What are the connections between navigating our identity and the clothes that we wear?
What drives us — on a psychological level — to overconsume or to consume conspicuously?
And could we use what we know about psychology and these consumption drivers to slow down fashion?
Well, we’re exploring all of that and more in this week’s episode with fashion psychologist Dr. Dion Terrelonge.
Links From This Episode:
How To Break Up With Fast Fashion by Lauren Bravo
This Episode Was Brought To You By:
Green Eco Dream, a sustainably-minded marketplace with eco-conscious alternatives for your health, home, beauty, and on-the-go needs.
Check out Green Eco Dream’s collection of low waste, low impact laundry essentials to help make your loved clothes last!
Listen to This Episode:
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app
Read the Transcript From This Interview:
Hey everyone and welcome or welcome back to Season 4 of the show, where we’re exploring how we can slow down fashion and start to imagine the possibilities of a post-growth future.
Today we’re talking style and consumer psychology with Dr. Dion Terrelonge, who is a doctor of psychology specializing in learning and fashion psychology.
She has over a decade of experience in the field of psychology which has included work in mental health, education, research, and most recently teaching aspiring fashion psychologists.
In this conversation Dion is talking about:
- Clothing and identity, especially as it relates to young people,
- Some of the driving forces behind conspicuous (or highly visible) consumption,
- Some of the psychology behind the acceleration of fashion consumption,
- And some of the reasons for this cognitive dissonance between knowing the harms of the fashion industry and still continuing to maybe overconsume.
- Dion also shares how we can start to slow down fashion (very on theme for this season!)
- And how we can harness the positive power of fashion to improve our wellbeing.
As always, all of the links and the transcript will be in the show notes over on consciouslifeandstyle.com.
And if you know someone else who would be interested in learning about fashion and style and consumer psychology, definitely be sure to share this episode with them.
Alright, let’s get to it! Dion is starting us off here with the story of how she got into fashion psychology….
I first got into fashion psychology at a time before I even had heard of fashion psychology. And actually, I think it was before there were even any kind of accredited courses in fashion psychology.
I think for me, I’ve always been interested in the very personal, intimate link between what we wear, and how we feel as human beings.
So they came very naturally to me. And for me growing up as a young person, in a household where we didn’t have very much, I really felt the impact of clothing.
Not that clothing is the be-all and end-all. But if I think about growing up in a house where the clothes that you had, were either kind of hand me downs, or you got from a stuff from a charity shop, or my mom would buy a school skirt, but like three sizes to be because you have to make sure you can get the most wear out of it and grow into it.
So most of the things that I had, they didn’t really feel like they fully represented me as I saw myself or as I wanted myself to be. So I’ve always been somebody who’s been quite aware of how clothing can impact your wellbeing and how you feel, and how you feel represented, and how you represent yourself. So I was always very interested in that.
And then when I began studying, doing my doctorate and doing my Advanced Studies in psychology, I was studying at a place called the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London. And there they have one of the country’s only gender identity clinics.
And actually, when I was there, I remember I was serving service users who are coming out of those clinics, having psychological support there from the psychotherapist and clinical psychologist. And I remember wondering, these young people who are exploring their gender identity, who is supporting them in exploring — safely — their gender expression as well?
And I remember watching them and thinking how much of a task that might be, and how much of a psychological task that might be when I think back to I don’t know how it was for you, Elizabeth, like when you’re a teenager, and you’re trying to find your sense of style, and all the missteps that you make. And thank god, there wasn’t social media when I was young.
And the way that you had this kind of safety to try out different styles and looks, because everyone around you is doing that at the same time. You had the chances to go shopping with your friends and kind of like trawl through racks of clothes, that kind of safety in numbers, because there’s so many of you and you’re all doing the same things.
But how might that be and how might they feel and what kind of task might it be if you’re a young person, or even an older person now, who is only just getting to explore their gender expression and try to work to make your gender expression link up with your gender identity?
You know I’ve had friends who are non-binary, and we go shopping together and they will tell me that when they’re in the shops, they might be in the what they call the women’s section, and they’ve had assistants come up to them and say, sorry, are you looking for something for your girlfriend? Or are you in the right section? So it’s that jarring moment.
Having to do that by yourself, the first time a person might have to, I guess the shop is now defunct, so it doesn’t really work. But what comes to mind like having to walk into Topshop rather than TopMan because these things are completely separated sometimes in the UK. We still have these like gendered sections, even completely gendered shops.
So long story short, after I noticed that I did some personal styling training. And while I was doing that training, again, I noticed that there was a disconnection between our clothing and our psychological well-being in that the stylists that I was training around, some of them are fantastic, but there was the odd comment of I don’t like to work with anybody who’s over a size 14.
Oh wow. Ugh
I know. I just breathed in at that point.
I try not to shop with a client. I like to just give them a credit card and go off. And I thought well why is nobody considering what brought that person to you in the first place? What has happened in their life that has gotten to this point? And why now?
And again, there’s a psychological task. And even as I was working as a stylist, listening to people speak about their own bodies, in the most horrendously negative ways and thinking, my hands feel a bit tied in the situation because I’m working for a company. I work as a stylist, when you’ve got an hour and a half, I can’t start digging into things psychologically as I would want to.
So I just felt there was a gap there. And that’s how I became more and more interested in what at the time I was calling style psychology. Because I’m not so much interested in trends and high fashion. It’s more about that personal relationship between our clothing, our bodies, our self-esteem, our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis I’m interested in. So that’s how I kind of going.
And then I set up my consultancy, the Wellbeing Consultancy, which is now under the fashion psychologist to try to support people. Where they can otherwise kind of fall through this gap where psychological services like my own originally, we’re not supporting people with telling them to consider the role of clothing, whether it be for gender expression, or whether that be around confidence of themselves, or whatever it is.
And also stylists, I went helping people psychologically. Not necessarily giving them full on kind of weeks and weeks of counseling, but just even attending to those kinds of unconscious things that are going on and that sort of or can challenging it that way.
