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You probably remember your mom telling you “you are what you eat” at some point during childhood. Have you ever thought you might be what you wear as well? Fashion is self-expression, we all accept this very generalized statement as true, but now the emerging field of fashion psychology delves deeper into the idea of what fashion means for each individual.
In an online survey, most University of Utah students see their clothing as an expression of self. Now, this doesn’t mean they didn’t wear comfy clothes or jeans to class their freshman year. Your self might be a star wars t-shirt, which is entirely acceptable and totally awesome in my personal opinion. However there is a trend of students dressing more business casual as they get further along in their college career. Whether they major in Theater, Business or Education sooner or later we all seem to find ourselves needing to look nice.
Along with looking nice, we all seem to be more confident in fancier clothes as well. There is an actual science to this feeling of confidence described by U student Maureen Degen: “When I am able to plan ahead and wear something nicer, it makes me feel like I have my life a bit more together.” The study of how we associate fashion is fashion psychology.
F-Psy is a new and emerging field, but it is tackling some big issues. Dr. Carolyn Mair finished school with a BSc in applied psychology and computing. She became a graphic designer and designs clothes on the side. Not long after graduation she found herself back in school getting successive degrees, a MSc in Research Methods and a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience. She then used these degrees to change the fashion world forever. She developed a program for graduates to earn a MSc of applied psychology in fashion which graduated its first class in 2015. Dr. Mair believes in the power of f-psy to help our culture rewrite mass produced ideas of beauty and confidence. In an interview with careers in psychology she said, “Since the 60s, the fashion industry has promoted an increasingly very narrow stereotype of ‘beauty’ which has now become the ‘norm’ through the ubiquity of web and mobile technology. With the increase in exposure to such images, comes an increase in appearance and body dissatisfaction across the lifespan which can be addressed by psychologists.”
Another fashion psychologist also defines f-psy in relation to cultural norms. Dawnn Karen holds an MA in Counseling Psychology from Columbia. If that wasn’t impressive enough she is also a model, author, the youngest professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and has founded her own online school of fashion psychology.
Karen defines f-psy as “the study of how color, fashion and shape effects human behavior, while adjusting for cultural norms and cultural sensitivities.” This definition came about after extensive travel and research across the world leading her to interact with multiple different cultures and their ideas of fashion and self.
How does this all apply to the U? Well, people like Dr. Mair and Dawnn Karen became interested in this field because of the importance of fashion in their lives. Nearly all of the students I surveyed said they spend upwards of $100 a year on clothes. In fact most of them didn’t think that was a lot of money. This equates to ten of those fancy $10 cocktails at bars like Twist and Bourbon House. It’s a months worth of food or a sixth of your books for the semester. $100 pays for a couple dates, several miles in gas — maybe even a trip home. When you make minimum wage here in Utah you have to work around 14 hours to make $100, assuming you don’t have other expenses to pay first. Your clothes cost a lot and yet we as a society put time and money into picking out and buying clothes. Then we inevitably go to our closets and say “I have nothing to wear.”
Fashion psychology studies the moment we can’t choose what to wear or we splurge on a beautiful dress we can’t afford to buy. If fashion psychology isn’t real, why does retail therapy work? Our relationship to clothes affects our emotional equilibrium. U student Garrett Matlock said “I feel more confident and vibrant.” Then this phenomenon takes a step further into first impression and an external response we see when dress well. Alumna Savannah Maez feels “if I look professional people will treat me that way,” and current U student Paul Raine said “First impressions are important, and the first thing people see is how you dress.” Our clothing is more than expression — it is interaction, identification and owning our emotional state. I have certainly had bad days where I wanted to wear nothing but pj’s and good days when I dressed to impress. I have also had angry days where I wore all black and red lipstick and I know I am not alone.
As you head into another year of school or perhaps a new year think about the clothes you wear and what you are expressing. Your nerdy t-shirt might be the key to a new friendship and the sharp blazer hanging in your closet might just help you land that internship. Whatever you are dressing in, make it you.
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If you ring the doorbell and gain entrance past the barred door in the strip mall along West Sahara Avenue, the rows upon rows of clothing can intimidate.
Almost 4,000 square feet. Three thousand costumes. Seven hundred hats. Five hundred wigs.
A wall of bride and groom photos shows marriages for a Superman and Superwoman, a crew in Star Trek attire and the titular genie and her master from “I Dream of Jeannie.”
In the back, the masks of U.S. presidents, Abraham Lincoln cheek to cheek with George W. Bush, and snarling dragons look down on a suit of armor.
“Someone thought they could actually wear that,” said owner Martin Sadowitz, 71. “It’s hard to move in. I tried to talk them into a plastic one.”
American Costumes marks 40 years of business this year. But the milestone is bittersweet. On Thursday, the costume rental business began a store closing sale.
For the past 20 years, the business has occupied a store in a strip mall near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.
American’s landlord, the Gold & Beyond consignment shop also in the strip mall, will expand into the costume store’s space, allowing it to grow to almost 10,000 square feet, Gold CEO Roi Zalach said.
