Entwistle describes this as an embodied material system. Hajo and Galinsky reinforce it with a theory of enclothed cognition, where clothes influence the wearer’s psychological processes based on two variables: the meaning we create for particular clothing and the concrete somatic sense that wearing clothing has. Twigg argues that: “Identity and dress are intimately linked. Clothes display, express and shape identity, imbuing it with a directly material reality” (1). This view of dress, and its connection to identity in the context of ever-evolving choice, has been under-researched. Tseëlon questioned the lack of empirical evidence in women’s understanding of themselves through their clothes; when Guy and Banim conducted a grounded-theory study into clothing as a lived experience, they found participants exhibited strong connections between clothing and self-identity.
This relationship is an established theme in dress studies. Postmodernism’s focus on the constant options of “being” available to us through the choices we make has been explored by theorists looking at expressiveness, adoption of style, and agency (Finkelstein; Polhemus). The formation of a positive identity through clothing is highlighted in the findings of Masuch and Hefferon, though Clarke and Miller argue that postmodernism’s focus on constant change creates anxiety as much as pleasure. Cushman supports this but offers a contrasting manner of looking at identity, arguing against the positive value of a postmodern position in which a fluid identity is created from an abundance of choice, in that there is problematic dissonance between a desire for a coherent identity-narrative and a dearth of external support to maintain that continuity (599). Thus, the pressure to experience fulfilment through identity merely encourages consumption of fashion, which never reaches the core of that need. From this angle, self-curating identity could be seen as detrimental to wellbeing. Hall and Du Gay consider identity as a way to traverse intrinsic and external need; postmodernity’s focus on choosing identity is again implied to be harmful to wellbeing, as the challenge creates contradictions while individual identity becomes fragmented.
In the Masuch and Hefferon study, sameness was considered to be a positive effect of fashion, whereas creating difference as a way to increase wellbeing was not investigated. Previous studies that explore the tension between fitting in and standing out, as negotiated by daily dress practices, have seen this as an approach to alleviating identity crisis and conveying group belonging (Evans; Polhemus). These studies seldom focus on conventional society. In these, the relationship between the body, positive body image, and the way in which participants experienced hedonic pleasure from dressing was considered a key proponent to maintaining wellbeing, as was fashion’s ability to regulate mood. Emotional self-regulation via clothing practices were highlighted as needing further research. Klepp discusses the relationship of clothing choices, comfort, and wellbeing, expressing her worries that we do not currently have the means to analyze what is meant when participants in research studies talk of a garment “feeling right.” Klepp focuses on the link between comfort (feeling) and wellbeing as being a physical sense with little consideration of the emotional aspect of “feeling right” in one’s clothes.
Craik advocated that as fashion creates choices, it offers multiple manners in which to perform identity, and this could be considered a manner in which psychological adjustments could be said to be negotiated through dress choices. This is supported by Goffman, who suggests that people in their daily routines organize their dress (amongst other things) to confer a dynamic, unstable impact based on social interactions, an idea that aligns with Bandura’s social cognitive theory (“Human Agency in Social Cognitive Theory” 1175). This model implies that identity happens because of an active conversation between internal and external experiences and constantly changes as the wearer responds to the opinion of an observer, a feedback loop that adjusts clothing choices in response to the needs of identity formation.
Additional research proposes that not only does fashion communicate our identities and influence others’ opinions, but that it also affects how we see ourselves, moulding our attitudes and actions (Fredrickson et al. 269; Zimbardo). Building on these themes and seeking to redress the lack of attention given to the relationship between clothing choices, identity, and wellbeing, this study will shed light on how fashion, mediated by identity, positively impacts the happiness of the wearer.