So I just saw that gap. And I started just kind of writing about it doing research, providing media commentary, and then eventually ended up lecturing at University of Arts, London and the Psychology of Fashion course. And although I’ve kind of stopped now I’m kind of just still supporting with their master’s program there. And that’s a very long answer I’ve given you to how I got into fashion psychology.
That is absolutely fascinating. And I can totally see that gap where fashion meets psychology, because psychologists might underestimate the importance of style, you know.
The power of what we wear is often underestimated. And then stylists don’t get the full picture of all the deeper things that clothing maybe represents, to a person, how clothes impact how we feel, how we see ourselves, our identity, how the outside world perceives us, and then how that’s all connected.
And as you mentioned, it’s especially relevant for young people. And I’m with you, I never thought more about what I was wearing than when I was a young person.
So why is style and clothing so important for young people?
Yeah. I think there’s many reasons for that. Obviously, it’s not, it’s not a blanket statement. It’s not for every single young person, but from so many young people, like I know, you said for yourself. For me, it definitely was, as well.
There’s some theorists like Jean Piaget who say that from the age of 12, we begin to engage in this higher order functions, and where we’re able to hypothesize, to think reflexively, and to think in abstract terms.
And what that can do, or what that can give way to in the teenage brain is lots of skills and ability to suddenly start thinking, who am I? What do I represent? How do other people see me? How do I look in this clothing? If I wear this, what will people think of me? That’s not so much a skill you have when you’re younger, because there’s another level of thinking.
But so what it does is — although it’s lovely that you’ve developed in this way — it kind of suddenly gives rise to this very circular thinking, and you can get caught up in that thinking.
And I guess, your teens is a time when you’re trying out different identities. You’re trying to figure out who you are.
It’s a time when you’re legally sort of a child, but people start to have these slightly more adult-like expectations of you. You’ve got more independence. You’re trying to marry up who you are, who you have been, who you want to be, along with who your family thinks you are.
And it’s a real turbulent time, biologically, psychologically, cognitively where your body is changing your cognitive abilities are changing. It is so turbulent.
And I think that when you’re a teenager, you’re also trying to, along with finding your own individual identity, you’re trying to find your almost like your tribal identity, and trying to figure out where you fit in in society and how you will fit in going forward.
And I think clothing is often one way a marker for showing the world who you are, of signifying to yourself who you are. Maybe trying on these different identities, versions of yourself. And also for finding your tribe to kind of be wearing this clothing and showing, this is who I am, this is what I like.
It’s so common, if we think about most popular trends, over the last few decades, everything about punks, mods, and rockers, emo style — all of these trends that most often began within like teenage groups. And then they kind of culminate and get bigger from there.
But they start off with teenagers because they’re at that kind of slightly rebellious kind of conflictual stage where they’re tussling for their sense of selves. And a really obvious way that they can kind of wave their identity flag is literally through your clothing, which as I’ve said before, is one of the biggest nonverbal signifiers of who you are to the world that we have. It says something of us, before we even open our mouths.
It doesn’t tell the world all about us, but it does say something of us. So I think that’s part of the reason why it’s important in your teens.
Yeah, that’s absolutely fascinating to think about, and just all this play with identity and figuring out who you are.
As you mentioned, with how your family sees you, and then maybe figuring out how you see yourself and how perhaps you want your peers to see you. It gets very complicated. So it can be a challenging time. But…
It can be an awkward time as well!
Yes! And, you know, something that we were talking about before is how this time, as you know, a young adult or a teenager, I guess, can be especially challenging for those that come from a lower income background, especially with the rapidly rising cost of living that we’re seeing now and so could you speak to that?
This is a real concern of mine. Something I think about a lot. I guess I’m just thinking about everything I just said about how important it is for young people to have those opportunities to explore themselves in this way, kind of sartorially explore and literally physically try on different identities.
And just with the cost of living crisis where families are being plunged into poverty, or further into because we’re not doing so great here in the UK in the first instance, where people are struggling to keep up with the ever-rising gas and electricity bills and things like that, which are going to be much more of a priority in our household.
If you’re living in a household where finances are very thinly stretched and you’ve got a young person who may be going into Sixth Form College and they want an outfit to wear to college as they start maybe in their new college, or they start a new term. But yet, you need to put electricity on the meter, we know which one’s going to win out. Obviously, having electricity on the meter is much more important.
But when I think about how it was for you Elizabeth, but when you’re young, and you’re trying to develop your identity, and you’re not the most confident when you were teenagers, either, because you’re still quite shaky on your feet in terms of your, I don’t know how to describe it… your sense of self. That is so important that you put your best foot forward. And you want to feel good in what you’re wearing. And you want to feel authentic in what you’re wearing and you want to feel like you look good.
I’m just thinking about those young people for whom they don’t have even an outfit or a few outfits that they really like, that they feel happier in, that they feel confident in, or they feel they can hold their head up high when they walk in. This is not just about having the latest trends. It’s not about having loads of clothing.
But we know there are young people who maybe only have, let’s say, a pair of jeans that are still good or a couple of tops. And think about young people if they’re going up multiple times a week, maybe after school or going to school doesn’t have a uniform, or they go to Sixth Form College where you wear no uniform.
Suddenly the implications grow because we see with period poverty, what happens when young people haven’t got access to sanitary products is that they don’t go into school. The same thing happens with clothing.
If a young person only has one or two good outfits that they see in their mind, then they’re less likely to go into college because I can’t wear the same thing again. Or they might not have a pair of shoes that don’t have holes in them. So they think I can’t go in today.
Or what does a young person do when they are wanting to interview for their first job after school? And they haven’t got those items or clothing to look what we deem as professional or put together in that way. You’re really quite stuck.
Unfortunately, we do live in a society where people — as I said before — use your clothing to kind of get a sense of you. It does say something of you before you open your mouth.
