Do your clothes reveal your character?
Share this article:
London - Clothes are one of my greatest pleasures, but also the source of much anxiety.
Faced with any social occasion, I invariably go over the top, agonising for months about what to wear. I never, if I think about this honestly, feel comfortable in what I’m wearing.
And this isn’t just because I work in fashion and am surrounded by women who look incredible in the latest must-have clothes.
While I often experience extreme envy when I see a catwalk model - a craving that makes me forget my age, bank balance and shape - this lack of self-confidence stems from earlier in my life.
I grew up, the youngest of seven children, in a family where money was tight. Consequently, I wore hand-me-downs from my three elder sisters and clothes that were made by my mom: little checked pinafores and rough, hand-knitted sweaters.
So, from an early age, I craved being able to buy clothes from shops. I was painfully shy and believed I was ugly. It’s no surprise that, as a teenager, I was in thrall to fashion magazines. I soon got into debt buying expensive clothes because I had been so miserable always being the poor relation.
I realise I go over the top in my bid for perfection. When I was asked by the BBC to report live from a banquet held at Buckingham Palace in honour of President Obama, I bought a black Alexander McQueen trouser suit, new shoes and a bag. I felt I had to wear something British, and spare no expense.
This is me all over: I thought my commentary would be pedestrian and halting, and so I had to make up for my inadequacies somehow.
Because I also feel ugly, I never dress provocatively: I never show my legs, arms or cleavage (even on my wedding day I wore a cream tuxedo suit, not a dress).
So, I choose expensive items because I grew up poor. I dress like a man at work because I think I’m stupid. I cover up because I believe I’m repulsive. I have long understood that the way I dress is my shield, my solace, my safety net.
But can someone else tell that just by looking at me? What’s more, can anyone help me with the issues behind my wardrobe choices?
United States clinical psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner, author of new book You Are What You Wear, says so. Baumgartner paid her way through university by working in a Ralph Lauren store, where she noticed how many women are confused about their identity, and act out their neuroses by spending inappropriately.
‘”ften, wardrobe mishaps are simply our inner conflicts bubbling to the surface,” she says, wisely.
Baumgartner claims that by just looking at a woman she is able not only to diagnose what is wrong, but fix her psyche - in what she calls the “psychology of dress”.
But does her method really work? Can Jennifer not only identify my deep-seated problems just by looking at my four signature outfits, but also, more importantly, offer me help?
Black strapless gown and clutch by Bottega Veneta, peep-toe sandals by Louboutin.
Jennifer says: Why has Liz, with a knockout figure, allowed herself to be swallowed by this great sloppy satin beast? She allows only a glimpse of her inner sparkle with her metallic shoe.
The oversized outfit makes me think she is unaware of her body shape. I am waiting for Liz, like someone after a makeover, to rip off this dress to reveal a better one.
If I had thick, lustrous hair like this, I would not hide it in a messy updo. She is also weighed down by the eye make-up on the lower lids.
Liz says: This dress is not too big for me: it’s a size 8, and the integral corset means I can hardly breathe! But Jennifer is right: I hate my body, and try to hide it at all times and at great cost. When I wore this dress to an awards ceremony, I added a metallic Aquascutum jacket.
It’s strange that she mentions my heavy eye make-up without apparently understanding why I wear it. Isn’t it obvious that I’m hiding behind a mask?
Jaeger London trousers, M&S Cashmere sweater, Burberry patent platforms
Jennifer says: I’m getting a university student vibe from this outfit and Liz’s hair style. It conveys a youthful energy. The colours are bold, bright and fresh, and she is not afraid to mix and match them, but unfortunately they work against each other. She seems to be comfortable with being noticed in a crowd, as the bright pink of the jumper will stand out.
I’d team the jumper with white skinny jeans and either nude flats or colourful sandals. I’d alter the trousers to eliminate bagging, and pair them with a tweed blazer and boots and throw in a printed silk scarf or load up on gold accessories.
Liz says: She is half right. I do have youthful energy. I am passionate and hard-working. I try my best all the time. She says I am comfortable being noticed in a crowd, but this is not true at all. I might wear a raspberry Sloppy Joe jumper, but this belies my deep- set neuroses.
Gold lace skirt by Suzannah, white T-shirt and sandals by Prada
Jennifer says: Liz’s make-up gives all the evolutionary indicators of fertility - pink cheeks and lips, and glowing skin - but then she lets us down with a very non-seductive, plain white T-shirt.
This outfit suggests Liz is relatively conservative and the pieces don’t match, suggesting Liz may have pulled the outfit together in a rush. She should wear this skirt with a fitted black top, a black patent leather belt and stilettos.
I would shorten the skirt to right below the knee, and nip it in slightly to create a more streamlined silhouette. This outfit begs for accessories, too.
Liz says: Oh dear. I chose this outfit to cover all the things I hate about myself. Jennifer says I am conservative, when, in fact, I am very shy, afraid of being sexy, feel unattractive and I hate my knees.
Just telling me to wear a sexier top is unhelpful. She should have said: ‘This woman has problems with self-esteem and has no idea of her own worth,’ which I could have told her.
Black Alexander McQueen trouser suit, Burberry patent platforms
Jennifer says: Liz’s smart, tailored outfit says she is a no-nonsense go-getter, but the shoes suggest a fun side. Black is a no-frills colour for work, where people feel they are taken more seriously in dark colours. The shoes are quite different. Research says people associate platforms - especially red ones - with women who are not very intelligent, and possibly promiscuous.
Liz sidesteps these associations by wearing them with a conservative outfit. She should try skinny trousers, instead of cropped, or a skirt, and try a daintier shoe to compliment her frame and update her look, as the days of the platform are over, or so says designer Manolo Blahnik.
Liz says: She is pretty spot on. I am ambitious and I also have humour. I disagree about my shoes. I bought these in 2003, still love them, and don’t think I should change to suit Manolo Blahnik. To me, this outfit screams my deep insecurity: ‘Please don’t sack me!’ and that I spend too much on clothes.
HOW COULD SHE GET ME SO WRONG?
The verdicts on the way I dress in no way show that Jennifer Baumgartner has spotted my deep-seated insecurities.
She missed that I am borderline anorexic, have body dysmorphic disorder, fear ageing, men and sex, that I am in awe of clothes rather than know how to enjoy them, and that I spend way too much money.
She should have deduced, as a therapist who claims to use only clothes to make her diagnosis, that I am divorced, that I hate my body, am hugely stressed, and - oh! - that I’m broke!
Reading her book, I’ve found Jennifer’s prescription for someone like me who struggles with self-loathing is to ‘filter my media’ - restrict the magazines I read and websites I look at - to go out in a crowded shopping centre wearing only a tight-fitting top and skinny jeans, to be more assertive and to choose bright colours. But it all sounds a bit simplistic, a bit Gok Wan to me. When addressing disorders in her book, she writes: ‘Life is too short for such silliness.’
A clinical psychologist should know better. Wearing a bright sleeveless top exposing my arms is not going to begin to cure me. - Daily Mail
* You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You by Dr Jennifer Baumgartner is published by Da Capo Life Long.