When I speak about making nighties as a way to empower women, I often get the questions, “Isn’t a focus on clothing focusing on the external?”
Other variations of that are, “Doesn’t it play into the mania of modern consumerism that tells us ‘if we just buy that _____ then we can feel good about ourselves?’ Shouldn’t what we wear be irrelevant to how we feel about ourselves? Shouldn’t we just meditate, do yoga and see our therapist if we want to feel better?”
These are good questions.
And the answer is yes. You should also do those things. But it also must be said: a garment should not be a mask. Every once in a while you will bite into what appears to be a deliciously ripe fruit only to find it rotten inside. In the same way, what is worn should reflect and convey a truthful essence of what is inside. Beauty and happiness do come from within.
And yet, we all wear clothing. Across every culture in place and time, humans have adorned themselves distinctly, artfully and, often, lavishly.
Clothing is part of what makes us human.
As fast as we are losing traditional cultures we are also becoming disconnected with our past and what we aspire to as human beings. The Alaskan Inuit people don’t need to hunt for their food, sew their clothing or sing their tribal songs to teach the next generation about their culture. Nope. They can buy a patagonia parka, order their food from amazon and let the TV babysit and teach their kids.
If we are honest with ourselves, this is a loss to the world. We all love the cultural diversity and unique beauty in each time-honored tradition around the world. Our stories and fairytales are filled with it. It is heartbreaking to see the loss of that. According to Wikipedia, “Cultural universals are found in all human societies; these include expressive forms like art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies like tool usage, cooking, shelter, and clothing.”
The clothing we wear preserves culture and diversity.
The clothing we wear simultaneously connects us with community and identity.
Clothing fulfills 8 principal human needs:
What we choose to wear has impacts deep within the psyche and as far reaching as the communities we are a part of. And every single day we make a choice what this will be.
Some of the considerations we make when faced with ‘What to wear?’:
- What we want to communicate
- Memories and associated with the garment
- The perceived risk of ruin of the garment related to the felt value and preciousness
- The emotions one feels while wearing it
- How we perceive ourselves (self-image and self-esteem)
- Who we will be seen by (and how we view that person and that person’s views of us)
- What we want to communicate and our perception of what will be communicated by wearing a garment
- How exclusive and unique a garment is (and whether others might be seen wearing it too)
- How unusual and different the garment is (too much or too little depends on taste)
- The plan of how many times we might wear it
- Cost (and what that says about the garment, and what that means for us wearing it)
- The laundering requirementsLength of time we will be wearing it
- The weather conditions
- The color
- The time of day
- The fabric qualities (like prone to static electricity or picking up lint, etc)
- Toileting requirements and compatibility
- How the garment physically fits and feels while wearing it
- Sweating conditions and compatibility
- Ease and ability to dress/undress oneself without assistance
- Cost (and whether we have the resources to buy it)
- How we feel wearing this garment impacts others adversely or beneficently
- Alignment with personal ethics of manufacturing and conduct, etc.
(A daunting list of what goes on inside the female brain when she is deciding what to wear at any given moment, which takes a lot of calculation and projected forecasting.)
And, with every choice, there are impacts, very private and personal impacts as well as social impacts. For example: how will we be judged? How will others perceive us? How will we be treated? Will others desire to be close with us? Will I feel safe?
Let’s talk about the veil.
From the west, there is a strong stigma around cultures where women cover their faces and their bodies. We feel freedom exists in our choice to reveal as much skin as we want and perceive those garments that cover and veil a woman as disempowering.
Let me share a small personal experience. When I travel, I like to adopt the local customs of dress.
So, after landing in India I donned the elegant and beautiful sari. I closely observed the different ways women ‘used’ the sari. It is an amazing garment with thousands of ways to wear and use it for utilitarian purposes. They use the long flowing end as a grocery bag, as a shade in the hot sun, as a cover for breast-feeding, as a little pouch for money, and even as a veil. While I was on a train or walking down the street, I decided to try out the veil idea, and I loved it. It turned my whole world around, and my judgments.
A veil can be an extraordinarily powerful piece of cloth. It allows a woman to sit or walk in her own privacy, in her own world. She can look at anyone but only allows whom she chooses to see back. It was an unexpected kind of security and empowerment.
So, I do think there is a very real and concerning conflict within each woman about how she feels inside and how she feels she needs to appear from the outside.
Regardless, we all wear clothing as a way to meet our needs. I believe there are eight roles that clothing plays in our lives.
The 8 roles of clothing with examples:
1. Emotional Awakening and Mirroring: Funeral attire is a common way humans connect with and awaken emotions. Queen Victoria wore black for the rest of her days after her husband Prince Albert died. Another example are soldiers who paint their faces and wear intimidating costumes to bolster their bravery and incite fear in their enemies. And for a woman, it is the way she dresses when she is in love.
2. Communication and Self-Expression: From protestors to angsty teenagers and customer service representatives, clothing is frequently used to express ourselves and to communicate thoughts and feelings to others, and to express or break a social code. It is the way a woman communicates to her lover that she wants his attention all on her.
3. Comfort & Protection: From birth until death we are wrapping ourselves in cloth. Human skin can be soft and delicate, and we enjoy the comforts and protection that cloth offers us in the elements and our activities. It also gives us a psychological comfort and protection, like the veil. It is the way an Olympic ice skater can dance and leap into the air without reserve because she knows her dress will not rip and fail her.
4. Variety and Entertainment: This is the way humans express diversity and creativity through dress and adornment. The way a butterfly dancer dresses to tell a story, and the way a woman can’t find anything in her closet to wear tonight.
6. Belonging: In every community and identity, there is a feeling we all crave: to belong. From the Hasidic jews, to Harley Davidson bikers and doctor’s coats, people wear clothing to feel and to communicate belonging. A woman may wear a skirt to identify with femininity, and she may wear a wedding band as a token of her belonging with a chosen man.
7. Markers of Significance: The way a queen wears a crown and a bride wears a wedding dress, the way the Pope wears his garb and the london soldiers wear their uniforms are all garments as markers of significance. In the same way a woman may wear a special something on her anniversary.
8. Connection: An actor or actress connects with a character in the same way that we choose an outfit that connects us with an idea or image of ourselves, with others and even with Divinity. A young woman wear’s her grandmother’s wedding dress to connect with her. A young child wears a superman cape to connect with the qualities of his hero. It is the way a woman dresses to invite a special someone to come closer.
So, I believe that clothing and adornment has a noble role in how women feel about themselves, and how they are treated by others. Everyday and every night. It is a special kind of power that she can use for her own good and for the betterment of her relationships.
Lastly, wearing clothing is an action.
Meditation and yoga and therapy are reflective processes. Talking, writing and philosophizing about connection, empowerment and intimacy can become a rut in itself, methods of bypassing and avoidance.
Clothing is a first step of bringing one’s inner sphere out into the world. It is that vulnerable moment where paradoxically you simultaneously cover something up and reveal something about yourself. It is an act of engagement, taking yourself out into the world, a world of risk and vulnerability.
Clothing is the bridge between our private internal world and everything else, and an opportunity and tool for connection, belonging, expression, and awakening.