So if you’re going into a job interview, and you’re wearing the only kind of clean thing you have, or the only non-mottled thing you have, that doesn’t necessarily tell the employer that you’re less capable. But unfortunately, it’s going to make you feel less confident at that moment. And it’s probably going to make you look less competent.
I just really feel for young people who are stuck in this kind of situation whereby it’s impacting on their social interactions as to how they go out. It might impact their education in terms of them going into college or even feeling confident in that space to learn. When you’re sitting there thinking, oh, gosh, are people looking at me again? Because now my clothes aren’t that clean because there’s no electricity for the washing machine, or I’m wearing the same thing I’ve worn three days in a row?
People listening to this might think that’s a bit far fetched. But there’s been studies I mentioned before, where they had a swimwear study, and they had a bunch of guys and some women wearing swimwear. They literally found that women, when they’re wearing swimwear, perform worse on a math task than when they’re wearing their own clothing and guys performed fine regardless.
But what that showed me was that when you do not feel comfortable in what you are wearing, it literally drains your cognitive resources. So just thinking about young people who are trying to learn and how important feeling comfortable in what you’re wearing can be for your learning.
Yeah, I can absolutely see that. And it takes me back to middle school — which is in the US age, I don’t know, 12 to 14, around here — and I remember there being kids who were wearing the same outfit, you know, most days, and kids are really mean.
Like, that also has an impact — I mean, how could it not?
And it’s just a hard time, I think for so many reasons. And that just like man, that just adds such a big barrier. So it’s definitely something that we should be talking about more.
Yeah I think the teenage years are a hard time, aren’t they? II wouldn’t want to go back.
No! Definitely not. [Laughs]
DION[Laughs] Like now, like walking to the corner shop of whatever I could be wearing anything. I could look like I’ve just rolled through a hedge and I won’t feel uncomfortable. But if I was a teenager I would never have dared.
Mhm. Yeah, definitely. And I feel like there is this dark sense of irony or sort of like a vicious cycle to all this.
I recently read The Day The World Stops Shopping by JB McKinnon. And he shared all of this research showing that in many ways, inequality drives consumerism, because of status competition and wanting to look important and well off based on the brands that you’re wearing or driving or whatever.
And that feelings of insecurity, especially financial insecurity are actually powerful forces driving people to shop more. Which seems maybe farfetched in theory but you actually, you do see that. People do sometimes shop as a way to feel secure.
And as someone who knows a lot more about fashion psychology than I do, could you speak out a little bit more and like help break that down? And how conspicuous, or very visible consumption, connects with insecurity or inequality?
Yeah, I think it does, isn’t it? Exactly what you said that in times of greater inequality, you see more of this conspicuous consumption. You see people — it’s when we get that phrase keeping up with the Joneses. And the bigger the gap, the harder we tried to keep up, don’t we?
It’s almost like, people work hard. And they want to show something for it. But they literally want to show something for it.
That’s why you’re much more likely, maybe if you’re of lower socioeconomic status, to wear very bold brands. So if a person has a choice between a Gucci t-shirt, that is just Gucci, and has a tiniest little label on it, or one that has Gucci with big writing across the front, they’re gonna get the one with the big writing. Because it may have taken them more effort and more time to get that t-shirt.
They’re really gonna want to show it off, because it’s not only, it’s no longer just another t-shirt in the drawer. It’s like the t-shirt. It’s a t-shirt. It’s a signifier to other people around them to say, not only look what I have, but maybe look who I am, I am a person who can afford this.
And it’s a tricky one, because I think a lot of people look down on people who maybe have lower incomes, but then choose to spend their money on kind of quite more conspicuous garments.
But we live in a time when the wealth gap is getting so big. That is a person who is earning minimum wage, or even just above that, is going to really look like — regardless to how many Nike trainers they buy, they’re not going to catch up with the wealthiest people — they will have intergenerational wealth, or they have wealth built on owning multiple companies and not working for people.
So we kind of have these sometimes unattainable standards. And we can’t quite get there. But what we can do is buy a few little things that make us feel better. And what we also do is that we try to differentiate ourselves. We say, okay, I can’t quite get up there. But let me show you where I’m not. Okay, let me show you where I’m not. You might think I don’t have very much, but let me show you.
And we want to show through the things that we have to say, okay, I’m not that unwell off. I’m more like, here. That’s when we started getting… the class system has kind of ill defined now in this country. And as ill defined, because I want it I mean it’s very fluid now; a lot more fluid than it used to be.
But when we get kind of like that differentiation between the working class, the upper working class, the lower middle class you’ve got somebody who’s like, a lot more strata within there, as people tried to separate themselves out, to differentiate themselves to say, well, you know, a working class, but.
And I think that’s why one way people use fashion is to try to differentiate themselves from other people who may be in the similar working class, but they don’t necessarily want to be aligned with and to try to better align themselves with figures that they see as being more aspirational. Of the places that they place or the status that they want to get to, even if it seems quite unattainable.
We want to fit in. And we want to fit in with the groups that we see that we want to be like or be with. So you wear those symbols or say, Hey, I’ve got one too. I’m like you.
Yeah, right. Right.
And speaking about the impact of society and the economy and what we wear, I also think about the connections with just the value of consumerism in society. So could you speak to what the impact on us is — what is the impact of living in a place that values consumption so much?
There’s so many. There’s so much impact, isn’t there?
There’s the immediate impact on ourselves on our social groups. But then there’s obviously the wider impact, obviously.
The amount of value that we place on consumerism, is having a horrible impact around the world, we know. Just looking at places in West Africa, where because of the amount of stuff we’re buying here, it’s just creating these massive landfills full of clothing, because people buy something, they wear it once, and they dispose of it.
They think they’re giving it to charity, and it gets given to charity, but so much of it gets shipped across to places in the Caribbean, or places in West Africa. And it just floods their markets. It’s literally flooding their land. And it’s just polluting the system. So there’s that impact.
Then there’s the impact, of course, on literally the physical safety and health of people who are working within this supply chain, like garment workers.
