Wardrobe therapy: why wearing the right clothes can change your life
by Louise Chunn
Getting dressed is a form of self-expression for most women. Even if we’re not always thrilled with the clothes we actually have to choose from, we can usually find something that expresses our personality, flatters us and gives the day a little extra buzz. But for some – like the one in four women in the UK who will seek treatment for depression over their lifetimes, according to the Mental Health Foundation – it’s a double bind. Not only does their condition mean they’re usually not concerned with their appearance, but they are enveloped by a deep, disabling mood, possibly making them feel even worse about how they appear to others.
Mental health professionals and doctors are trained to recognise the signs of depression. London-based psychotherapist Camilla Nicholls says, ‘Unwashed hair or clothes, shirts buttoned-up wrong – such things can indicate feelings of diminished self-worth. Tastes in fashion aside, a client’s choice of outward covering can tell a therapist a lot about the state of their inner world.
If you can read a depressed woman by her wardrobe, psychologist Karen Pine (karenpine.com) found you could change her mood, to some extent, by making changes to what she is wearing. ‘Many of the women in this study felt they could alter their mood by changing what they wore. This demonstrates the psychological power of clothing and how the right choices can influence a person’s happiness. It suggests we should give more thought to what we wear and should even dress for happiness, irrespective of how we are feeling. If we knew more about which clothes could lift a person’s mood, perhaps there would be less need for antidepressant medication.’
Research has shown that, in the right circumstances, lots of lifestyle changes can help lift our mood: seeing friends, eating well, exercising, reading poetry or positive mantras, listening to music and getting out in the fresh air. But wearing the right clothes? I like that idea. Of course, clothes are no substitute for seeing your doctor, counsellor or taking medication, but as an attempt at rallying against depression, I think they could be useful
My style prescription isn’t guaranteed to banish depression – for many this will require antidepressants, therapy or both – but using clothes to help lighten your mood or the way you’re perceived, could eventually lift you to a happier place.
10 Steps towards positive style
1. Mix and match: Try wearing something different every day.
2. Find your figure: Dress to reveal some shape, not cover it up.
3. Feel fantastic: Try to overrule your depressed mind by wearing clothes you would choose for a feel-good day or celebration.
4. Dress to impress: Go for the clothes that have brought you compliments in the past.
5. From drab to fab: Don’t rely too much on black and never wear it head to toe; it’s deadening and somewhat depressing in its own right.
6. Ditch the dull: Battle with the desire to disappear in a crowd. Stay away from ‘greige’ (grey and beige) and other sludgy colours.
7. The right jeans: ‘Comfy’ jeans (with no relationship to the fashionable kind) are as low-level as baggy tracksuit bottoms, worn-out leggings or droopy linen trousers. So, if you’re going for jeans, make them your best pair.
8. Hot to trot: Put your worn-out ballet pumps back into the wardrobe. Wedges, ankle boots, strappy sandals, noisy clogs – they’re all uplifting.
9. Face the world: Don’t hide away behind sunglasses or push your hair forward. Put on a little make-up and try a smile.
10. Give yourself some TLC: A slick of lipstick doesn’t have the power to overcome depression, I’m not claiming that. It is a complex mental illness that presents itself in people differently and has a huge variety of symptoms and causes. But giving yourself some care and attention may help, gradually, to move the dial on your mood.
Louise is the founder of welldoing.org, which matches people seeking help with the best counsellor or therapist.