Sunday, February 19, 2017

Fashion for Transformation and Healing

The Transformative Power of Clothes

I recently read an article at Glamourtunist about the healing power of fashion.  It really resonated with me.

"Given all of the research and benefits of art therapy in the healing process," Dominique Michelle Davis writes in the piece, "there stands to be a lot of advancement in promoting the therapeutic benefits in the world of fashion.  In a culture shaped upon promoting unrealistic standards of beauty, there lies an opportunity to use creative expression in the healing process, but we are starting to hear more about the conversation of how fashion can be healing."

Wait, what?  Fashion can be healing?  Things as superficial as clothing, accessories, shoes and jewelry can help us with our deepest issues?  Actually, yes.

 The article compares using the creative aspect of fashion as an adjunct to standard art therapy -- a  modality utilized by mental health professionals to encourage patients to explore feelings, confront addictions and achieve personal transformation.  Fashion as therapy is a great idea, since many feel far more inspired by putting together a beautiful outfit than by attempting to draw or paint.

The article made me think about my own relationship with fashion's transformative energy.  How many times has my well-loved pair of cowboy boots given me the strength to tackle something new?  Why does the diamond ring I inherited from my mother feel like a lucky charm bestowing me super strength?  How many times has a new pair of shoes served as a ridiculously effective antidepressant after a bad day?
Fashion as self expression

Even the anti-fashion normcore trend offers an ironic kind of fashion healing.  Its uniform of plain clothes is a wearable security blanket -- a shield in an uncertain, ever-changing world.

We seem to inherently understand why ancient people were buried with their beads, headdresses, capes and belts.  Humans know that adornment is not simply an affectation fueled by vanity.  It is a tool for self expression with roots in the human psyche. We all know that an outfit we love can make us feel better and behave more confidently.  In stories, there is nothing like a great costume or suit of armor to give a hero or heroine the strength to shine or the boldness to face an obstacle.
Fashion as imaginary vision

A magical party dress gave Cinderella courage to face the ball.  A pair of killer shoes gave Dorothy power to return home from Oz.  Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility provided everlasting protection to anyone who wore it.

As Carol Scott wrote in Magical Dress, Clothing and Transformation in Folk Tales:

"Clothes mark the point at which the inner and outer vision meet, the point at which the physical self and the world touch.  Clothing is the outer expression of an inner identity, an imaginary vision transformed into tangible form for others (and ourselves) to see."

Don't get me wrong, I know there are a lot of not-so-lofty aspects of fashion.  I've written quite a bit about the problems with fast fashion from both environmental and human rights standpoints.  We all know that the business of fashion needs its own healing and transformation.

I also cringe at the stereotype of a vapid fashionista: strictly adhering to the current season's dress code, furiously tweezing brows to the latest stencil, obsessively dieting and working out and sometimes surgically altering herself to fit the beauty establishment's latest ideal.  This is the woman who treats Vogue as scripture and focuses on surface over substance.
Fashion as personal art

So, yes.  We must all acknowledge fashion's exploitative, addictive dark side.  But we should embrace its transformative, healing power.   And we should definitely not dismiss it as superficial. Fashion can make statements we don't dare utter in words.  It can delight, provoke and inspire.  But mostly -- for me, anyway -- fashion is a beautiful layer against an often ugly world.  As the brilliant street photographer Bill Cunningham once said, "Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life."

For more inspiration on clothing's transformational power, be sure to watch the wonderful 2 minute short film from Nowness at the top of this post.

For a great book on finding your own personal style, I really enjoyed The Curated Closet, by Anuschka Rees.  It offers great tips on creating a streamlined wardrobe that fully represents who you are.  It's a great book for those of us interested in slow fashion, and it fits right into the concept of using fashion as a healing force in your life.

Video by Nowness

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