To be honest, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t struggle with anxiety and depression. My earliest memories are of trying to stay home in first grade because I could feel my stomach churning just thinking about sitting in a classroom. Through the years, both medication and therapy have become absolutely essential for me — but in addition, I’ve found that fashion and mental health go hand-and-hand for me. Indeed, style is a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to coping with my mental state.
Though I’ve been a fashionista since the day my mom first let me dress myself, (she’s not afraid to show anyone the wacky outfits I would wear), it was around high school I learned just how clothing could impact my mental health. In fact, when I was battling an eating disorder and a bad depressive episode my freshman year, fashion helped me to dig my way out. My mom noticed that I wasn’t happy at my all-girls Catholic school, so she suggested switching to public school and enrolling in the fashion program offered there.
While I still struggled with my mental health even after changing schools, the new fashion class I was taking — which mostly consisted of sewing and learning about the history of style — made me excited to go to school for possibly the first time ever. Not to mention, being able to put together outfits every morning for the first time, (as I was used to donning a uniform every day) sparked the creativity I was so desperately searching for. After falling in love with the course, I knew I wanted to pursue it as a degree, which is why I enrolled in The Fashion Institute of Technology and studied Fashion Business Management. Now, at age 25, I can’t imagine my life without fashion being a part of it every day.
The Creativity Behind Fashion
I’ve always thrived off of creativity, especially when it comes to putting together outfits (in my opinion, the wilder, the better). And according to Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist, PsyD. in Philadelphia, “creativity not only decreases anxiety and improves overall mood, but it also elicits feelings of positivity and optimism.” The expert also notes that creativity releases our feel-good chemicals, like endorphins and dopamine.
To add to that, Minaa B., LMSW, a therapist and wellness coach, says the creativity behind coordinating a look, “involves the power to make a choice to dress however you want, finding items that make you feel good in your body, and using coordination and style as a way to tell a story about yourself and who you are.” She believes this plays a huge role in mood management, confidence, and freedom of expression. For me, I often choose clothing and accessories that align with my goofy, carefree personality (see: fun charm jewelry, colorful sunglasses, homemade tie-dye pieces).
Fashion As A Form Of Self-Expression
Though I’d usually get called out for it by a teacher, I loved to add on a colorful belt or printed socks to my school uniform as a way to express myself. And now that I’ve mastered my personal style (read: quirky, kid-like with a slight grown-up twist), I use fun, intriguing clothing as a form of self-expression.
And as it turns out, psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly and author of the upcoming book Date Smart, explains that “fashion, when used with flair, can certainly allow an individual’s unique personality to shine through in even the most austere environments.” The psychologist says that fashion can improve one’s mental health by increasing a sense of personal choice and empowerment on many levels.
Additionally, psychotherapist Nicole K. Smith-Perez, LMHC, LPC says, “right now, I think t-shirts with sayings on them are really popular, and it gives people a way to express themselves without having to say anything.” If I’m ever tempted to reach for a graphic top, it’s Lisa Says Gah’s printed tee that says Gah! in orange letters (enough said, right?).
How Colors & Prints Can Impact Your Mood
It’s also not often you’ll spot me without some sort of bold color or print. That’s because I’ve always used vivid, joyful clothing as a way to boost my mood — especially on those days where I’m not feeling my best. According to Dr. Zuckerman, there are many theories on how certain colors can impact one’s mental state. “Obviously, your favorite colors, or colors that you feel you look best in, tend to help elevate mood,” she explains. “However, there are some colors that are thought to specifically boost our mood.” For instance, the expert notes that yellow has been said to elicit feelings of happiness and optimism, while blue has been known to bring peacefulness. In addition to these two hues, Smith-Perez says brighter colors are associated with happiness, too.
“As with colors, any print that you are attracted to will be more likely to boost mood if worn,” Dr. Zuckerman adds. In my case, this involves patterns like tie-dye, animal, and checkered — oftentimes mixed together.
Self-Confidence Through Clothing
Like many, self-confidence is something I’ve struggled with, especially during my teen years. But, I’ve realized that when I’m wearing pieces that align with my personal style and make me feel most like myself, my confidence is immediately boosted. In fact, the particular types of clothing that make me feel my best include anything that’s bright (I often flock to pink), detailed with a bold print and keeps me comfortable.
Dr. Manly says that our clothes are the second skin we wear when interfacing with the world. “When we feel attractive and comfortable in our clothes, we naturally feel better about ourselves,” she explains. “When we feel truly good in our clothing, we can devote our energy to enjoying life or getting tasks done rather than being stressed or anxious about how we present to others. Whether the goal is to be attention-grabbing or casually subdued, how we dress can certainly affect the quality of our inner world and our interactions with others.”
Fashion As A Mindful Practice
Fashion can also be used as a mindful practice for anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon, a psychologist and founding expert of emotional well-being app Mine'd. “Mindfulness is about bringing our attention to the present moment without judgment,” she explains. “When we are struggling with depression or anxiety, our thoughts so often go to the past — for example, painful memories and regrets about our choices or to the future, for instance, worrying about whether we will find love or succeed at our job.”
However, Dr. Solomon says that directing time and intention into clothing, makeup, jewelry, and shoes can become a mindfulness practice of sorts. “We can focus our attention on the colors and textures that would feel good against our bodies,” she notes. “By bringing our full attention to these rituals, we give our minds a rest from repetitive thoughts and our painful feelings may lessen.”