Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which your wardrobe becomes more than just a bit player in the fairytale of your life. The podcast in which we learn to take a look at our pickiness, and perhaps, in so doing, bring healing to uncomfortable chapters of your life. The podcast in which we consider how what we wear makes us feel, and how that can help us make better decisions in the future.
My name is Lily Fields and I’m going to be your fairy godmother for the next thirty minutes or so.
1. Clothing and our mental state
Now Lily, that’s you. You sound like a slightly tipsy Scarlet O’Hara. Sue me. I don’t want to think about my wardrobe. I hate thinking about clothes. Besides. You are the Fairy Godmother. Aren’t you just supposed to go bippity boppity boo and wave your magic wand and make all my dreams come true?
Would it were so easy, my Country Bumpkin. As a Fairy godmother, it is very much my work to be concerned about clothes. I love clothes, I always have loved clothes. But ’m not here to give fashion advice…that is way way way outside of my wheelhouse. But I do know something about the power that what we wear on our bodies has over us.
The power of making all your wardrobe dreams come true lies in your hands, and I’m going to suggest that by building one easy routine into your day, you might just be able to impact how you feel about your future…perhaps not immediately your long-range future.
I mean, how you feel about tomorrow. And tomorrow, by how you feel about the next day. And the next day, and the next day… By developing mental pathways that are as simple as having to do with what you wear, you can start creating a more positive outlook about your future. A more positive outlook on your future can help you start imagining reaching out and daring to do things you wouldn’t have done before. And this, this can start look like living your Ideal Life. Remember, we do everything in baby steps here. In this case, it starts with choosing what you are going to wear for the day in advance, like the night before.
We’ll take it slowly and look at the research. And believe it or not, there actually is research into this.
2. What we don’t like is as powerful as what we do like
Oh lovely, Lily’s going to cite research. And I never have been so offended. Did you call me “picky” Lily Fields? I’m choosy perhaps. I like what I like, I don’t like what I don’t like. “Les goûts et les couleurs,” as they say in french. Even you should understand that.
Ah yes, the famous “Les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas” argument. For the benefit of our non-French speaking audience, this literally means “flavors and colors are not to be discussed.” It is a fancy French way of saying, “to each his own.” And when it comes to debating colors and flavors, I am in agreement with you. I am not asking us to debate color or flavor or likes and dislikes. I’m asking us each, individually, to learn to examine our dislikes and see if there is any lingering un-solved mystery behind it.
I’m going to share a very personal story about this, and perhaps it will strike a chord, especially if you are someone who is picky, like I am. Picky, as in you know much more about what you don’t like than what you know about what you do like.
The further we get separated from the source of the discomfort, the more generalized the dislike can become. But there is a way back.
This would be a very good time to remind you that we are talking about issues that can reach back deep into our past. Often, this dislodging of feelings and memories can have implications for our Mental Health, and I want you to get professional help as you comb through your memories and your likes and your dislikes in an effort to make peace with your present.
Professional, competent mental health support is just a Google search away, but it can mean a lifetime of freedom from self-defeating thought patterns, recurring relationship woes and depression. Please, please, please: Get professional mental health support.
Yes, Fairy Godmother. I will get support when I need it…but…
3. We can plan for how we want to feel
And now Lily, do you really think I am going to buy all this falderol and fiddledeedee about likes and dislikes and what we wear influencing my thoughts?
You may not believe me, Country Bumpkin, but your Wicked Stepsister, LiElla has a story (a funeral story, of course!) that will illustrate the power of what we wear on how we remember specific events. If you don’t believe me that we can impact how we feel and how we remember, believe your Wicked Stepsister.
Point 1: Clothing and our mental state.
In 2021, I undertook a challenge to purchase no new clothes for one whole year. For someone who loves clothes, this was no easy task. I did it because in December of 2020, I had a little voice in my heart that whispered, “you need to stop throwing money at your self-worth problems.” My problem, you see, was not that I owned too many clothes, or even that I was feeling a particular virtuous duty to contribute less to the global circuit that is destroying the environment and the lives of those who make our clothes for pennies on the dollar. No…my problem was that, as I exited my post-partum depression in November 2020, I found that I had developed some very, very very bad habits. The first one being that I tended to talk to myself very badly. I said things to myself that I would never say to another human being.
And sometimes, I would be so mean, so cutting in my self-criticism, that I would literally try to buy back my own good graces by buying myself a little something. Like I was in some kind of abusive relationship with myself. While I had always loved to buy clothes, it had become some kind of terrible abusive cycle. I hated myself for this.