But I guess if we’re thinking about the impact on the individual consumer, then something I’ve spoken to you about, we’re just thinking about the addictiveness of consumerism, and how it becomes almost an unconscious habit. That’s because we live in a society of consumerism, we are a society of consumers. It becomes second nature.
If you’re ever someone you see yourself you sat with a friend, or maybe you’re doing it yourself, and you find yourself just reaching for your phone and use that flicking through, it just becomes like habit. Your hand just starts doing it almost like it has a life of its own. Just flicking through pages and pages of pages, senselessly, unthinkingly of clothing.
Now, have you picked up your phone to look at that clothing because you really need something new and you think, oh, my gosh, all my trousers have holes in now I’ve tried them in them as best as I can. I’ve got nothing left. I better buy some new trousers?
Most of the time, probably not. Living in this consumersism country, we probably have more pairs of trousers than we need, more clothing that we can wear in a week. But we still do it. It’s like any kind of addiction.
So, the same way that you snack, you find yourself going to your cupboard and you start snacking, not because you’re hungry, but just because of the availability because it’s there.
And my opinion is that fashion these days and clothing is just too available. Clothes shops don’t close anymore. Because they’re always at our fingertips. There’s nothing to tell us to stop. There’s no boundaries anymore to say, okay, well, I only shop when I finish work at the weekend. And then I only shop until the clothes shops close because we’ve got online shopping.
And also because it’s so accessible, because so much of it is so cheap these days. You can literally buy an item of clothing for less than a meal. So it’s like, you can get it instantaneously because it’d be delivered the next day.
You can buy something, make yourself feel good, get that little hit of the feel good hormone because we know that when you start searching for clothing, and you put it in your online basket, you get this rush within your body, your neurotransmitters start firing up and they say, Oh, this is good. I’m getting some pleasure here, do it again. You keep swiping again, putting something else in your basket.
And it becomes a habit because your brain and your reward center in your brain seeks rewards and it tells you that thing you did before. Do it again please.
And we can do it again because it’s continuously accessible and because now it’s ridiculously affordable, or so much of fashion is ridiculously affordable. So there are so few barriers to us not engaging in this behavior.
And the impact that has on us is it can lead to addiction, it leads to a disgusting amount of waste. And I think it leads to disconnection from our clothing because our clothing now… we have less of a relationship to it because it’s so easy come easy go.
You know, it’s not like you were having to save your wages for X amount of time to get that one thing that you really wanted. There was no anticipation for it, there was no excitement waiting for it. It wasn’t necessarily, something you got for a special occasion that you got to wear again and again. It was just another thing that you bought on a Tuesday night, like you did on Monday night. And you probably will do it again in a couple of nights. It’s just just become so habitual.
And I think it’s because we just don’t have to think about it anymore. We don’t have to engage our brains to obtain things when they just come to us so easily.
Yeah. And it’s just as easy to get rid of the clothes too. We can, just press buy on our phone and then when we’re done with it, we’ll just throw it in a bag and drop it off at the charity shop. Which you know, we know it most likely doesn’t actually end up being sold there.
But it’s just so easy to buy and so easy to discard and yeah, something’s… something’s gotta stop.
And as you were mentioning, we have been seeing an acceleration in consumption it feels with online shopping. And the likes of these ultra fast fashion brands like Shein and they literally have new arrivals every single day. I mean, that’s not possible in a store. They can’t turn over inventory that fast in a physical store.
Yeah, it’s crazy. And I think it’s interesting like you can see that… I don’t judge people who buy a lot of fast fashion. I think before I understood what was happening, I was guilty of it.
If I look at my drawers, I’ve still got stuff from Topshop that I’ve had for years and years. I’m a bit of a hoarder. So that’s a positive that I’m a hoarder.
But it tells you that at one point, I was definitely guilty, I shopped for leisure, for pleasure. It was something to do.
And I wasn’t thinking about, you know, oh, that’s interesting that this garment, last week was 40 pounds and now it’s on sale and it’s five pounds? How can they afford to just slash the price like that? It tells you how much the company actually really valued that garment. And how much they likely paid for the construction of that garment that they can afford to sell it for that price.
And then those ones that started at that price point, let alone the garments from places like Pretty Little Thing and Missguided that only start out at 10 pounds in the first place. I always say to friends who buy fast fashion, I try not to lecture because nobody likes that.
Like, oh, yeah, that’s that’s really nice. How much was it? Okay, so if that companies make a profit on that item, how much might the people who made it be paid?
Bearing in mind we have to factor in the factory costs, the transit of that clothing, the storage of it, posting out to you, it’s all factored-in. And once that top was 10 pounds… that’s going down and down and down and down and down.
And the moment you really stop and think about, okay, how can something cost so little? That’s when you begin to step back.
And I think I’ve gone off topic with the question you actually asked me?
Yeah, no, that was definitely very relatable. And yeah I struggle with that with like, people in my life who buy fast fashion, like how to be like, I don’t want to lecture, but I also don’t want to be like, oh my gosh, I love it so much. Because that also doesn’t feel very genuine.
You don’t want to encourage it.
Right. Right. Exactly. So it’s a tough balance.
I also think it’s something about there being a lot of new norms, I would say now. So there’s this norm that it’s acceptable to buy something and wear it once. People will not blink an eye at that. It’s very acceptable.
Now, like I said, I’m gonna go to buy an item of clothing that costs less than a cocktail in Soho. That’s odd to me. I think it’s acceptable as well for people who earn well, to still buy this super fast fashion. We see it on social media with these influencers who now have millions, and they’re there wearing Pretty Little Thing, wearing Missguided advertising it.
And I think, but why do you buy these brands when you can afford to buy better quality and to buy from brands that are doing less harm to the environment or people?
But it’s acceptable now, to buy cheap. It’s almost as if we have stopped seeing the value in clothing. They’ve become these worthless, disposable things, almost in the same way. It was like a single-use item suddenly.
