The Psychology Every Recovering Hypocrite Needs to Know
Although Dry-Feb has come to a close, we’re still trying to maintain our sustainable shopping habits throughout the year. With 80 billion new pieces of clothing purchased every year, we’re trying to press eject on the concept of the throwaway culture so ingrained in our society. To increase awareness and reduce waste, we vowed not to buy anything new during the month of February. Instead, we fell back in love with the beautiful clothes already sitting in our wardrobes. This isn’t easy when the fashion industry calls us to shop, shop, shop. In this article we highlight the psychological processes behind why we buy in the first place. So here’s the lowdown on what’s going on behind that desire for the newness fix.
The psychology behind our desire to shop and what happens when we do
So what’s really going on up in our brains when we think about shopping (and do)? According to Carolyn Mair (the superwoman behind The Psychology of Fashion), the dopamine kick we get when we buy something isn’t actually from buying the product, it’s in "the pursuit of the reward”. Essentially, the dopamine kick we (the recovering hypocrites) crave actually comes before we buy the product (picture you going around the store touching every piece of clothing and saying “this is cute” every other minute). Dopamine is a reinforcement agent which motivates us to repeat behaviour to get the reward. Over time we crave a greater reward for the same level of satisfaction. Once that fleeting reward moment is over, dopamine levels drop, our bank accounts let out a little sigh (‘not again’) and we are motivated to repeat over and over.
“The fashion industry has managed to tap into the fibre of our identities and what we need. Trends come and go. True style comes from the creativity of re-inventing what you already own, creating a whole new outfit, and seeing it in a new light.”
—Léa Yerevanian, Founder and CEO of Psymplify
The old adage ‘sleep on it’ might just be as relevant for fashion decisions. Waiting a minute (or a day or two) before you click checkout is a great way to sense check what's going on - will you really want that item tomorrow? Stores try to seduce us with messages like, “Only 2 Items Left!” or “Selling Out Fast!”, but we suggest you only come back if you really haven’t changed your mind. Pop on a facemask, spare yourself the buyer’s remorse and catch up on some beauty sleep before you purchase. Another pro tip, create a Wishlist to reflect on future purchases with intention to help fight those little urges (you heard it from us first: head to the Whering app to make that dream come true).
We’ve all been guilty of increasing our scrolling time to get through the pandemic, and unfortunately, our purchasing habits have seen a rise too. In fact, during the pandemic, online shopping has skyrocketed. Vestiaire Collective saw an increase of 119% in just a year, whilst ASOS’ profits went up 4-fold. What’s the link to world events? Carolyn highlights that as “we have fewer opportunities to touch other people than we did pre-Covid, we turn to clothes for reassurance”. This may also be true for the fewer experiences available that give us that jolt of happiness (thanks again Roro), so we turn to what we do best, find the next ‘cute’ item we don’t really need. So next time we add something to our basket, let’s take a moment to reflect on whether we really want to own that item, or whether we just want to be surrounded by more things.
What would make us take better care of our clothes?
Not properly caring for our clothes leads to millions of pieces being left in landfills just because of small holes or tears. Surely a quick stitch rather than buying a whole new piece is the more economical choice (both in terms of our money and time). But why is it that we don’t reach for our sewing kits and, instead, reach for our wallets? According to Mclaren and McLachlan (2015), it’s because there are strong “psychological barriers” which hinder us from repairing our clothes. The first is the negative associations we have with wearing visibly repaired clothes and representations of economic hardship. To fully embrace sustainability and ethical consumption, we need to try to let this psychological barrier go and realise that repairing our clothes isn’t to be looked down upon, but rather celebrated. After all, being a conscious consumer doesn’t only empower yourself, but also empowers the people around you through inspiring them to make more sustainable choices.