So when this little voice of wisdom whispered in my heart that I needed to stop throwing money at my self-worth problems, I knew exactly what it meant. It meant that I needed to remove the weapon in my artillery which kept my self-worth problems from surfacing. I needed to stop shopping.
So I did. For a whole year. I spent a year thinking about my relationship to my clothes, to questions of personal style, to understanding what I liked and, very importantly, what I didn’t like.
In Episode 6 of the podcast, entitled “Desperately Seeking Sparkle,” I told you about how, at one point in my post-partum depression, the simple act of putting out my clothes the night before, a little routine that has a fancy French name called, “Mise en Place,” helped me finding a tiny bit of light in days that were otherwise very very dark.
One of the rules of my year-long challenge, therefore, in 2021, was to do Mise en Place every single day: that is to, in the evening, put out the clothes that I would be wearing the next day, replete with socks and underwear and even the choice of shoes, in the place where I would be getting dressed the next day.
Doing this at a time of day when I was not stressed out, when I didn’t have to be running out the door in five minutes, gave me the possibility of imagining the kind of day I wanted to have the next day. Instead of stale jeans and one of a dozen black sweaters, I was able to start imagining a day with color in it. With lace in it. With a little bit of fancy.
I hear your thoughts, Country Bumpkin. You’re thinking, “That just sounds like a royal waste of time.”
And in response, I would like to say that there is actual scientific research into how what we wear influences the way we think and the way we behave, but you don’t need scientific research to know that it’s true.
You may subconsciously be aware that when you are in a good mood, you tend to wear certain outfits. No, these are simply clothes that feel good to wear: whether they are a certain fit, or color material, these are clothes that are go-to feel-good clothes.
On the other hand, when you are feeling low or less motivated, you might gravitate towards the same old stale jeans and black sweater (or insert your go-to low-motivation outfit here. Sweatpants? Yoga pants? Pajamas? A muumuu?) If you haven’t noticed this, I would highly recommend, just even for a week, paying attention to your mood and what you wear.
It’s interesting to notice how our stress level plays a role in what we choose to wear. I am even going to suggest that a little life hack called Mise en Place can help you experience a goodly number more “feel-good” days by simply shifting the moment of the day you choose what you are going to wear to a time when you are feeling less-stressed and more thoughtful.
I believe that there is a way to inversely influence our mood or our outcomes by choosing what we wear as a function of how we want to feel.
There is anecdotal evidence for this too: ball players who become superstitious about a t-shirt or a pair of socks, because those items have always brought him good luck.
The way clothing impacts our behavior and our outcomes is from a relatively recent body of research into a phenomenon called “Enclothed Cognition.”
In order to study this intriguing notion, researchers gave study participants a certain number of relatively complex problems to solve. To some participants, a white lab coat was given. To others, none was given.
Can you guess which participants fared better on the problems? The ones with a white lab coat did. Why? Well, Enclothed Cognition would tell us that the white lab coat represents something to us: it represents respectability, success. It would tell us that the wearing of the labcoat impacted the outcomes positively for the wearers.
In another study, all participants were given a lab coat, but some were told it was a doctor’s coat, some were told it was a painter’s smock. Those who were told that it was a painter’s smock did not fare as well as those for whom the item of clothing was designated with a more intellectual meaning.
So, you see, what we believe about what we wear has an impact on our outcomes as well. I’ll link to a few resources about Enclothed Cognition in the show notes if you want to go a little deeper about the topic. It’s a fascinating rabbit hole if you have some time to explore it.
Now…I’m not sure if this is something I should be bragging about or what you are going to think of me after I say this, but during the great lockdown of 2020, I wore fancy dresses and heeled shoes every day. I put make-up on every day. I did my hair every.single.day.
Even as I say it, it sounds like overkill. But you see, for me, those clothes became like a costume. A costume that represented to my family that “everything was going to be just fine.” I wanted my boys, who were just old enough to understand that there was something very serious going on in the world, to see me behaving with confidence.
Those dresses I wore made me look confident. The fact that I wore those comfy heeled sandals all day, every day, made me feel like I was just on my way out the door… Fake it till you make it, they say. That’s exactly what I did.
It was one small thing that I did, ultimately for myself, and in a smaller way, for my family, to symbolically invest in the normalcy of our lives. And honestly, in many ways, this “faking it till I made it” helped me climb those last few feet out of my post-partum depression.
As I discovered the power that came with wearing clothes that made me feel confident, I developed a little motto for my life: “Life is short. Wear the pretty clothes.”
