’s society: abundance, rapidity, ignorance. The more, the better. The faster, the better. Anything but to stop for a moment and reflect upon the state of the planet, and the state of our mind.

Our basic human needs have not changed much over time but the way we (try to) meet them constantly evolves. Is it possible that we are on the wrong track? Is it possible that we only create more and more needs and desires that are like black holes, bottomless cravings, forever doomed to be unsatisfied and unsatisfiable?

Our need to belong has been well studied by Freud who described it as essential to man as a social animal. However, this need to belong, which would require conformity on our part, strongly competes with our desire of self-expression.

We do not want to be different but we want to be unique. We do not want to stand out but we strive to be acknowledged for who we are. How then can we conciliate conformity and self-expression?

I stand in front of my wardrobes and feel depressed because even though they are full of clothes, I feel like I have nothing to wear. I try on dozens of outfits until I find something that will express who I want to be today. Every morning I repeat and by doing so I feel like I am absolutely in control over my own style, that I am indeed free to choose whatever clothes I want to wear.

But is this aspect of self-expression really an expression of our freedom to be who we are and who we want to be? Are we not also led by our need for conformity?

Mass psychology, which studies how groups of people function on a psychological level, tells us that people’s actions are often driven by the need for the approval, conscious or not, of someone they admire or consider an authoritative leader. People’s actions are also driven by a need to belong to a group, often leading them to buying certain products approved by the group they belong to or wish to belong to.

This aspect of mass psychology has made the propaganda business a flourishing one, which is today not only a major factor for the pollution of our planet but also responsible for the pollution of our mind. The fear of not belonging has long been used to impose the beauty myth and the lashing of the body which led us to consume fashion goods at lightning speed and by extension increase profits of the fashion industry.

But the propaganda business is not all evil nor we simply the passive victims of its deeds. For propaganda to be effective, it relies on our participation, our unconscious and blind participation. Only when we realise how that business functions and on what psychological processes it is based on can we re-conquer our freedom and overcome the system.

Repetition is a very effective way of learning. Anyone who has ever learned a foreign language knows it. Actually, anyone who has learned to walk knows it. So by means of repetition and contagion – both terms borrowed from the vocabulary of mass psychology – the fashion industry shifts our mind in a certain direction, counting on us to not take our blinkers off.

We may be immune to fashion billboards and avoid buying fashion magazines, but we are nonetheless still influenced by the people around us. Who cares what the last fashion week says about next year’s trends? Conformity is something that happens mostly in our immediate environment. We are most eager to look for approval in our family and friends’ environment and within the professional arena.

Our fashion style not only changes over the years, it also evolves according to the environment we are living in. Whether our environment lays great importance on what is being worn or whether it is devoid of any interest in fashion may well influence our buying behavior and clothing choices.

Is it really then a sign of our self-expression when we buy exactly what everybody around us seems to be wearing or rather a sign of conformity, led by either admiration or the need to belong?

Fast fashion has reshaped our buying behavior, making the same standard items available to everyone at a low price thus supporting our need for conformity and undermining our desire for self-expression. Creativity, minimalism and mindfulness are not concepts that the fast fashion industry want us to explore.

Since enormous amount of similar clothes are being produced, it is necessary for the fashion industry to sell those same kinds of clothes to the largest possible group of people. This can easily be shown by a rather trivial example and that is in the endless quest for a simple white T-shirt devoid of fancy patterns, adornment of glitter or one of those ‘c’est-la-vie’ type of phrases.

Looking around us, taking note of it, and looking up to the people we admire are ways of encountering the outside world and finding our place in it. Instead of blindly and unconsciously following the newest trends without questioning whether they really appeal to us or not, I believe there are innumerable ways of satisfying our desire of self-expression without resorting to damaging  fast fashion.

There are ways of triggering our creativity and inventiveness, ranging from clothing recycling to swapping, giving a second life to our clothes while help both our planet and our mind.


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