Yeah, totally. I’m completely with you. Yeah literally the outfit that you buy to go out cost less and one cocktail. And, how is that normalized? It’s very interesting.
But I think that understanding some of these things that are driving our consumption behaviors and perhaps reflecting on our own past, I also was a fast fashion shopper.
I also bought things just for fun, not because I needed them. And just because I viewed shopping as a hobby rather than as an activity to get something that would add value to my life.
And understanding all this does help us empathize with people, I think. But at the same time, it feels even more challenging to envision how we’re going to shift the current direction that we’re headed in with fast fashion and ultra fast fashion.
So how do you think that we might be able to use what we know about the drivers of consumption to slow down fashion?
It’s such a hard question. It’s such a hard question. And I always think about this window, and I want to call it the Johari Window. And it’s thinking about different levels of knowledge. And you’ve got different levels. You’ve got the unconscious incompetence, and then you have conscious competence, and then you have unconscious competence, and then conscious competence.
And basically, what we’re thinking about is the different positions that you might be in in terms of what you know about the world and know about yourself. And I think for many people when it comes to slow fashion, sustainable fashion, circular fashion, that for many people, there still in the position of — and I don’t mean to call people incompetent, that’s not what I’m saying. But they might be in that kind of unconscious incompetent category, whereby at this moment, they don’t know what they don’t know.
So if you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s very hard to change and to move from that position.
Because, you know, I’ve had friends say to me, Oh, I’m taking a leaf out of your book, I bought this new truck suit. It’s sustainable. And then they’ve told me, look, it says in the pocket, it says sustainable, made from recycled items. And then it’s from Pretty Little Thing. And I’m thinking oh….
And it’s not it’s not their fault in any way. Because it’s greenwashing.
If you don’t know they’re trying to the piggy back on the back of brands who are actually doing good work. And that also kind of just want to fly this green flag to say, hey, look, we are doing some good work. And we know that maybe they might say, make a couple of items that aren’t maybe, tentatively, very loosely sustainable. But it makes up less than 1% of all the items they’re making, so it does not in any way offset the damage that they are doing.
And they reel them this way, because people don’t know what they don’t know. So I think a lot of it is around education, and not education in terms of everybody needs to know as much as me because I’ve got such a long way to go myself. I still make mistakes. I still slip up. I still find myself pausing by a Zara window thinking oh my gosh, that’s nice. And having to really tussle with myself saying no Dion. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. And we all slip sometimes.
So it’s not about perfectionism, but I think a lot of it’s about what’s the word, education, and about visibility. And I think things that are happening, maybe in the UK, are improving that. So not a small thing, but something I thought I saw was quite good was with Love Island, the show this year are having their clothing come from eBay, rather than a fast fashion brand.
Now, people might say, Oh, it’s very tokenistic. But to have that live level of visibility on a show that runs for weeks and weeks, and it’s so popular. And to say every episode, every kind of episode that the clothing that people are wearing is pre loved, I think that was fantastic. Whatever the drivers were behind it.
People who may not necessarily or usually think about fast fashion in that way, and has it been kind of damaging will see this. People who would not necessarily think about shopping on eBay, might start thinking, Oh, can I get clothes on eBay? You kind of increase awareness.
It kind of challenges those norms, isn’t it? And it makes things more acceptable. It’s kind of saying, well, if people like me, on Love Island, a show that I like, a show that I feel what my values align with, if they’re able to shop from eBay, or wear things from eBay, maybe I could, too.
So I think it’s about that visibility, awareness, and education. I’m sure there’s many more things that need to change that people who are a lot more clued up about sustainability would know more than I do. But I think those are some of the big things that need to happen.
Yeah, I love that. And I am totally with you that the Love Island switching to sourcing from eBay is going to make such — could make such a big impact on the perception of secondhand and…
Because I think for a while, I thought that fast fashion was something that consumers demanded. And now as I understand a bit more, it’s become clear that it’s something that the companies sort of threw at us. And through marketing, created the demand for it.
People don’t just think that, oh, I want cheap clothes, thousands of new arrivals to choose from every single day on my phone. It’s not demanded out of nowhere right? It’s sort of created demand.
And so if we can use some of those, I guess, marketing tactics that fast fashion brands have been using for so long, and we can do that to shift the perception a little bit of rewearing what we have, shopping secondhand, fewer better things, all that stuff, I do think that will make an impact. I think that a lot of fast fashion is marketing.
So much. They work so hard to reel us in. Some of those brands, they even on their sites they have countdowns. So that they can create this sense of urgency and even competition to get those items. Like there’s a new drop coming at this time, so you feel like you have to rush to get on it, to get all the items.
It’s just, you didn’t need any of that. But they’ve created a sense of urgency, they created this driver for need. And then that they’ve reeled you in and…
…it’s very hard to not be susceptible to that.
Yeah, yeah. And that’s just so ridiculous — this artificial scarcity, when we know how much excess fast fashion is there. I mean, it’s literally being dumped all the excess fast fashion garments, and then they’re making it seem like you’re gonna miss out on something if you don’t come on their site at the exact time!
And if you don’t buy the item, what happens to your life? Nothing, nothing happens. You just carry on as normal. But the way they make it seem so urgent. Your brain is like gosh, is counting down. I’ve only got two hours. I better get on there without stopping to think okay, why?
It doesn’t give us a chance, or an opportunity to pause and think and reflect and have that chat with ourselves because we’re always on the go, we’re always on our phones, we’re always been bombarded by messages. We’re always being told what to do and what to buy and how to look.
So the opportunities to really reflect get really narrowed down and we become this kind of instinctual, reactive beings who are just continuously swiping, swiping, swiping through our phones buying the next thing, because that’s just what we do now.
Yeah. I think that once I sort of had that reframed mindset of the ways that these brands not just in fashion, but really across everything are sort of manipulating very core human desires to get us to buy stuff, it gave me so much more empathy for people, because in the beginning of my journey, I was very critical of other individuals, and I just have so much more empathy for that. And I really try to focus a lot of my platform on education.
