What can #psychology tell us about #fashion, clothing and identity? Are you really what you wear?

The Royal Wedding is hours away. The press coverage of #HarryandMeghan and Ms Markle’s family has been relentless for weeks. A wedding is one of the most important days in a couple’s life and also one of the most stressful. Months, sometimes years, of preparation can go into the preparations, and costs can escalate to tens of thousands. For many, pressure for everything to be ‘perfect’ on the day takes its toll, but for people in the public eye, the pressure is relentless. For now my focus is on the wedding of the year and how Ms Markle’s choice of dress will tell the world who she really is.

Many elements of the day have broken with tradition and today is a day when the Royals can make a statement about their standing on matters of global importance as they do in their charity work. Yesterday @BBC reported the cost of the Royal wedding will be £32 million: £50,000 for the cake, £110,000 for the florist, catering £286,000, and millions for security. Who will be paying for these is a contentious issue for many and justifying these costs is difficult. All brides want to be beautiful on their special day and spend a large proportion of their budget on their dress. Meghan’s dress is rumoured to cost around £150,000. How will this fit with Meghan’s image and identity? Will it be ‘#sustainable’? Who is the designer?

Although the favourite is Ralph and Russo @ralphandrusso, my money is on @stellamccartney as predicted in my talk for @BPS_LHC in February, Why should Psychologists should care about Fashion Week?. Well, it’s not long until we find out who it actually is.

People are often surprised to discover that I’m not a stylist, I don’t advise people on what they should wear. Rather, I use evidence to show how we can make our clothing work for us by maximising the influence of our appearance, and consequently our clothing, on our wellbeing and on the impression we make on others. I have written about his topic in my book, The Psychology of Fashion.

Given the significance of the Royal Wedding, I was thrilled to be invited onto the television programme, @LooseWomen, along with bridalwear designer, @CharlieBrear to talk about the dress. When our moment came to on the set, I was ready to explain the psychological impact of Meghan’s wedding dress choice and the relationship between what she will be wearing and her identity. Unfortunately, there was very little time to say much at all.

In The Principles of Psychology (1890), William James emphasised the importance of our clothes, in the formation and maintenance of our self and our identity.

 “We all have a blind impulse to watch over our body, to deck it with clothing of an ornamental sort, to cherish parents, wife and babes, and to find for ourselves a home of our own which we may live in and ‘improve.’”

What we wear says a great deal. It communicates information about our identity, who we are and how we wish to be understood. Unfortunately, the information does not always send the message we intend and so we need to ensure our clothes represent our identity. What do we want to express with our clothing?

In order to simplify transmission between wearer and observer and minimise opportunity for misinterpretation, our clothing and general appearance need to be consistent with what we stand for, our principles, beliefs and moral standing. Most of us are not known publicly for our outspoken stance on global issues, but for those who are known for their activism, their appearance needs to be consistent with their claims. Authenticity, modesty and sustainability are highly valued as fashion begins to turn its back on superficiality, ostentation and waste. In the words of Dame Vivienne Westwood (2013):

“Buy less. Choose well.” 

The new Royal is no stranger to fashion. In addition, she has worked as United Nations ambassador, visited Rwanda with World Vision Canada, visited India to support women and girls living in slum communities and has written for @TIME about the stigma associated with menstruation. She has been honoured for her philanthropic work. Her identity is modern, strong, independent, environmentally conscious, humanitarian, so the question on everyone’s lips is

“What will she be wearing?”

The beautiful Ralph and Russo gown she chose for the engagement reportedly cost £56,000 and while she certainly looked stunning in it, the choice triggered a furore not least because of its cost. Let’s assume Ms Markle can afford to spend a huge amount on a dress she may only wear once so why was this such a problem? The reason this gown caused such a stir was that it did not authentically represent her identity as a humanitarian; it was perhaps more suited to her identity as a TV celebrity.  

Will the feedback she received influence the choice of wedding dress? After all she would look beautiful in anything. But how likely is she to conform to tradition and pressure? While it’s appealing to hope she could continue to express her humanitarian identity, she will have pressure to conform to tradition and is likely to wear a very different style to the one she wore to her first wedding. 

My money is on a @StellaMcCartney wedding gown. Stella McCartney, a British designer committed to operating a modern and responsible business has a  mission that fits perfectly with Ms Markle’s:

“We are agents of change. We challenge and push boundaries to make luxurious products in a way that is fit for the world we live in today and the future: beautiful and sustainable. No compromises.” 

The wait will soon be over. We wish them a wonderful day and life together. 

Image credit: Evening Standard 18/05/18