Tuesday 25 October 2016

Katie Byrne: the fabric of our lives

Can clothing change our personalities?

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

There's nothing like the feeling of new clobber. It puts a glide in your stride, a wiggle in your walk and a pep in your step. May I take your coat, madam? No chance!

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Studies bear this out. Clothing changes the way we carry ourselves and, according to researchers at California State University, the way we think. They found that wearing formal clothing makes us more inclined to think broadly and less inclined to fuss over minor details.

Sometimes it's more dramatic than that. My brother recently had to pull a friend aside to tell him that his new leather jacket "had gone to his head", while my friend had to stage an intervention of sorts when her fiancé turned into a deranged William Wallace the moment he put on a kilt at the Burning Man festival.

An ad hoc camper van committee meeting was called, at which we sat around discussing possible ways to disarm the tartan terrorist. "It's the kilt," said my friend as she tapped the tabletop and shook her head. "I know it's the kilt."

If our apparel can change the way we think, can a seemingly innocuous piece of clothing change the course of history like the flap of a butterfly's wings?

Would Barack Obama have got into office if he didn't wear his trademark man-of-the-people vest under his white shirt during caucuses?

Will Donald Trump succeed with his slightly less subtle, subliminal-messaging-for-dummies strategy of wearing suits that evoke the colour combination of the American flag?

Was Bertie Ahern trying to warn us of the impending recession when he dressed like a canary down a coal mine at the G8 summit in 2004? Did the advent of Ugg boots prolong the financial crisis?

And what about the red card David Beckham received for kicking Argentina's Diego Simeone in the 1998 World Cup? I've always wondered if it was linked to the slagging he got for wearing a sarong four weeks earlier.

Clothes are powerful. They can empower us just as they can oppress us. They can make us as sharp as a tailor's pin, as apathetic as an elasticated waist or - as I discovered earlier this month - as merciless as a skin-tight spandex jumpsuit.

Studio 54 was the theme for the aforementioned friend's hen party in Barcelona and 'more is more' was the motto. Our necklines were plunging, our make-up was technicolour and our barnets were a fire hazard. I wore spray-on gold leggings and had my hair backcombed into an afro. Another friend wore a dress with wings.

There was a loose plan to go see techno DJ Ben Sims play in a club on the Saturday, "just for a look". This was music to the ears of a friend - let's call her Jane - who had travelled all the way from New York for the four-day knees-up. She was suffering from severe jet-lag and never cared for techno. Also, she'd had a few...

Our tune changed when we reached the club, though. Nobody said it but there was a tacit agreement that we were here for the night.

There were some perfunctory concerns that Jane's eyes had glazed over, but we were much more interested in how sparkly our outfits looked under the lights.

We soon wove our way through the heaving, sweating surge and towards top left. Jane held on to my waist like a wounded soldier being led through the trenches. She said something that sounded like "Oh Jesus, help me" but I pretended not to hear.

When we arrived at top left, the manager of the club came over and asked us if we'd like to join the party backstage. He had obviously noticed that we were wearing roughly 60 pounds of rhinestones and sequins between us.

Jane, who was now holding on to the protective barrier for the support her friends weren't giving her, looked up at me with big, sad, pleading eyes. "Help me," said her expression. "Please!"

I just shrugged my shoulders and lightly pushed her towards the red velvet rope.

At this point, a well-meaning friend - someone wearing Ugg boots, say - would have noticed that her buddy was having the worst night of her life and taken her home.

But we were having the best night of our lives so we just avoided eye contact and pretended not to notice that she had dozed off on one of the leather couches.

Occasionally she'd wake up and stare at me with a look of catatonic despair. All I could offer her was a shoulder shrug that was in time to the music.

Besides, I was busy showcasing every move in my repertoire and wondering if I had missed my calling as a seasonal dancer in Ibiza.

Jane, delirious with exhaustion, was in Dante's Inferno... but Ben Sims was on fire... and we looked really hot...

We left at 8am, after all complimentary beverages had been consumed and all family photo opportunities with Ben Sims had been exploited. How could friends who had earlier that day tended to each other's hangovers and painted one another's nails be so cruel? I blame the spandex.

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