And I guess sort of the struggle, though, that I experience with that is like, even once people have the education, and maybe they know for instance, that fast fashion is unsustainable, and they can’t afford to buy better, or they have enough that they don’t need to buy anything new at all.
I guess I just struggle with like, how to kind of make that leap of like, so people know about the issues, they maybe even somewhat know about this solution. But there’s still this like, I guess cognitive dissonance between like, what they know, and then how they’re behaving.
How do you see that playing out with fashion and what can we do about that? I know that’s a big question.
It is a big question, but humans… Ultimately, we like to do what we like. And we want what we want. And we’re hardwired to feel good. To maximize positive emotions and to minimize negative emotions. And sometimes what we’ll even do is we’ll engage in compartmentalization in order to do that. To only focus, only look over here, ignore what’s going on over there.
When you said cognitive dissonance, what came to mind for me and so I often ponder on is think about Dolce and Gabbana. I think about them, I think about them as a brand. And as that the heads of their brands, all the horrendous things that they have said, that have been documented that they have said. Yet people continue to shop with them. Even people who are from a groups who have been targeted by Dolce and Gabbana, will continue to wear Dolce and Gabbana.
And I’m like, didn’t they say this about same sex couples who use surrogates? Didn’t they say this, about people in China? Didn’t they say… But people still keep wearing it. And you see celebrities, continuing to endorse the brand. And that really baffles me as to how people kind of be like, oh, that wasn’t very nice.
But it’s because we are masters at compartmentalizing. We are masters at only focusing on what suits us. And that makes me sound like I’m being really negative. But it’s also very self preserving, it’s keeps us feeling happy.
Because if we always focused on the things that were more negative or not going so well, then, of course, that’s not so good for our well being. But obviously, overly ignoring those things is also detrimental and has an issue.
So when we’re thinking about cognitive dissonance, so for people who are thinking, what is that? What are you Elizabeth talking about? It’s basically the ability to hold two contradictory views in mind at the same time. And we see this in fashion all the time, with Dolce & Gabbana.
But on an individual basis, it might be like you spoke about a person who goes shopping, and they’re in a fast fashion store, or they’re on a ultra fast fashion website, and they’re scrolling and they’re filling up their basket, and they’re getting all those lovely positive feelings from the hormones being released, the transmitters going mad, and they’re filling up that basket, even though they put up on Instagram 10 minutes ago, liking all the sustainability activists and journalists but they bought the stuff.
So they know the impact of fast fashion. But what happens when cognitive dissonance is that we can’t move forward holding two contradictory views in our minds. So in order for us to move forward, what we do is we try to come up with some kind of solution. We try to appease one or the other. And what we do is we kind of excuse one away.
So we might say, and then instance, we might say, oh, I know, this brand is not great. I know, they’re dumping all their garments in West Africa, which is polluting the place and making people lose their businesses, but. And then once they bring that but in, they’re kind of adjusting the weighing scales, they’re in their minds to weigh up, which way they’re going to go with that dissonance.
Is the buying of the fast fashion gonna persevere, or will it be the leaving it alone and thinking about the consequences of that?
So they have, they go have this kind of internal battle and tussle, kind of bringing into mind the pieces of evidence that they have. But as human beings, we’re always often going to generate more evidence for the point of view that we find preferential for ourselves at that time.
So for that shopping, it might be, oh, but I’m only buying one or two things. I’m not like one of those haul shoppers who buy bags and bags, so therefore, I’m not really contributing to that, because I’m only buying one or two things.
Oh, but I’ve had a really tough day, so this is a treat for me, so I’m not going to feel bad about the garment workers in Bangladesh.
Oh, but.. and so like the scales start to tip and then suddenly, the dissonance shifts, because you’re no longer holding these two concepts of using mind equally. You’ve tipped it. One side has won that argument.
What we would hope to see, obviously, is people wake up and say, Okay, do I need this? You know, if I don’t buy it, what impact will that make in my life? Do I have anything similar to this already? Where was it made? What are the conditions of the workers that made this item? And by weighing that up and thinking about those factors, hopefully, we would hope that a person would make a decision that is not only good for themselves in the short term, but just really good for the environment and society as a whole and help themselves.
Also, the more times that you’re able to say no to fast fashion, or to say no to impulse buy even if is not fast fashion and to not give in to that constant driver of want, want, want but to consider need, you’re more likely to break that cycle of it being a habit. Because we know it becomes a habit, it becomes a compulsion.
It’s the same thing with smoking or any kind of addiction, that the longer you go without doing it or the more times you’re able to successfully punctuate that cycle, the less likely it is to be maintained as a habit.
So the more times you can challenge it, and say, hang on a minute, let me think about this for a moment, the more likely it is as a habit to weaken and to wane.
Well, there was so much there.
It was amazing. No, it was incredible. Like, the compartmentalization, I mean, that’s so relatable. I definitely have done that in my own life.
And then to the point about the habits that reminds me of Remake’s No New Clothes challenge that’s going on right now. So it was like June 1 to September 1, for 90 days, not buying new and that can be a way to sort of like help stop the cycle to like break the habit.
I think so. I think while the pandemic was horrific, and we lost so many people, I think one thing that occurred for me during that time as well, was that although I’d already kind of started to curb my shopping behaviors. In terms of — not buying fast, I shouldn’t been muscled into super fast fashion. But general fast fashion like Zara, Topshop… I was guilty of shopping with them.
As I start curbed my behaviors, because during the pandemic, I didn’t need to buy new stuff. So I literally almost went cold turkey, because I was like, well, where am I going? I’m just walking up and down the canal by my house. So you kind of go cold turkey.
And by going cold turkey, suddenly, I was sort of forced to go without. And then the habit, and that kind of addiction kind of broke away, because sometimes you just need time away from it to, like I said, punctuate that cycle to break it.
Yeah. Because shopping, and this feeling of getting new stuff can be very addictive.