What we wear does impact how we feel. If you ask me, that is why pretty underwear exists. Sure, someone might argue that it looks pretty, but I would counter that no one actually spends much time looking at it. No, we like to wear pretty underwear because it makes us feel pretty.
Just as proof that my real sister Poppy and I are genetically related, it is Poppy who always says, “Never underestimate the power of pretty underwear.” I’ll link to an article she wrote on the topic for the blog. She’s a hoot.
So let’s get super-practical for a minute. I want you to try something for me. I want you to try, just for a few days, when you have a quiet moment in the day, to check the weather for the following day. Check your schedule, what you might need to be doing.
Then, I want you to go to your closet. Resist the urge to take out the same things you always wear. Think about how you want to feel the next day. Think about what clothes in your closet might actually help you feel that way. Get out some pretty underwear. Get out those nice socks you usually resist wearing. Put that outfit, the one that will make you feel the way you want to feel the next day, and that pretty underwear and socks, on a hanger and take it to the place where you will go first thing tomorrow morning.
In the morning, I want you to relish in getting dressed, in the knowledge that past-you had future-you in mind while she picked out this outfit.
And then I want you to do it again for the next day. And the next day. Try it for a week, and see if it doesn’t help ease your mornings and have a slight impact on how you are feeling about yourself.
Point 2: Ignoring our dislikes keeps us down.
Once, a million years ago, my father gave me a Christmas gift I will never forget.
I must have been maybe eleven. Now, you know me by now. I am a girly girl. And indoorsy kinda girl, trapped in a universe of little boys. Prior to having little boys, aside from an inexplicable fanaticism for the Tour de France, which has slightly more to do with my love of France and of extremely attractive men’s legs than it has to do with biking, I had ZERO interest in athletic endeavors.
However, my father decided to give me ski clothes. And not just ski clothes, but purple ski clothes. I do not doubt that he dropped a lot of money on that ski outfit. But A. I had never been skiing, nor had I any intention of skiing, B. There was nothing girly about those ski clothes C. They reinforced my adolescent believe that my father knew nothing about me and D. They were purple, a color I hated with passion.
Now. I am forty-four years old. I recognize how ungrateful reasons for disliking the gift I had been given were. I was ungrateful, but I was lucid. When I did not show the appropriate gratitude for the ugle purple useless-to-me ski clothes, my father got angry.
If we were to look at the situation, who was in the wrong? Me, because I didn’t want an expensive gift I would never use, or my father because he bought it for me and then got angry because I didn’t like it? Both of us, I suppose.
But here is what I know: for someone who loves color as much as I do, I certainly have some strong opinions about the color purple, don’t I? It took me years to get down to the very visceral sense of distaste that I have carried about that color, a distaste which borders on pathological.
I am going to discuss a rather uncomfortable memory which involves going to the gynecologist’s office. I won’t go into graphic details, but if you would not hear it, go ahead and skip forward about three minutes.
I remember arriving for a concert I would be performing in back in 2017 and seeing that the background was lit up in purple and feeling irrationally angry about it. The good news was that since I was performing, I didn’t have to look at it. I would probably have left if I did.
When things like that happen, it is never anodyne, now is it?
When I had some time after that experience, I tried to rack my brain to come up with why. Why did I hate that color so much?
Purple is born of two colors that I love very very much, blue and red. Purple is (supposedly) a royal color, historically precious because it was made of a rare and expensive dye.
And yet it skeezed me out.
So why? What was it that the color purple stirred up in me that felt a whole lot like rage?
I didn’t start examining this question until 2020, and even then, I spent days trying to figure it out. I would let my mind wander throughout the day. What was my earliest memory of the color purple? That was easy. I had a cute little smocked dress I think my mother had made for me, one I called my “ribbon dress.” It was so cute. That memory clearly happened before whatever had set of the purple-related rage.
I started to remember another piece of clothing that was purple. I was like nine or ten, so this would have been 1987 or so. I had a favorite purple dress. It was stretchy and fun and had a mock turtleneck. I always felt fancy wearing it.
The girls in my family are genetically prone to experiencing puberty at a frightfully young age, and I had gotten my period very very young. I had a few irregularities around that time, ones that required a visit to the gynecologist. I was inadequately prepared for what I would experience there at the hands of the doctor. It was too much for a child to understand.
What I remember was that as I sat alone in the examination room after the humiliation and discomfort of being examined, and after being told I could get dressed, I cried. A lot. And I remember very very very clearly that I picked up that purple dress to put it back on.
