FASHION AND MATERIALITY: What Does Happiness Have to do With it?


The connection between fashion and happiness is one that is often overlooked, due to the way both happiness and fashion are perceived in society. Fashion is often viewed as superficial and shallow because of its relation to appearance, as a visual and aesthetic representation of who we are. Caring too much about how you look or how you are perceived is by many linked to a lack of depth, personality or ambition. This approach, however stereotypical it may sound, fails to acknowledge the very power that fashion has in connection to happiness. This is because it focuses too much on the type of identity that is connected to a certain style because it judges people based on already existing labels and conceptions and not their actual identity.


The nature of happiness

When asked what happiness is, people tend to answer with what makes them happy. This might be good health, education, spending time with family and friends, achieving your professional and personal goals, and any kind of personal preference being satisfied (like drinking good wine, eating nice food, being social, having sex, exercising, etc.), but they all describe contributing factors and not the true nature of happiness. So what is happiness you might ask. 

Happiness as a concepts can be divided into two different categories: hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. Hedonic happiness, or enjoyment, refers to the elusive feeling of happiness that arises when you touch delicate fabrics like silk, cashmere or satin. It is what you experience when you see someone you love, when endorphins are rushing through your body from exercise, connecting socially or physically with people, or when you eat or drink something delicious. This kind of happiness is completely free from constraint, meaning that it can arise from any kind of source and is completely dependent on what your personal preferences are.

Eudaimonic happiness on the other hand, is directly linked to how we view our lives, and how happy we feel. It is all about developing our personal and universal potentials as humans, about growing and flourishing, about developing our identity, and being recognized for who we are. The expression of identity, the choices we make and how we relate to the world around us is a way that the clothes we wear can be related to happiness. Happiness and fashion, or clothing are not merely related conceptually through expression of identity, but are also connected physically through triggering endorphins, leading to hedonic enjoyment, and mentally though a conscious, hands-on approach related to eudaimonia. Your approach to what you wear has the potential to make you happy on a fundamental level, or at least more content in your life. There are many ways to interpret and introduce this, but for the time being, let’s focus on materials and production. 


Fabrics and Pleasure

When discussing happiness, the experience of pleasure is a natural element to include. Our desire for luxurious, natural fabrics is often driven by what they represent to us, or it can be motivated by the way they feel on our skin. Wearing a shirt made from pure, soft cotton, or raw silk or a sweater made from cashmere is a very different experience than wearing something made from synthetic fabrics. A part of this is affected by how we think about these fabrics, what we expect and what they represent to us, but our bodies will react to the way the fabrics feel when we touch them, or how they brush up against us when we move, and will have an undeniable positive effect on our experience. This is a pure physical pleasure being activated by the feel of the fabrics, but it can also work as a catalyst for a deeper sense of contentment. This is because, if chosen consciously, it can reflect back on the underlying motivation behind our choice.


Fabrics, Identity and Consumerism

The way we dress is closely connected to our identity, how we perceive and choose to portray ourselves, and how others perceive us. The choices we make in terms of what we consume, what fabrics we are drawn to, and what kind of production we choose to support doesn’t only say something about us as consumers, but also about our identity.

 From the moment we are born, we are shaped by society, the people who are close to us, and by the many different types and identities that are available. Because, even though we are highly individual beings, we are born into a selection of moulds where we naturally identify and fit in with one or more. Following the path of desire satisfaction where fast fashion, and consumer driven thought is the baseline, is one, while a more conscious consumer that values style and sustainability over trends, is another. Desire satisfaction describes the underlying motivation behind a hedonic approach to happiness, but is also a pleasant side effect of eudaimonic enjoyment because reaching our goals also satisfies our desires. The two approaches to happiness are connected to certain personality traits and fit different moulds, and both experience pleasure from the way that they consume. 

Desire satisfaction fits in with the hedonic approach where the immediate pleasure from the act of buying, from satisfying the need for something new or from the feeling of fitting in, is the link to happiness. The more carefully considered approach is the one I want to elaborate on here, and is connected to the eudaimonic approach to happiness and clothing, because what we wear can have a more longstanding effect on our level of happiness through the fabrics we wear and the production we choose to support through what we buy.

By making conscious choices that support a healthy, sustainable clothing production we are contributing to develop our universal potential as humans by helping to push the fashion industry in a more sustainable direction and doing good for our planet and the animals, and workers that are involved in the production chain. Expressing yourself through clothing can include both eudaimonic and hedonic components, and stretches far beyond what you are wearing. Personal expressiveness is the connecting factor between happiness and identity, and what we wear is a tool that we can use to express who we truly are, or want to be. Through what we choose to consume, and our attitude towards it, we can use garments as a tool to express where we stand on these important issues. Through the fabrics we wear and the production we support, we are not only contributing to a more healthy industry, we are also getting pleasure from expressing our identity, taking an active stand, and living up to our own moral beliefs in knowing that we are taking part in making a difference. The fabrics we wear is a constant reminder to us, and the pleasure we get from the physical sense and feel of the fabrics expands into a sense of contentment that is based in the expression of our selves. 


Conscious choices

Expressing, and acting on our moral identity and standpoint through what we wear can only be said to be a contributing factor to your sense of well-being and level of happiness, and does among other things refer to the approach of slow fashion to replace that of fast fashion. But the awareness of the connection is important. It is important to discuss this because using clothes to express ourselves is a tool that is available to us in a very straightforward way, where everyone can participate. Doing something morally because of duty will not lead you to happiness, but small yet honest steps towards satisfying our moral identity through clothes has full potential. Fabrics can bring us pleasure, both physically and intellectually and no way is better than the other. We have complete freedom to make the choices we want, and following and developing our personal potentials, and expressing these is an important part of our sense of well-being.