And actually, I had a question for you on that. So when it comes to a slow fashion journey, do you think it’s possible to fight this urge and craving for newness?
Or is it easier to just replace that with a better type of new, like swapping or shopping, secondhand, renting, you know, and so on? Is there a better approach? Or does it depend on the person or what do you think?
I think it depends on the person. But I think a good start or something that’s helpful for people is like, what you said is like, when there’s challenges like the 90 day no new. There’s a writer, Lauren Bravo, and she wrote the book, How To Break Up With Fast Fashion.
Oh so good!
It’s very good, very good. And she started doing that kind of journey by just like, saying, like, I’m not gonna buy the new stuff. Let me see how I get on. There’s another writer and I forgot her name and Island, she did the same thing. And then she documented the process, because she was a shopping addict, by her own admission.
So sometimes, I think just giving yourself that kind of challenge, because especially it’s a discrete period of time, sometimes you might say, I’m not gonna buy anything for a month for two months, then by not saying it’s forever, people might find that a little bit easier to manage.
And then when they’ve done that period of time, you might find that that kind of want and drive for newness, that feeling, that want for it has reduced anyway.
It’s like for me, I have a massive addiction to sweets, and I eat far too many. But if I go without, for a while, like for, let’s say three days, suddenly my craving for those drops down massively. And then I can go without a lot more.
It’s the same thing with shopping. With most addictions, if you can somehow go without for a period of time, even if you start to reintroduce it after your craving for it has reduced.
But I think to go back to your question, I think it definitely does depend on the person. I think the journey to slow fashion will look very different for everybody. Depending on for example, the amount of emotional and cognitive capacity, even that a person has to even contemplate more thoughtfully how to shop and where to shop, and what to buy.
If you’re a busy kind of struggling single mother, it’s going to be all about convenience potentially at that time. Focusing on a lot more pressing matters potentially, than you know, where was this item of clothing made.
So they’re going to be people who are in situations whereby they might want to do their best for their environment or for garment workers and sustainability, but they just don’t have the emotional space to think about that right now. They don’t have the time.
There are people who maybe don’t have the financial means to do that, in terms of, some fast fashion is extremely accessible. We know obviously, anything cheaper than fast fashion is just not buying new stuff.
But however if you’re a person who for years and years has been buying fast fashion, what we know about that is that it does not last.
So it creates its own demand again because it is that the hems are awful, the seams are awful, the material is awful. You wash it, it will lose its shape. It’s going to fall apart. It’s not designed to last. So therefore it breeds and perpetuates you to buy more.
I think also, if you’re a person who has quite an addictive personality, and you tend to form habits quite quickly and stick with them, it’s going to be harder for you to break that cycle. You have some people who say, Oh, I’m gonna take up jogging, I’m going to jog every day, or I’m going to take up this hobby, and they just get on with it. Or they say, I’m going to just stop smoking — they just stop or give up drinking.
For other people, they find it really hard to pick up more positive habits, or they find it really hard to stop less helpful habits. It just depends on your personality, as well.
Also maybe, if you’re a person who shops regularly with friends. So it’s a source of social enjoyment thing, you and your friends, then it might be hard for you to, to start engaging in more slow fashion, because you think well, what do I do my friends now? These days are always shopping time for us. We all meet at the shopping center, we go in there we get food and drinks after — it might be part of the ritual. So it might be the case that you need to figure out new things to do your friends that you can have fun doing.
It might be the case that I see often with people that it’s a way of supporting yourself emotionally, of giving yourself a little lift whenever you’re feeling low, or kind of used as a distraction technique, because you don’t think about more difficult things in life. So let me just go look on Boohoo’s website, let me order a bunch of stuff that will make me feel better for the next half an hour. And you need that little lift, and it becomes a bit of a crutch.
So I think unless a person has other ways of giving themselves little boosts or making themselves feel good or ways of dealing with negative or unwanted emotions, then you’re going to find it hard as well to make that change. Unless I guess the first step is recognizing the ways in which you use shopping that may be not that positive, or maybe detrimental in the long run.
Yeah and maybe noticing how you feel like the next day or a few hours later. I of course would feel that dopamine hit when shopping, but then I kind of had this empty feeling a couple hours later. Almost this guilt of spending the money and filling up my closet with stuff that I don’t really need.
And, you know, even before I got into, like sustainability and in fashion, just from a personal sense, I felt kind of empty after shopping as well. And maybe not everybody feels that but that also kind of helped me I guess sort of quit this fast fashion cycle or mindset to how I buy things in general.
I just know that I feel so much better when I’m mindful about a purchase. And I will always feel weird if I make an impulse buy.
You can feel the difference between something you’ve bought on impulse or something you’ve bought that you feel guilty about, as compared to something that you’ve thought about, or you love it. Items that I bought that I absolutely loved, I still love now years and years later. You can go back to it — and you put it on and find it still fits — and you’ll still feel good in it; you’ll still feel good about it. And those are the items that you know… that’s the slow fashion.
If items of clothing that I’ve loved for years and years, and then if it’s worn out, I just get it mended. If I put on a little weight, then maybe I need to take a seams out or you might need to make it a little smaller. You adjust it because you love it. And you make it work.
It doesn’t suddenly, it’s not that once it’s in your bag and you’re leaving the shop, you’re thinking oh, okay, and you shouldn’t get that sudden dip. If you are getting a dip and you felt left feeling kind of hollow and not feeling as joyful about the item anymore, the possibility is that you probably shouldn’t have bought it. You don’t love it.
Yeah. And that brings me to one of my last questions for you, can you speak to how clothing might impact our well being and what your work is with your consultancy?
So I wouldn’t make any claims that clothes can kind of like help your mental health. But I think there definitely is a link.
And the reason I say there is a link is because clothing can have an impact on your day to day wellbeing. And your day to day well being if we think about our well being cumulatively, that then can have an impact on your mental health.
