Robert Gordon University, UK
Comfort in clothing: Fashion actors and victims
Fashion psychology is an emerging discipline, recognising the potential of clothing to enhance well-being in an era when mental health issues are increasing in the Western world. Well-being is important to the individual and on a wider societal level, with the Office for National Statistics monitoring the well-being of UK inhabitants and the World Health Organisation stating that depression will be the most common health issue in the world by 2030. As comfort is a key aspect of well-being, this study explores meanings associated with comfort and discomfort in everyday, non-elite clothing. Comfort in clothing can be physical, physiological and psychological, and the psychological comfort gained from clothing is identified in literature as under-researched. Psychological theory was explored, revealing individuals perform multiple identities, dependent on the reaction of others and filtered by previous, lived experience.
Fashion was found to be a recognized method of communicating identity in the social space and research suggests the physical response to psychological constructs or meanings associated with certain garments can be used to change or enhance mood.
As psychological comfort can only be measured subjectively, this study employed an interpretive paradigm and qualitative methodology. In keeping with fashion’s location within visual culture, participant-produced visuals, described as a form of photo elicitation were collected, accompanied by short narratives. Fashion Management students, as a key informant sample, were briefed to create photographic fashion images styled on a ‘Comfort in Clothing’ or ‘Discomfort: Fashion Victim’ theme, accompanied by 100-word narratives, providing rich data.
The study was longitudinal, over a three-year period, to negate the influence of short-term fashion trends and groupthink. Multimodal textual analysis was used to explore comfort and discomfort associated with clothing and fashion in the participant-styled images and narratives. Four identities emerged; the private self, the unrestricted self, the body-conscious self and the confident self.