Dressing to feel good

paperdoll-done-for-web2This is not a fashion post, exactly. Or a DIY post. But I am going to talk about clothes. And I am making myself a dress – I started it suddenly and without a pattern at about 10pm the night before last, but it seems to be miraculously working out! Rather, I wanna talk about feeling good in our clothes (and why I’m making the dress) plus a little psychology! All sparked by an Aha! moment that I had this week.

It starts with a pair of elephantine vintage mens overalls. If you are following my 100 Day Project, I’ve already mentioned my overall epiphany there. Here it is in a nutshell (or… can you only say that when the story is short?).

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On Wednesday, I woke up feeling like crap. It was some combo of a stiff pregnancy body, no good breakfast things, disgusting kitchen, toddler child being a toddler child and the corresponding doting mama worries, plus the fact that both of my good maternity jeans were unwearably dirty. You know, no biggies really but I was an unredeemable bear none the less. And then… I pulled out my overalls.sewing-dress-for-web-2
And amazingly, things just kinda turned around. An hour and a half later, the kitchen was clean, apartment was vacuumed, and I was happily humming and sketching. And it just got better. I felt like everywhere I went all day, people were smiling at me! Strangers seemed unusually kind. I just kept thinking, “I feel like myself. I feel like myself.” In such a good, refreshing way.

Through it all, I knew it was partly the overalls. See, they’re not a choice I typically feel 100% comfortable making. I picked them up over a month ago, while in Toronto and this was the first time I’d worn them. I know they don’t look conventionally attractive. These suckers are big. They aren’t skinny little ASOS maternity overalls. They are tree-trunk legged man pants. And I’ve already gained a good 20 lbs, which they did a nice job of displaying through the hips. BUT. In my perception, they were displaying a lot of other things, too.

To me, those overalls said “playful”. They said “relaxed”, they said, “young at heart” and “artsy” and “unafraid”. They spoke about a body that likes to move, to sit in the sand with her boy, to get paint on her hands. They said “up for anything”. And that is exactly how they made me feel – and act. And according to research psychologist Karen Pine (yes, we’re still on a Karen Pine lovefest here!), that makes perfect sense.

sewing-dress-for-web-3After my Do Something Different post last week, I was curious about the ‘Wear Something Different‘ program, so I downloaded Pine’s ebook, Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion. So cool. It fully put my experience into words.

I think we usually talk about our clothing choices in terms of expressing or reflecting who we are – but it works the other way too! What we wear can actually change us, or bring out certain traits. It affects the way we feel, act and even think. According to Pine’s research, clothes can offer “…subliminal psychological ‘permission’. Permission to behave differently. When we put on a piece of clothing, we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.”1 One study even found that undergraduate students given a bunch of questionnaires while wearing superman t-shirts actually believed they could lift heavier objects than their peers who took the tests dressed in regular clothes! Lol.

sewing-dress-for-webI think most of us have probably noticed that some clothes just make us feel super good. Pine compiles a list of suggestions based on theoretical knowledge from positive and cognitive psychology for putting together a wardrobe of ‘happy clothes’. For me it was spot on.

A couple examples from the list:

  • Loose clothes and comfy flat shoes allow movement and make us think freedom and adventure.
  • Colours found in nature, e.g., sunshine yellow, sky blue, leafy green, energize us and provide a buffer against downer feelings.
  • Unexpected combinations give us a little pick me up by offering a punch of novelty and surprise.
  • Playful prints and patterns (like polkadots!) harken carefree, happy feelings from childhood.

And lastly, and I think most importantly, “Any trend which harmonises with who you really are and is in tune with your inner self will boost your mood… if you smile whenever you wear an item of clothing, you’ve probably found the right piece for you.”2

Nice, right? For me, it was so cool to see the power of how I perceived my clothes – rather than necessarily how I looked in them! SO. About that dress I’m making. Loose and playful with a bold print and some unexpected pops of colour, I think it’s going to be a really happy (and affordable!) addition to my shrinking closet! If it turns out (fingers crossed), I will certainly share a few pics. 🙂

I’d love to hear what you think! Do you have some piece of clothing that just makes you feel awesome?


