Why do we find ourselves obsessing over a beautiful skirt we’ve seen, feel transformed wearing a gorgeous dress, or bond with another woman over our choice of clothing? We suspect it’s an ‘addiction’ but is it really? What is the psychology that drives our passion for fashion (yes… yes, I’m a poet too!)?

The History of Clothing

Anthropological models based on fossils from the human evolutionary tree. Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of the Daynes Studio, Paris, France.

Neanderthals may have developed tools to assist with preparation of clothing 300,000 years ago, however it’s believed our homo sapien ancestors invented clothing 170,000 years ago (if you want to know how we know, it’s something to do with body lice). This was likely to compensate for loss of hair (geez menopause sucks doesn’t it??!). Eventually, we developed technologies to evolve clothing to adapt to our environments rather than evolving the ability to live there.

Interestingly, clothing can’t be blamed for the human need to decorate their bodies. Decorative body painting pre-dated clothing (take that guys! See….you like it too!) and it makes sense that this need to decorate our bodies, transferred to clothing being worn as integral to our identities . Ta da! Styling was born!

Prehistoric ‘Unicorn’?

Was the gorgeous lush golden coloured woolly mammoth fur a ‘unicorn’ over the auburn brown colour?? Guess there was no sneaking a mammoth into the cave back then!

The History of Fashion

In Defense…

Like you, I’ve pondered this obsession many, many times for the last 40 years. In my only marriage, sometimes not unreasonably!, I’ve had to defend my significant spending on clothing. Countless times I’ve felt compelled to justify it to myself and others. Generally, it’s funny tho sometimes (like at the moment 😱) I’ve taken it too far.

These are some of the regular defences I use. Let us know in the comments any others that you have in case they’re useful!!😂

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  • “Well… I could be spending money snorting cocaine, buying fast cars or loose men….so…🤷‍♀️”
  • “I’ve earned it.”
  • “It’s been a shitty week…..”
  • “Well, if you weren’t such an arsehole…..😏”
  • “It was on sale”
  • “I feel unhappy at the moment “
  • “It’s an investment…here!….look at the price on ebay!”
  • “I deserve it”
  • “I really need this colour”
  • “Nothing I have fits any more😢 “
  • “It makes me feel good!”
  • “I need it for work”

The Secret Life

While my only marriage was short, & not so sweet, my ex already disliked fashion and clothes intensely before he met me. He thought nothing of wearing torn, stained, ill fitting, inside out clothes in public. I had no chance of being understood even if I had moderate spending habits.

So I sought out advice from more experienced Sisters and was given an arsenal of tactics to deploy to hide my purchases. Ok, admittedly once I got the gist of it, I thought of some myself 🙊;

  • “I’ve had this for ages! Waaah….you don’t notice me anymore!!😫”
  • Distraction under interrogation….”Ohhhh look at the bird/plane/Superman!”
  • Mix up like things in the wardrobe
  • Remove tags
  • Use Oz Post Parcel Collect service
  • Throw away all evidence ie packaging at the PO
  • Decline packaging at the store (well, I was also taking care of the environment too right?)
  • Have a ‘secret account’ for small household refunds/rebates ie Medicare & returns
  • Car boot used for storage until partner played golf/was at work & I could try on.
  • “I’m just going to get groceries….!”

Of course, jokes aside!, there’s no denying this is deceptive behaviour and can challenge trust in a relationship. I’m not sure if it’s excusable really but there may be good reason that needs attention.

Which is why I feel it’s important I’m open and honest about my own deceptive behaviour. I wish my increasingly angry ex had simply sat me down gently, asked why and what would resolve it. To his credit he tried a couple of times; he would start off trying to be reasonable but almost as soon as I opened my mouth, he would quickly escalate it to abuse, denigration and ultimately failure to acknowledge the contribution of his damaging behaviour in the relationship. We’d both end up being defensive.

Unknown to both of us, he had undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. By the time we found out, mutual trust had completely eroded. As Asperger’s is more prevalent and undiagnosed than realised, I’ll address it in more detail in a future post. Inevitably however, it had a damaging impact. Does his neurological disorder excuse him from being abusive towards his partner? No, it doesn’t. Did punishing him by overspending make it excusable? No, it didn’t .

However, I know with certainty that I’d went to beyond even reasonable expectations to try to address his behaviour towards me in other healthier ways and, despite promises, he’d repeatedly failed to take ultimate responsibility for it. It was clear money was really his major love so I hurt that. Rightly or wrongly, while I’m not proud of my response and have frequently felt guilt, in weighing it up against how I was used and abused, I’m ok with it. I took what I felt I was owed for the years of unvalued domestic servitude. It was the principle of it.

The Cost…

And all this at what cost? How far will we go to satisfy this ‘addiction’?

  • Damaged relationships; as above for my only experience! Perhaps it’s symptomatic of other issues?
  • There’s of course the $$$. In reality, I barely spent on clothing during the normal years of wealth creation, career/salary growth and acquisition ie 20’s & 30’s. I started reaping the rewards of that in my early 40’s…..and boy!… did I make up for it! It would be in the $10k’s.
  • Mental health: I’m still trying to spend at the rate I was when I was earning a 6 figure salary as a senior manager! The habit is entrenched and it’s causing substantial stress at the moment.
  • Lack of storage: managing this alone is hugely time consuming
  • Too much choice; some days it’s just too hard to figure out what wear. Come here tracky pants!

But Why……?

We all suspect that our reasons for our passion for clothing & styling are complex, perplexing and very personal. There’s a psychology behind it that explains our seemingly ‘addictive’ behaviour. I’m not sure why, given the massive scale of its prevalence, it’s taken so long but it’s recently become a specialised area of Psychology with a Masters available for study.

The most common explanations for why so many of us love our clothbabies so much are below. Some are supported by formal studies, others we’ve figured out all on our own!

  • We’re addicted ie “Shopaholics”. Of course health professionals had to create another disorder, and so it’s called “Compulsive Buying Disorder”. Read about it, it’s sobering!
  • It’s how we express ourselves
  • We identify our tribe through our shared style
  • Styling is a creative outlet
  • It makes us feel good ie “dopamine dressing
  • The designs are beautiful works of art
  • It can be transformational
  • They provide a first impression
  • They help us perform: of course a wanky sounding term had to be coined ie “enclothed cognition”…but it’s an interesting study!
  • Help us to heal
  • Nostalgia….tho not sure any of us will recycle some of the 80’s again!
  • It reflects our success & social status
  • They prevent us from going to jail for Indecent Exposure!
  • They keep us warm (hey while we’re on the subject…I have this snuggly thing for sale!😈)

Here’s an interesting read “The Psychology of Fashion “by Professor Carolyn Mair, the creator of the Masters in Applied Fashion Psychology degree.

I believe it’s dangerous to label it a ‘disorder’ because it implies we have no control over it, therefore distancing our responsibility, when actually we do have control if we really want to.

Ultimately, only we know when we’ve crossed the line between ‘normal’ and ‘out of control’. That there are legitimate and historical reasons why we respond as we do to wearing beautiful clothes is validating.

However, as with any behaviour, if it’s doing any damage then alarm bells should start ringing to rein it in and focus on identifying why it’s out of control (any of the above resonate?). Because only then can we address it. Right now, I’ve recently gone too far with the Spell Designs “Lioness” Collection, it’s going to cost me by having to sell some treasured ‘unicorns’ and I’ll be pulling my head in. Such is life!

What’s your experience? Share your own story below!

World Peace & Tolerance ✌️ 😁

Paula 💕