Mindful Dressing, Mindless Culture

A while back (April 30th), the New York Post ran a piece focused on mindful dressing. For those blissfully unaware (as I was) of this new bit of societal mishegas, mindful dressing is all about the impact that that our choices in apparel have on us. Apparently it involves someone known as a fashion mentor. My wife brought this to my attention, as she knows that I’m convinced that we are doomed and increasingly culturally bereft. She’s also aware that if I’m writing about crap like this I’m too distracted to yammer at her for a few hours. I’ve had fun with this kind of thing before (End of Days, Without Limits) and have no intention of trying to take things all that seriously now. Still. As you’re about to discover, this latest bucket of self important Upper West Side vomit involves licensed professionals; seldom a good sign. Seeing as how I have no qualms about engaging in an entirely one sided discussion of this phenomena, the least I can do is offer a brief, unconvincingly neutral explanation of the practice before I start drilling.

The basic premise is, frankly, pretty reasonable. Color and clothing have an effect on the way people feel and act. Nothing crazy there. Nothing new either. The beneficial impact of dressing well is an accepted axiom. Most of us know what to wear for a job interview, or its social analog, the first date. It isn’t just an attempt to impress the person sitting opposite of us. Wearing the right thing can make us feel a little more confident and relaxed in a trying setting. Wearing a poorly fitting garment, or even a nice outfit in a hue that clashes with our own coloring can definitely be a distraction to someone making a decision of one sort or another about us. Just thinking that might be happening can undermine some, if not all of the upside you hope to bring to the interaction. When I was single, or jobless, I figured rejection was close enough at hand without pushing things along. I work in scrubs now and have a low formality demand in terms of my wardrobe in general, but as I recall (it’s been a while) making sure I bought the right thing usually entailed dragging some poor soul along to give me the thumbs up and then heading to the diner. So far, I imagine I seem to be another cranky pain in the ass (inarguable), making a big deal out of nothing (not so fast).

The story in the Post wasn’t about some new wrinkle on an old trend. If the gist of the report had been that the once casual outing of two or three friends going clothes shopping had developed, via the dubious magic of social media, into some slightly more structured event I wouldn’t have wasted a second on it. This feels a little sadder than that to me. The primary reason for my enhanced sense of disgust is that in the article that I read which sparked the rant that you are now in the midst of, the fashion mentor in question happens to be a practicing clinical psychologist. In the article the therapist (Ania Schwartzman) seems to simultaneously shy away from her credentials (“I don’t do therapy with them”) and lean on them (“but I am therapeutic”). Not that I necessarily blame her. If I had invested the kind of time and work she must have into my education and ended up spending my afternoons telling some lost soul not to mix plaids and stripes I would have made a real effort to disguise my identity altogether, not just soft sell my professional background. It’s her life, but it’s hard to imagine that telling somebody they look great in earth tones can be a satisfying terminus to the years of demanding academic work she must have endured. Ms. Schwartzman points out that none of her fashion clients are also patients (at least there’s that) but are all women “in transition”. She uses the term in a traditional way – divorce, new parent, etc.- so Kaitlyn Jenner will have to continue to go to Saks on her own. Ms. Schwartzman first thought of this business when helping a friend find a dress for her daughter’s graduation. The woman in question was ending her marriage and clearly under duress. Where you or I would have been satisfied to help someone we cared about through a difficult moment she saw a business opportunity. At any rate she seems very comfortable with the whole thing. And you know, at $250/hour and a standard recommendation of at least three sessions I think I can see things from her perspective pretty clearly. As a committed capitalist I can’t rail against her with any sincerity. And yet. There’s something about the whole enterprise that leaves me blah. Part of that is the aforementioned casual denigration (in my estimation only) of her more serious achievements. Part of it remained vague for me until my wife put it into plain enough language for even me to understand. The women who were using her sartorial services were just buying a friend.

Re-reading the piece after listening to my wife I realized she was on the money. Which explained the out sized impact the story had on me. I think the thing that bothered me the most is the idea that the women who end up paying for all this advice seem to have, in one way or another, formalized a time tested, casual activity and in doing so missed the opportunity to create the sort of fun memories we eventually stitch together into lasting friendships. The client the article focused on, Karen Chmielnicki, describes herself as an actress and real estate broker. She’s forty-three years old, and admittedly had a tendency to wear clothes that would have looked more appropriate on someone younger. Did she really need a professional to fix this? Not to belabor the point here but that just feels sad. Was there no one in her life who had the required level of closeness with her to look her in the eye and say “…what the fuck are you thinking? You look like an aging hooker. Put it back, get the light green one that covers up your ass, and let’s go get a slice.”

Image Source: https://womenosophy.com/shop-vintage-clothes

2 thoughts on “Mindful Dressing, Mindless Culture

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