If you have many days, where you’re not experiencing much positive, subjective wellbeing day after day, or incident after incident, is going to have a knock on your self esteem, on your confidence or on your emotional capacity. So or my belief is that there are so many things that are going on in this world that we have such little control over.
But what we can do is control our relationship with our clothing. And we have a choice and chance every day, to choose to wear things that maybe bring us joy that we feel comfortable in that we feel ourselves in.
So in my consultancy, I tried to encourage people to, what I can describe as, dress consciously. In terms of taking time in the morning to think okay, how do I feel today? What do I want to wear? When you put on an item, think about, do you feel prepared to face the day in the item of clothing? Do you feel it represents who you are that day?
This might sound like it, it’s a lot of time, it doesn’t. You know, you can even think about the day before that, Okay, tomorrow, this is what I’m doing. How do I want to feel when I have to go to parents open evening tomorrow? I want to feel comfortable because I’d be there for ages and we’re tired at the end of the day. I want to look like I’m well put together and that I’m here for my child or whatever, and I’m paying attention.
So therefore I’m gonna wear my comfy jumper, that’s also well fitted and flattering, I feel good in it. I feel like I look competent, whatever it is. But just to consider what you’re wearing. Not necessarily considering how other people might look at you, but to think about how you feel in it.
And with the consultancy, I try to – I like to particularly work with people who are going through periods of change is how I describe it. Because I noticed when I was doing my styling that so often people who sought out the support of a stylist, as I said, people when people work in stylists, they rarely consider why have you come to me now? What I noticed was that people generally have gone through a change.
It was either that it might be that they had changed careers, that they’ve retired, it might be that they’ve had a child, and their relationship to their body has changed. Something has changed for them that’s made them really want to reconsider how they present themselves to the world.
Or it might be that they just kind of lost touch with their sense of style. And they thought… it happens that people have this stronger identity when they’re younger and they’re confident in their exploring, and then they get stuck in kind of a style rut.
And then one day they look in the mirror and they think this doesn’t feel like me… I don’t feel happy with what I’m wearing.
If you have too many days where you don’t feel happy, confident, comfortable, or like the best version of yourself in something, that is going to knock knock, knock, knock, and keep having a knock effect on your self esteem.
And after so many knocks, it’s going to bring it down. So that’s where I see that link between what you were and your well being and then your mental health.
Okay, because obviously, the more things that we can do to support our wellbeing and give ourselves these like moments or instances of positive, subjective hedonic wellbeing, which is like the feel good factor, then the better that is for us in terms of getting through the day, with more of a positive attitude, getting us give ourselves the motivation, the energy to get through that day. And therefore supporting our long term mental health as well.
It won’t be definitely all you need to do. There’s so many more things that are going to factor into having generally good wellbeing, but I think it’s one small thing that we can do that we have control over
most often. I think that’s why I like to focus on those areas.
Yeah, I can absolutely see that. So can you tell listeners where they can find you and learn more about your work and how they can maybe even work with you?
Ah. You can find me — not physically, obviously — you can find me on Instagram. And if you find me as @fashionpsychologist_.
And then you can also find me for my consultancy is The Style & Well Being Consultancy, if anybody wanted support with exploring they’re kind of like their style identity. And you can find that at www.thefashionpsychologist.com.
And also I think through my website, you can find my blog if you wanted to read more about fashion psychology and all things kind of psychology related.
Great. And we’ll put all of those links in the show notes for everybody to reference later.
Well it was such an insightful conversation, I learned so much from you. I’m excited to relisten to this conversation and take notes and everything.
I do have one final question for you that I asked every guest that comes onto the show to close out our conversation today. And that is: what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
Oh, just much more considered. I think just everything has to slow down…. That is a huge question and I’m probably giving a very simplistic answer.
But in an ideal world, where simplicity just works with a magic wand, it would be like a much, much slower rate of production.
A rate of production that responds to customer needs, rather than creating and driving needs. I think I’d also like to see a much more transparent system. So consumers can really tangibly understand where their clothes have come from, and the work that’s gone into getting them to those rails or getting them those parcels that appear on your doorstep.
So I think that hopefully by people having a much more real and real kind of like, pertinent sense of the work that goes into producing this clothing, then they might see more value in it. They might build more of a relationship with their clothes.
They might slow down and say okay, this is what I want let me save up for it. Or this is what I want, let me see how I feel about it in a week or two. And just be a bit more considered in their buying behaviors. I think that’s what I would like to see. To just slow down.
Aaand that’s a wrap for this episode! I could not have picked a better way to close out this conversation than envisioning a future for fashion that is about slowing down.
I think that Dion gave us some really, really valuable and thought-provoking insights into how we can start to dig deeper and interrogate consumption behaviors, think about our relationship to fashion and shopping and the clothes we wear, and maybe even develop this understanding for some of the reasons behind overconsumption that will help us challenge it and address it in a more human way.
If you found this episode as insightful as I did, please do share it with someone that you think would also like it, or share it on your social platforms. And of course, a rating and/or review on Apple Podcasts would also be so appreciated and also help this show reach more people. Also, don’t forget to subscribe or follow the Conscious Style Podcast so you don’t miss future episodes.
If you want to go back to another episode like this one, I recommend episode 24 with another fashion psychologist, Shakaila Forbes-Bell.
Finally, if you want more sustainable fashion content, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Conscious Edit. You’ll get recommendations for articles to read, podcasts to listen to, documentaries to watch or events to attend, advocacy campaigns to support, and more.
Subscribers also get access to a 10-page list of sustainable fashion educational resources. You can sign up via the link in the episode description or at consciouslifeandstyle.com/edit.
Okay, everybody that’s all I have for you today! Take care — and bye for now.
About Dr. Dion Terrelonge
Dion Terrelonge is a Dr of psychology specializing in learning and fashion psychology. She has over a decade of experience in the field of psychology which has included work in mental health, education, research and most recently teaching aspiring fashion psychologists.
She is particularly passionate about the positive power of fashion and how we might harness this power to support the everyday wellbeing of individuals.