The second psychological barrier is the effect of convenience on our emotional attachments to our clothes. As fast fashion, and its persistent marketing on social media, exposes readily available substitutes for our favourite hole-ridden jeans, our emotional attachment to our clothes is suppressed. Caring for our clothes starts with caring about them, so avoiding being seduced by the convenience of repurchasing a piece is key to letting go of this psychological barrier. Our clothes are representations of our social identity, so we should care for them like we do ourselves. If repairing clothes isn’t your forte, never fear; check out Sojo App, they’ll connect you with a local seamster and deliver your garment for you. That’s the convenience we want!
Buying for logos vs. for deep emotional attachment to an item
We’ve all seen white t-shirts with tiny embroidered logos that cost an arm and a leg, but what makes people actually buy them? Wearing these logos showcases to others that we are “aligning ourselves to that brand’s identity,” Carolyn suggests. This also allows others to align that brand’s identity with us. In other words we want to bask in the light of a brand we love, because we feel it somehow elevates us. Logos translate more than just where our piece of clothing comes from, it assigns us to a set of values, a way of life or even a certain perception of the world. As Carolyn points out, during uncertain times, logos “can help us feel aligned, provide a sense of community and also give the opportunity to broadcast our personality, identity or even political preferences”.
However, logos don’t always instill the same emotional attachment that certain nostalgic pieces do. During the pandemic, the value of positive nostalgia has increased. Although we may have clothes in our closets which remind us of unhappier times (Alexa, play All By Myself), we are now reaching for pieces which send us back to times of comfort and joy. We can see that in some of the trends Gen-Z and Millennials are buying into. Think of all the Y2K trends featuring emblems of our childhoods, are we just longing for the good old pre-Covid days or are those butterfly hair-clips actually cute? Carolyn rightly acknowledges that during times of uncertainty, we long for those positive nostalgic feelings, so we might buy clothing which evokes that. Even though we all miss our pre-covid freedoms, buying items which remind us of those days will sadly not bring them back. But nostalgia still lives inside our wardrobes, we just have to find it again. We suggest going through the pieces which haven’t seen the sun in a while and think back to when and why you bought it, when you’ve worn it and how you can bring it into 2021. Maybe you’ll feel a little nostalgic and fall back in love. But hey, don’t worry if you don’t feel that instant connection, check out our Decluttering Sustainably Guide to let those garments feel the love once again.
How can we shift towards a more sustainable mindest using psychology?
As Carolyn points out, “from design to disposal, fashion is all about human behavior,” so understanding the psychological processes behind our buying habits can help propel us to a more sustainable mindset. Everyone buys clothes for different reasons which are founded upon different needs or wants. Hasbullah et al., (2020) explain that some people choose luxury items for their superior quality and “perfectionist” needs, whilst others buy sustainable products which align with their social or economic values. Most of us, after some deep reflection, may say we buy for aesthetic purposes, ways of expressing our self-identity or just convenience and functionality.
Finding the root of our fashion needs and wants is the first step to being more sustainable, so that means looking at yourself in the mirror and having an honest conversation with yourself about why you’re buying another white tee. Those needs and wants will change, but knowing those reasons behind our purchases can make for more informed decisions in the future.
The second step is figuring out what your “style sense of self” is. We’ve all been there when we buy an experimental piece that we never end up wearing. Well, Anabel Maldonaldo rightly says that “self-knowledge is the antidote to mindless consumption,” so understanding what styles you gravitate towards and which ones make you feel like your best self can make you buy less, and when you do, it’ll be clothes you’ll actually wear. She highlights that people’s styles don’t tend to change drastically over long periods of time, so keeping this in mind, we can cut out those experimental purchases which may not make it out of our closet’s doors. Whering allows you to do just that with our product recommendations that match your style with some sustainable pieces to fill your wardrobe gaps.
That was a lot of information to take in, we promise we won’t set you a psychology test for next week! Although these are all important psychological insights into how we can be more sustainable, our behaviour, sadly, can’t change overnight. Taking small steps in shifting our mindset is and keeping these psychological drivers in mind when we pick out our next purchase is ultimately the key to becoming a fully recovered hypocrite.