Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Freud and Fashion share surprising connection

What would Freud look like in a nice pair of leggings? I shudder to think, but recently, I have been making more and more connections between fashion and psychology.

Despite my inability to understand anything math- or science-related, I’m a psychology major. Forgetting that Pitt, home to one of the preeminent medical schools in the country, can turn just about anything into a science (I swear even my creative writing classes are methodical), I signed up for psych.

I thought I’d spend four years sitting in leather chairs and analyzing people’s personalities. Turns out you don’t really do this at all. Instead, I’ve spent the last three years repeatedly learning the same things: habituation, Freud’s creepy phallic obsessions, neurological pathways and that whole nature vs. nurture thing.

Today in Sam’s Psychology of Fashion 101, we’re going to discuss habituation. In case you’re one of the lucky few who’s managed to escape the confinements of Intro to Psych, allow me to define: Upon repeated exposure to any given stimulus, the human body gradually stops responding to it. Essentially, you’re capable of getting used to anything you spend too much time around.

This explains why a boy’s bedroom always smells like stale beer, and they don’t seem to notice, and how we manage to sleep in Oakland despite the constant cacophony of helicopters and ambulances outside at all hours of the night.

I think habituation goes far beyond daily smells and sounds, though. It works for our cultural experiences as well. For example, people who live and breathe fashion habituate to runway trends. The more magazines and fashion shows they see, the more their standard for normality is altered. Suddenly, neon leggings and a sequined blazer seem like a perfectly acceptable outfit for the most mundane of daily events — like jury duty.

To the rest of the world, these clothes seem utterly ridiculous. But to the fashion set, they are beautiful. There is a total perception disconnect between the fashion and non-fashion world. In major cities, the spheres collide a little bit. In smaller towns, however, wearing something not generally seen in the window of American Eagle attracts strange looks.

In the true nature of a psychology student, I decided to do a little experiment. I composed a list of quirky clothes that I think are absolutely extraordinary and set out to see if a non-fashion lover would have the same opinion.

I needed someone far removed from the fashion world, someone with an untrained eye completely unexposed to the idiosyncrasies of the industry. So I called my brother. Despite my constant nagging to update his wardrobe, he generally sticks to polo shirts, cargo shorts and college T-shirts. Exactly the perspective I needed.

We started off with a look at a piece from Balmain’s Fall 2009 collection — a wide-shouldered blazer and black pants with metallic embellishments. “Uh, are you going to a disco ball dance?” he replied.

So we moved onto a denim jumpsuit from Madewell. “If I walked downstairs in this, what would you say to me?” I asked. “It looks like you just got out of solitary confinement.”

Would a shorter denim romper get a better reaction? “Well, it saves you the effort of buying two separate pieces of clothes.” Guess not.

What about a pair of harem pants? “It makes the wearer look like a horse.”

I figured those would get that reaction. So I showed him a picture of a really sweet military style jacket. “Whaddup, G.I. Jane?” I tried not to be offended.

Distressed, boyfriend style jeans? “Yeah, I like to buy ruined clothes, too.” I felt like someone was insulting my firstborn child.

I sadly wimpered, “So really, all this stuff is a no-go?”

To which he answered, “I guess being fashionable takes dedication. Aside from the jeans and the cool disco pants, this is all too extreme.”

So there you have it. Exhibit A: that fashion-lovers habituate, truly believing clothes — that to the rest of the world seem like a freak-fest — are totally cool.

Tomorrow marks the first day of New York Fashion Week. A whole new season of ridiculous trends will debut. Some will have mass appeal, others will not. If you spot me running around Oakland in some atrocious get-up, I apologize in advance. I can’t help what I like — blame psychology.

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