How Early Shopping Messages Shape Our Style

Posted by Jill Chivers in Fashion, Style and Shopping, Shopping Messages

I was talking with someone recently about their early shopping and style messages.  They had experienced a very specific set of experiences as a young woman where clothes buying decisions had been taken out of her hands and the clothing she wore was proscribed to her.  This left her with little to no choice in what she wore and as an adult she was reflecting on how these early experiences had shaped the clothing and buying choices she was making.

It brought to mind a story I read about a woman who was living with ongoing feelings of shame about her body which she finally decided she wanted to shift.  With the help of a therapist, she traced these feelings back to an experience she had when she was 6 or 7 on a beach holiday with her family.  Her mother had made her wear a pair of white bloomer-style underpants with no top, not a proper swimsuit, and this woman had felt unbearable self consciousness and great shame at having her body on show in such a public way.

She had never fully recovered from this, even though her adult mind had managed to make some sense of it – on a deeper level, those feelings of shame had stayed with her through to midlife.

I find these stories extraordinary, and endlessly fascinating.  I am intrigued by our early experiences and memories of clothing, shopping and style, and how they impact us as adults – how they shape our purchasing decisions, our clothing choices, how we feel about ourselves and how we choose to use clothing as adults to express who we are.

My own early experiences were a mixed bag.  I grew up with a reasonably negative view of my body, shaped by negative names my older brothers called me, and I grew up believing I was tubby – not exactly fat, but certainly not slim or ideal in terms of my body shape and size.  At the other end of the spectrum, my mother wanted me to grow up feeling good about myself and took deliberate steps to shape my body image.  She did this by sending me to ballet and gymnastics (you can see me as a ballerina, can’t you?!).  And I also remember a shopping trip she took me on when I was 12.  She saw this as a transition time for me, which was astute, and true, and she wanted me to feel grown up enough in my clothing, without moving too quickly into adult wear.  I remember that shopping trip to this day, and how special I felt being giving some choice in what I was going to wear, and how delectably grown up I felt in my new clothing.  I will always be grateful to my mother for her foresight and the actions she took (and I must remember to tell her this!).

So this got me thinking about the early messages we pick up on about style, clothing, and who we are.  Here are a handful of questions along those lines to ponder.

Your early style messages

  • What are your early messages and memories about clothing?  What do you remember about the clothing you wore and how you felt wearing them?
  • At what age did you start to choose what clothes you wore?  At what age did you start to choose what clothes you purchased?
  • What is the first item of clothing, or outfit, that you remember that you loved?
  • What do you remember about shopping, growing up?  Where did shopping for clothing (and other appearance-related items) fit in to your early shopping memories and experiences?
  • Do you have any particular memories of shopping for a special item, like your first bra or your first grown up outfit?
  • What is your earliest memory of expressing yourself through clothing and creating a “style”?
  • How have your early memories and the messages you picked up on shaped you as an adult — the clothes you wear, the purchasing decisions you make, and how you feel about yourself and your style?

These are a small handful of the many questions you can ask yourself about style, clothing, self-esteem and identity.   In Svelte In Style, I suggest a range of questions that can help you explore your early style and clothing messages.

Exploring these early memories and messages can be fun and illuminating.  It can also sometimes raise a few tender, possibly even painful, memories and feelings.  So remember to be kind to yourself when you start exploring this territory!


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