American — which counted Siegfried and Roy among its clients and sold Elvis and gorilla costumes for a Penn and Teller TV series — will sell a new inventory online or in another brick-and-mortar space if it moves.
The business has started an account on the eBay e-commerce marketplace. But Sadowitz doesn’t want to lug his current inventory with him when he leaves the strip mall.
“I want to avoid the trials and tribulations of moving,” he said.
American Costumes came to life in the 1970s when Sadowitz got requests to rent the outfit he wore as a singing telegram.
Since then, weddings, themed corporate events, conventions and film crews have brought business to Sadowitz.
Elvis and Marilyn Monroe costumes are always top sellers. “Every man should be Elvis once in a lifetime,” Sadowitz said.
Burning Man brings high demand for goggles. And though Sadowitz hates to say it, celebrity deaths bring sales. He remembers the volume of calls after Michael Jackson died in 2009 and Prince in 2016.
“I’ll have to find my John McCain masks,” Sadowitz said.
Customers have also made requests that reflect contemporary culture as well. Sadowitz found shirts with rounded collars that fit the 1920s England setting for an event themed around the TV series “Peaky Blinders.”
American isn’t the first legacy costume business to close its doors in recent years. Williams Costume Co. downtown closed in April 2017 following the death of its owner.
Long time American Costumes customer Jaki Baskow said her talent agency has had less need for costumes in bulk over the years.
In the past five years, she’s noticed that showgirls and performers looking for work will bring their own costumes, Baskow said.
“I try to go online as little as possible; I like to see and feel,” Baskow said. “But I understand this is the new way of the world.”
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The “Star Wars” movies transport audiences to a galaxy far, far away, but thanks to the Detroit Institute of Arts, people don’t need to travel too far at all to get a closer look at the iconic costumes and creatures that gave the movies their signature look.
There’s still time to see “Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” which runs through Sept. 30 at the DIA. The exhibition features more than 60 original costumes from the first seven films in the “Star Wars” series, along with dozens of sketches and costume pieces that show how costumes evolved from the artists’ imaginations and George Lucas’ vision. See Yoda, BB-8, an Ewok, C-3PO, Chewbacca and other creatures from the film’s universe as well.
Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, in partnership with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and in consultation with Lucasfilm Ltd., this display is a celebration “of creativity, imagination and artistry,” said Myriam Springuel, director of SITES.
“The wealth of materials and stunning costumes … provided the perfect (basis) for an exhibition,” Springuel said.
Although “Star Wars” is set in an imaginary galaxy, the costumes borrow elements from international fashion and history, one of the topics that the exhibition explores. For instance, DIA Interpretive Specialist Melanie Parker said that Darth Vader’s helmet was inspired by Samurai helmets.
“Visitors will discover surprising and unexpected stories that will lead to a (new) look at the costumes,” she said.
It’s pop culture, but it’s also fine art.
“We wanted to create an exhibit that brought new audiences to the DIA,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons.
The exhibition is particularly fitting for the DIA because the museum has been home to the Detroit Film Theatre art movie series since January 1974. The theater’s history is even longer than that. Elliot Wilhelm, the DIA’s curator of film programs and an exhibition curator, said the DIA is one of the oldest museum venues to show film — the DIA’s auditorium was built in 1921, and it showed films “in their infancy.”
Costumes are one of the ways filmmakers introduce and define their characters.
“The costumes give us an immediate impression of the character, even if those are turned on their heads later because you can’t always tell a book by its cover,” Wilhelm said.
Film screenings and other special programs have been organized by the DIA in conjunction with the exhibition.
Of course, this is a must-see for the legions of “Star Wars” film fans, but it’s also fascinating for other movie buffs, as well as followers of fashion.
“Some of these costumes are haute couture,” Springuel said. “They are very high design and high art. It is a quality of the way in which they were designed, the way in which they were sewn so the costumes would hang and flow properly.”
She said high-end Japanese silk was used for the Jedi robe because of the way silk looks and moves on film. It might not be evident on the screen, but it can be appreciated in person.
“You see details that you don’t see in the films,” Springuel said.
Vintage wool from the World War II era was used for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi robes in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” but when the cloak was doused in water during filming, the cloak shrunk considerably, meaning that the costumers needed to acquire a great deal of this special fabric and make multiple cloaks, because they were ruined with each take. That’s one of the many insights visitors will get into the costumes.
Wilhelm said the DIA wanted to make sure that visitors could get a good look at the costumes, so it opted not to put them behind glass.
“We thought it would be more astounding to be able to get up close,” he said. “Some of these things are made for selfies.”
The DIA’s unique exhibition design includes interactive elements and a portrayal of the villainous Darth Vader in a way that Wilhelm said he hopes will be frightening enough to “scare children.”
“The most exciting aspect of the exhibition, to me, is you see … the creative process,” Wilhelm said.
Springuel said this is the sixth and final stop on the exhibition’s tour, which started in January 2015.
“This exhibition is sure to inspire more than a few new filmmakers and artists, and more importantly, inspire creativity in all of us,” Springuel said.
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