  1. Pine, K. (2014). Mind what you wear: The psychology of fashion [Kindle edition]. Retreived from Amazon.com. Location 19.
  2. Pine, K. (2014). Mind what you wear: The psychology of fashion [Kindle edition]. Retreived from Amazon.com. Location 376.

10 thoughts on “Dressing to feel good

  1. Johanna

    I LOVE this post (obviously!) it reminds me of that tidying up book’s “does it spark joy” question to ask when going through your closet. Also, I completely relate to your post but the outfits that I prefer (and that I automatically have a good day when I’m wearing) say something different to me- they say “interesting”, but also “competent”, “with it”, “smart” and “prepared”. The adjectives we both chose really reflect our self concepts, huh? And while I don’t think of myself as prepared, when I feel that I look prepared, I feel that I actually am more so!

    1. Elena

      That is so interesting, Johanna!! And totally our adjectives describe us, or at least the traits we find desirable. The crazy thing is that you don’t just feel smarter or better prepared, you probably actually behave that way too! That little ebook lists a number of really interesting studies that demonstrate actual performance differences, based on clothing – e.g., women do worse on math tests while wearing bathing suits (!!!), students taking certain relevent tests better while wearing lab coats, etc. It’s really giving me the push to get rid of my slobbiest most ill-fitting clothes – it makes me feel a certain kind of incompetent, and like, well, a slob! And I do think it affects my behaviour. And yeah, we all know I don’t need more reinforcement towards my, er, slobbier tendencies!

  2. Johanna

    Also- I have to say that I feel WAY better in general since I got a few things that actually fit my postpartum body and make me feel like myself again. Happier, even!

    1. Elena

      Oh, that is SO true. I think that, like maternity clothes, there should be designated “postpartum” lines, aimed at flattering and fitting in just the right way for that period. And being super functional. And a 1-month postpartum shopping trip should be customary – but only at these special stores, that have super soft chairs and good lighting and probably even serve refreshments. And have specially trained personnel on hand to cuddle babies. They could hire awesome grandmothers for that role. It’s brilliant!! Please, someone steal this idea, now. 🙂

  3. Alison Logan

    Love this.
    I totally believe in Pine’s “fashion” research.
    I definietly feel more fancy-free in my crazy colorful, print, flowy clothes than I do wearing something tight, black and formal. Some outfits alone can make me angry and irritable. As soon as I give up on it and change, I feel like a million bucks, like I can do anything – comfortably. Espeically right now since I am about as pregnant as you… So, I feel you on that one.
    Gotta get me some man overalls. For now, Jason’s King’s sweatpants will have to do.

    1. Elena

      Lol Alison, YES! It is wild how a clothing change can turn everything around. I so believe in that. I think that as I try on all my maternity clothes over the next couple weeks, I’m going to try and really tune into the associations I have with each item of clothing and how they make me feel, and just whatever, pass on the things that just aren’t working, even if they technically fit. Who needs that?! I’m moody enough!! I want to be comfortable both physically AND feel like my clothes reflect (and encourage) my best self. Which might mean doing laundry more often… and… and, okay well, maybe I have to think about that a little. 😉

      Hope your pregnancy is going well! xo

  4. Lakesha

    Oui c’était un peu space.Je ne me souviens même plus pourquoi tu avais fait la photo à la base… Je crois que c&;rsuoqétait juste que pour une fois tu trouvais qu’il y avait pas mal de monde dans la cuisine…

  5. Rosalinda

    the same thing about crsk0eti&#823c; gotta be an old wive’s tale, and I’m done taking chances! Mahusay na nakikita mo, and I’ll be right over to visit your Nice Place… : )


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