Now, as an adult, I think back on that experience and still brings me to tears. That poor child. She had been told what to do and she did it, but it left her feeling inexplicably violated. For a child who had always been eager to be agreeable, nothing had ever felt this awful before.
I am an adult woman, not a ten year-old girl freshly examined by a gynecologist. I have had babies, for heavens’ sake. But the damage those few minutes of uncompassionate medical examination did to my soul has lasted a lifetime.
I needed to sit down and write a letter to that little girl and tell her that she was right to be scared, right to feel violated. The adults in her life should have prepared her better. She did nothing wrong and that the humiliation she felt was not a reflection of who she is. I needed to tell her that she is going to grow up to be a nice lady and that this experience would not define her. I wanted to warn her that in a year or so her dad is going to give her a gift she won’t love but that it isn’t worth getting into a huff about. I am going to tell her that it is not purple’s fault.
I never wore that purple dress again. It was a piece of clothing that took on the stench of a terrible, traumatizing memory. A memory so adrenaline-packed, so violating and humiliating that it managed to ruin an entire category of colors for me for more than thirty years.
The timing worked out just right that my father’s gift of the purple ski clothes would have come on the heels of this awful, traumatic childhood experience. He couldn’t have known.
In August of 2020, my wonderful friend Aline was decluttering her closet, and it was then that I inherited my amazing petticoat collection. On that day, however, I turned down a vigorously purple petticoat because I hated purple that much.
Shortly thereafter, in November 2020, just after the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I was so relieved to see that my country hadn’t lost its collective mind again that I did something crazy. I bought a purple scarf. More like an eggplant scarf.
It seems like a small thing, but as I’ve said, purple is a color that has, for more than 30 years, managed to make me feel sick to my stomach. So me choosing purple was a big deal. I bought it and wore it as a gesture of unity and hope for the healing of a very divided nation.
Healing is a choice. Sometimes our clothes help us do that, too.
Maybe even that small effort of choosing to buy something purple was preparing me for the day, only a week or so later, when I would wake up feeling like myself again: I would wake up knowing that my depression was gone.
I’m not saying that getting to the bottom of my problem with the color purple solved everything. But I am saying that these things happened in very quick order.
When a feeling is that strong, then there is some healing that needs to be done. It’s worth it to scratch the surface.
You need to stop ignoring your feelings
The fact that there was a color (it is random, isn’t it?) that I felt so strongly about is something I could have lived my entire life without examining. But I am so glad I did.
Again, I’m not saying that there was relationship between my post-partum depression and the experience I had as a child at the hands of a gynecologist. But I have to believe that there was some healing that needed to happen from that experience, and that there was power in remembering.
When your dislikes are so strong, it’s worth listening to what your heart is saying. Ask yourself some questions. Be compassionate with yourself. Be curious about yourself.
From now on, for me, purple is the color of compassion. It is a color that no longer stirs up rage in me. It is a color that even brings me some joy when I see it.
And…just for a quick digression, rage and joy are not opposites. They are both very intense emotions, emotions whose triggers are often keys to what is going on in the depths of our hearts. Be aware of these. Be curious about them. Be compassionate with yourself.
Your wardrobe is full of little secrets to healing your past. Be willing to do the work, and you might just add a new color to your palette, too.
Point 3: What not to wear to a funeral
Oh! Look! Your Wicked Stepsister is here for a visit.
LiElla: I am the wicked step-sister. That is not a glamorous role, so at the very least, I think I deserve some perks. Here’s my requested perk. I want to talk about myself again. Ok it’s not really a request, it’s more of a warning. I’m going to talk about myself again. And I’m going to start right now.
So, here’s the thing, I’ve watched Cinderella a few times and I’m pretty sure that her step-sisters had some fancy fashions going on. Full disclosure, I am not a fashionista. Clothes are NOT my passion. I actually don’t even buy most of my own clothes but fortunately, I have a friend who sparkles. My son says that if she was an inanimate object, she’d be a bedazzler. And he is so right.
So instead of me being forced to shop, she buys me a pile of clothes, usually name brands from goodwill. Because though I may not be a fashion maven, I do appreciate a bargain…so she brings me options and I choose from the pile. That is my relationship with clothing, so even I find it a little odd that I want to talk about clothes…so bear with me.
I was recently writing about my grandfather’s funeral. As I thought about the details, I realized that I couldn’t remember many of them. I remember the feel of the event, I remember where I sat. I don’t remember what was said, what I ate, what I drank, but I do distinctly remember what I wore.
