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  • Once, we were all dressed by someone else.

  • Parents picked out a T-shirt, the school dictated what colour our trousers should be.

  • But at some point, we were granted the opportunity to discover who we might be in the world of clothes.

  • We had to decide for ourselves about collars and necklines, fit, colours, patterns, textures, and what goes (or doesn't) with what.

  • We learnt to speak about ourselves in the language of garments.

  • Despite the potential silliness and exaggeration of sections of the fashion industry, assembling a wardrobe is a serious and meaningful exercise.

  • Based on our looks or background, others are always liable to come to quick and not very rounded decisions about who we are.

  • Too often, their judgment doesn't quite get us right.

  • They might assume that because of where we come from, we must be quite snobbish or rather resentful; based on our work we might get typecast as dour or superficial;

  • the fact that we're very sporty might lead people to see us as not terribly intelligent; or an attachment to a particular political outlook might be associated with being unnervingly earnest.

  • Clothes provide us with a major opportunity to correct some of these assumptions.

  • When we get dressed, we are, in effect, operating as a tour guide, offering to show people around ourselves.

  • We're highlighting interesting or attractive things about who we are and, in the process, we're clearing up misconceptions.

  • We're acting like artists painting a self-portrait, deliberately guiding the viewer's perception of who they might be.

  • In 1961, the English painter Peter Blake portrayed himself wearing a denim jacket, jeans, and trainers.

  • He was deliberately nuancing the view most of his contemporaries would have had of him, based on knowing that he was a successful and rather intellectual painter.

  • He might have been thought of as slightly aloof and highly refined, detached fromand censorious ofordinary life.

  • But his clothes speak about very different aspects of his personality: They go out of their way to tell us that he's quite modest, he's interested in talking about pop music, he sees his art largely as a kind of manual labour.

  • His clothes, like ours, give us a crucial introduction to the self.

  • This explains the curious phenomenon whereby, if we're staying with good friends, we can spend a lot less time thinking about our clothes, compared with the anxiety about what to wear that can grip us with strangers.

  • With good friends, we might sit around in a dressing gown or just hastily slip on any old jumper.

  • They know who we are already, and they're not relying on our clothes for clues.

  • It's a strange but profound fact that certain items of clothing can excite us.

  • When we put them on or see others wearing them, we're turned on⏤a particular style of jacket, the right kind of shoes, or the perfect shirt might prove so erotic we could almost do without a person wearing them.

  • It's tempting to see this kind of fetishism as simply deluded, but it is alerting us in an exaggerated way to a much more general and very normal idea that certain clothes make us very happy.

  • They capture values that we're drawn and want to get closer to.

  • The erotic component is just an extension of a more general and understandable sympathy.

  • The French novelist Stendhal wrote: "Beauty is the promise of happiness."

  • And every item of clothing we're drawn to contains an allusion to a different sort of happiness.

  • We might see a very desirable kind of competence and confidence in a particular pair of boots.

  • We might meet generosity in a woollen coat or a touching kind of innocence in a hemline.

  • A particular watchstrap may sum up dignity.

  • The way a specific collar encases the neck could strike us as commanding and authoritative.

  • The classic fetishist might be pushing their particular attachments to a maximum and be rather restricted in the choice of items they favour, but they are latching on to a general theme: Clothes embody values that enchant and beguile us.

  • By choosing particular sorts of clothes, we are shoring up our more fragile or tentative characteristics.

  • We're both communicating to others about who we are and strategically reminding ourselves:

  • Our wardrobes contain some of our most carefully-written lines of autobiography.

Once, we were all dressed by someone else.

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