Tracey Cleantis

Tracey Cleantis, LMFT

Freudian Sip

Nina Garcia Goes to Therapy: Projective Runway

Nina Garcia, of Project Runway, on what to wear to psychotherapy.

Posted Nov 10, 2010

In Nina Garcia’s book, What to Wear for Every Occasion, Nina has chapters on almost all of life’s eventualities: job interviews, meeting boyfriends’ parents, what to wear when getting your hair done and even advice on what to wear to therapy. As a therapist who has extensively researched and written on the topic of clothing and its place in psychotherapy, I could not wait to hear what Ms. Garcia had to say on the subject.

I absolutely love the idea of Nina Garcia (gorgeous, stylish and assertive Project Runway judge and former Fashion Director at Elle and Mirabella) in therapy. Nina doesn’t actually cop to being in therapy; instead, she opts for the classic, “my friend who is in therapy” story. In my fantasy of Nina Garcia in therapy, Nina sees a Lacanian analyst. She couldn’t possibly have time for a full 50-minute session, as she is busy writing, consulting, and judging the talented and not-so-talented on Project Runway.

Lacanians are known for their brevity (Lacanaian analysts, unlike other psychoanalysts who prefer the 50-minute session, believe that as soon as a patient has an insight you should end the session so that the insight doesn’t get repressed or somehow otherwise reassimilated by the unconscious), and besides that, Lacan is French and French is chic and Nina is tres chic. Lacan is also big in Latin America and Nina is from Colombia. Lacanian analysis is, if you will, the JLo or Madonna of psychoanalysis (sexy, with an appreciation for jouissance, which is all about boundary pushing). The difference between JLo and Lacan is that JLo is immediately accessible and Lacan is so complex that when I read his book Ecrits or his seminars, I need to put on a huge thinking chapeau by Phillip Treacy and read each sentence again and again, desperately trying to locate the noun and verb of each sentence and find some kind of meaning to them. Okay, enough of JLo and Lacan and back to Nina.

I imagine Nina in a very chic, postmodern analytic suite (straight off a set of a Pedro Almodovar film). She lays on a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona day bed as she shares impossibly chic free associations that spring from her well-coiffed unconscious. I feel sure that even for therapy, Nina would dress to impress, her outfit being a complex mix of object relations. A pleasure-principal inspired Prada paired with a reality-based trouser with precise, controlled and measured tailoring that only a Superego could love. And of course there would be heels that could inspire an entire Freudian discourse.

Perhaps Nina would share a recent dream with her analyst in which Anna Wintour would star prominently. The analyst might make an interpretation about how Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine were in fact symbols of her feelings about her mother. In my fantasy, Nina would threaten to vote him off the show and have Heidi tell him “auf wiedersehen” if he keeps up that kind of talk.

As I said before, Nina doesn’t talk about her own therapy in her book. But she does tell a story of her friend who saw a therapist who wore a very unfortunate outfit of blue jacket with shoulder pads, “hooker boots” and a beret. Nina’s friend questioned whether the therapist could be trusted with her psyche, when the therapist was making such bad fashion decisions and clearly needed retail therapy. The therapist in question may, in fact, have been a wonderful clinician. That said, I know I would run out of the consulting room if I had to face that kind of outfit each week. As a therapist who loves fashion, I don’t feel the need to be a blank slate or to dress in such drab neutrals that I disappear. I dress stylishly but professionally. I will not wear any outfit that screams in a histrionic and mirror-hungry fashion, “Look at me!,” I do on occasion wear a leopard pump, but I pair it with a black turtleneck and a well-tailored camel flannel skirt. I have never and will never wear a beret or a blue jacket with shoulder pads to see a client. Actually, I will go further than that--I will never wear shoulder pads to see patients. Padding of any kind has a message of needing to appear bigger and or to be protected from the patient. Not a sartorial message I want to send to my client’s subconscious.

Nina does make a very important point in her chapter on dressing for therapy. She says that many therapists are not aware of the subtleties of fashion and that they should be. On that point I could not agree with Ms. Garcia more. What a patient wears to therapy tells a clinician a whole lot about the patient. I notice with the same interest what the patient wears to the first session as what their first dream is. Our clothing tells about us not only who we are, but also what we hope to be and what we feel about ourselves on a given day. Some of the things I watch for in terms of wardrobe: I look to see what persona the client presents through their dress (always casual or always business?). I notice if the client is dressing in summer clothes when it’s wintertime (does the client feel too exposed and so needs layers to tolerate exposure of personal material?). I see what colors the client turns to most. If someone is always wearing logos, I might keep an eye out for issues of wanting to belong. I notice how much is revealed or hidden in dress. Is the body covered completely with opaque tones, tights, turtlenecks, and extra long sleeves or is everything out in the open and are slits cut up to there? All outfits have something to tell therapists, only most of us don’t turn to dress as a way to further understand our patients. That is a shame. The client’s answer to, “Tell me about your outfit,” might tell therapists as much as their response to “What did you dream last night?”

Nina’s advice for those going to therapy is to wear “what makes you feel fabulous, but do make sure you feel comfortable and at ease in whatever you wear to therapy.” She suggests that this is not the place to make a strong fashion statement--no wild prints or high heels. And, she suggests bringing along a transitional object (my language, not hers). Nina recommends that a great accessory for therapy is a pashmina scarf. This is one place I dare to disagree with her. I don’t think a pashmina is a one-size-fits-all accessory for therapy. Don’t get me wrong; I am not opposed to a scarf or a pashmina. If it is something you want to wear then you should. However, if you are seeing a psychodynamic or psychoanalytically oriented therapist and you are wearing a large pashmina that you wrap yourself up in as we talk, we are not going to read your accessory as fashion advice from Nina Garcia. The pashmina, I believe, is the adult equivalent of a blankie, which is the ultimate transitional object. A transitional object is an item that a child uses to takes the place of the mother as a means of tolerating separation from her and as a means of dealing with resulting anxieties. Blankies, dolls and stuffed animals are common transitional objects and one usually grows out of the need for such objects as they learn to tolerate the separation and internalize the mother. That said, now that I have read Nina’s book I won’t be so quick to judge. I might even comment to a patient wearing a pashmina,“Nice scarf, did you read Nina Garcia’s book?”

Photo by Laurent Segretier for Prestige Hong Kong

Copyright 2010 Tracey Cleantis

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