The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes

When I think about Halloween, I think candy, jack-o-lanterns, movies, and all that stuff, but I also think about it as the perfect opportunity to try out something totally different, appearance-wise, and test out whether it’s worth exploring past that.  I’ve definitely seized it as an opportunity in the past, both to try out a different type of “masculinity” – dressing like my idea of a punk a few times, something I was definitely interested in; and also to see what it felt like to dress femme.  I think a lot of people try out things like this too, in the guise of a “Halloween costume.”

I wrote about that here:  Hey Halloween! (how costumes fit into our lives)

I just listened to a really interesting podcast about how what you wear can affect how you feel, how you’re treated, what you decide to do, your cognitive abilities, your identity, and so much more!  It starts with a brief snippet of a Halloween night, with kids running around a neighborhood in all kinds of costumes.  Here’s part of that transcript, talking with a girl who is afraid of flying:

FRANNY: I’m wearing a leather jacket and an aviator hat and aviator goggles and jeans, boots and an aviator scarf.
ROSIN: Franny’s dressed as…
FRANNY: Amelia Earhart.
MILLER: Yep, a woman who ate airplanes for breakfast.  Who was…
FRANNY: Awesome and brave.
ROSIN: And as Franny puts on the white silk scarf, the leather jacket, the hat with the floppy ears…  …Guess what happens?  The nervous disappears.  If I put you in an airplane right now, what would happen?
FRANNY: I’d feel like a pro.

It’s true, to an extent!  We’ve all experienced this, somehow or another, I think.

Listen to the full podcast here:  Invisibilia

For me, shoes have always been a big deal – probably my favorite element of self expression.  I remember the first time I got to get a pair of boy’s shoes, in 3rd grade, and the emotional tenor of that moment and of every single day that I got to wear them.  It was the best thing ever.  And of years later, in my early 20s, when I first got a pair of skateboarding sneakers – it was that same feeling (or, OK, maybe a diluted young-adult version of that same feeling) because I decided that I was worthy of wearing the type of shoes I always coveted.  And I was an adult.  And I could buy and wear whatever I wanted (I had a hard time “letting” myself buy things that I wanted.)  And now!  I recently got a pair of Reebok pump basketball shoes, and I have such a fun time just putting them on!  I’m not a skater or a b-ball player, but that’s OK, shoes say so much more than “basketball,” “running,” “work-boot,” etc.

What are your favorite articles of clothing to play around with?
Have you used Halloween as an opportunity to try out something new, that you might want to incorporate into everyday life?

There are 6 other stories in the podcast, including someone who uses sunglasses to avoid getting bullied, and then ends up feeling so strongly about their magical powers that he just ends up never taking them off.  This was my favorite story, and it’s the first one, so if you wanna just hear that one, it’s totally worth it!


Parts 2 and 3 are also really good.  Part 2 is about a person who started out as a cross-dresser, and then after a breakup, they started wearing feminine clothing all of the time, and identifying as a trans-woman.  She was also a fairly public figure, doing stand-up comedy regularly and being covered in the media.  She was also 6’5″, never passed, and always was on guard, feeling paranoid and defensive.  It was wearing her down, and the feminine clothing had lost their allure.  After about 7 months, she went back, from “Sarah,” to “Will.”  And he endured backlash from the trans-community for doing so.

Part 3 was about a social science experiment (I think I’d read about it in a book, as well), where people were asked to put on a white lab/doctor’s coat, and then go through a battery of concentration tests.  The control group wore their regular clothes.  And it was proven that those with the coat on did twice as well as those without!  Was it something about the extra weight on the shoulders?  No, that was tested for with just pressure being applied.  What about if the coat was referred to as a “painter’s coat” instead of a “doctor’s coat?”  No go – that did not produce any improvements.  It appears that when people feel like they are putting on something that has a particular meaning, they will, largely subconsciously, act accordingly.

8 Comments on “The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes”

  1. Hart says:

    For me it’s neckties. I never feel better than when I’m wearing necktie. I feel bad ass and like the world is mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did it without realising at Halloween, whoever I went as, I went as the male version of that type of person (e.g. sorcerer, soldier, unknownred uniform man on Star Trek away team.)

    But I tried on new fashion styles consciously when I went on trips, or living overseas for a summer/semester (had satellite parents, so I was mostly out of town once class got out until it resumed in the fall. Sometimes some element or all of it stuck when i got home, pending how I felt while trying it out.

    Dressy and business attire made me feel extra good for a long time, more confident. I still enjoy when I’ve put extra effort into my appearance, but I’m relatively confident regardless now. I love wearing bowties I’ve tied (never pre-tied), colour coordinating an outfit with a date, and so on. I didn’t care much what I looked like growing up, and formal wear was often the worse because it was the few times my mother tried wrestling a dress unto me (though she eventually gave up on that at some point and we compromised on women’s dress pants except for prom, ugh) but dress attire used to highlight my assigned sex so it went from the thing I especially hated to the thing I especially liked because settling as something I do to pamper myself and because it’s fun but otherwise has lost some significance since becoming comfortable and confident in my gender. Nowadays, a nice jockstrap or pride float worthy pair of undies (though I have no intention of ever dancing atop a pride float in nothing but underwear) brings a silly grin to my face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • janitorqueer says:

      I totally relate to the color coordinating an outfit with a date – that it super fun! In general though, I like the formal or “dapper” look on others but I don’t much like putting that stuff on – too uncomfortable! And, I guess having to tuck my dress shirt in makes me feel self-conscious about how skinny I am, specifically my waist…


  3. Lesboi says:

    I’m with you on shoes. I have a bit of a shoe obsession, especially now that I am wearing men’s styles exclusively. I also love watches. I recently bought a men’s suit and wore it a couple times on our last vacation and that felt super awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Liam says:

    Leather jackets. But they’re expensive, so I only have one. I’ve had it for several years now – bought it when my previous one wore out – and it’s still going strong.

    Liked by 1 person

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