Jennifer Baumgartner

Jennifer Baumgartner Psy.D.

The Psychology of Dress

Closet Philia

Digging deeper into psyche of our most precious domestic commodity

Posted Apr 13, 2013

After having participated in an interview with the New York Times on the psychology behind our desire for larger closets, I could not help but dig deeper into psyche of our most precious domestic commodity. As part of any closet analysis, three components of dress are examined. I assess the shopping, assembling, and organizing/storing behaviors of my clients to learn something more about them. In the organizing/storing phase, I look at the physical space of the closet, the way the items are placed in the closet, and the types of clothes that are in the closet. A simple rectangular space with a shelf and hanging bar has become a luxurious lounging area where we happen to keep our clothes. So why has the closet become such an important part of our space?

Consumer culture: We live in a culture where we are encouraged to admire and acquire. Getting people to buy sells. Getting people to buy larger quantities with greater frequency sells even better. Our closets are expanding along with our cars, plates, homes, and waistlines. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor of consumer behavior and nutritional science, noted through his research that the larger the container the more we fill the container and the more we are given the more we will consume. These findings seem to be applicable to our consumer behaviors and space. The more stuff we have access to the more we buy. The more we buy the larger the closets we need. The larger the closet the more we will fill it, and the cycle continues.

Fast fashion: Rapid cycling is no longer limited to a DSM diagnosis. Last year, long flowing beach hair was de rigueur. This year "the chop" a la Karlie Kloss is most requested. One fashion season we need a platform peep toe, the next the kitten heel. First, we were encouraged to embellish, but now 90s minimalism is best. In order to keep up with these cycles, clothing manufacturers have an answer to our demands with high volume low priced pieces. A far cry from the yearly travel to the market in our horse and buggy, we can now visit the mall daily and find new pieces delivered with each visit. Because these items cost less, we buy more. Because these items follow a rapid fashion cycle we buy more frequently. Therein lies the need for the all-important closet space.

Unreality reality: If you are a reality TV junky as I am (acceptance is the first step toward healing), you are no stranger to excesses of the privileged, including Louboutins, Saint Laurent, and Cartier. Although many of us will not be able to afford these items unless we opt to live in our cars sustained by Easy Mac, when we are exposed to such things we begin to habituate to the sticker shock. While working in a high-end retail store as a starving student, $500 t-shirts, $1500 jeans and $40,000 handbags were not items that would ever enter my realm of possibility. Eventually, due to habituation, those unreasonable prices seemed, well, reasonable. When I was exposed to this new reality the desire and ability to purchase seemed more reasonable.

Closet couture: Necessity is the mother of invention. With all of our newly acquired supplies, we demand customized closets. Our call has been answered with marble fireplaces, cheetah carpets, and de Gournay lined walls.  Like the extra piece of chocolate we really should not eat, our closet becomes our guilty pleasure that we can indulge in. Frivolity in this seemingly utilitarian space surrounds the very items, which we systematically use to present ourselves to the world. Because we should not care about our closets this unnecessary luxury takes on greater importance.

Why do you think closets have become larger and more important to us? Has your closet taken on greater significance? How have you customized it? Has it gotten larger over the years? Dr. B wants to know…Join the conversation!