At some point, in the midst of the chaos that comes with death, my mom, wait, a little sidebar here, just to be clear, she is not the wicked step-mother, I’m not sure exactly how the relationships work but I just want to be very clear, my mom is NOT the wicked step-mother.
Ok, back to the story. In the midst of the chaos, my mom and I took a trip to Macy’s. She wanted to buy us new outfits for my grandpa’s dinner. After much fussing and fretting, she settled on a chocolate brown skirt with a slightly fuzzy, pale pink cowl neck sweater. She looked good, soft, welcoming. I chose a black pencil skirt paired with unexciting black Mary Jane pumps and a long-sleeved raspberry colored, structured blouse with pin stripes. It was, well…business-like. It definitely was making statements. Statements like…she looks respectful, controlled, stiff. Or maybe it was asking, is that really our wicked step-sister hiding behind that stiff collar, those buttons, smoothly tucked in hem and those cuffs? I don’t recognize her.
Why in the world was I wearing that? I really, really dislike all of those things. Well, not the mary janes or the pencil skirt, those are fine. But the blouse. Ugh no! I feel like collars choke me even if the buttons don’t go all the way up. I don’t care for structured fabric, it’s not comfortable. I don’t like my shirts tucked in. I don’t like long sleeves especially with buttoned cuffs, they feel claustrophobic. And the color? Uh, no. So why would a pick something so not me, so uncomfortable?
I really don’t have the answer to that question. Remember, I’m a wicked step-sister, not a therapist. But I do have a theory and it goes like this. I think I made my outside look exactly like what I was feeling on the inside. I WAS uncomfortable. I DID feel claustrophobic. I WAS stiff and I WAS trying to keep my emotions buttoned up. I had inadvertently found clothing that spoke for me. I wonder how I would have felt that day if I had worn a pretty floral wrap dress, emerald green to make my red hair pop. Had I worn something that made me comfortable, something pretty and soft, would the emotions I had been struggling to contain have been soothed by the playful scallop of a ruffle detail?
How did you choose what to wear today? Did you choose it because you love it? Because it makes you feel something positive? If so, bravo. Good for you. Did you choose it simply because you own it, because it was hanging there? Are you comfortable right now or is something tugging? Are you constantly readjusting? I bet whatever you’re wearing right now, is telling a story. What story do you want to tell? Are your clothes supporting or undermining your efforts? And before I go, in amongst these fashion quandaries, I’m going to sneak in one tiny death question. It’s a question I actually ask people, in your ideal death, what are you wearing? Give it some thought. You may be surprised by what you learn about yourself.
LiElla, thank you for bringing it home with that amazing example. You’ll find in the show notes a link to LiElla’s work and her consulting firm, called Leaving Well End-of-Life Planning. All of her resources are as thought-provoking as that story. You should really check them out.
If you would like community as you start thinking about your Ideal Life, you are welcome to join us in our private Facebook Group, called You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet. For six weeks, we are looking at the different themes of the Ideal Life, and asking ourselves the questions that will help us start making practical, every day progress towards living our Ideal Life.
It’s not professional mental health support (which remember, you should get if you need it.) But we are community…cheerleaders for one another as we pursue our Ideal Lives.
You’ll also find a link to LiElla’s website and some of her resources about planning for our own death. She covers some really sensitive topics with compassion and kindness and touch of humor. You would do well to check it out.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform, and by rating and reviewing the podcast, you help other people find it, too! Thank you so much for sharing it with people you think could use a Fairy Godmother.
A great big thank you to Seven Production here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song “La Joie” as the intro and outro to the show, to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it. You guys know how to bring La Joie!
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: Mise en Place, Clothes and our mental health, Enclothed Cognition, the Color Purple and what not to wear to a funeral.
Check out LiElla Kelly, Death Doula on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com or on Instagram: @leaving.well.death.doula.
Our private Facebook group, You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet (https://www.facebook.com/groups/309886354511956) is available to give you a place to get some encouragement and support as you navigate the pursuit of your Ideal Life.
Links to articles about Enclothed Cognition: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/science/clothes-and-self-perception.html, TedTalk: https://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_millspaugh_how_your_clothes_impact_your_life_re_examining_our_relationship_to_fashion
Never underestimate the power of pretty underwear by Poppy Fields. https://lilyfieldschallenge.com/2021/05/11/may-11-never-underestimate-the-power-of-pretty-underwear/
Special thanks to Seven Production in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show. Check them out here: https://7prod.fr