Two social scientists walk into a boutique …

April 7th, 2011

As mentioned, the Traveling Psychologist and I have embarked on the project of renovating her wardrobe. And, for syntactical ease, her moniker — I’ll be referring to her as “Kestrel” from now on. I decided that we should approach the project like the trained social scientists we are. We sat outdoors and discussed Kestrel’s physical limitations (she can only wear flat shoes), lifestyle (biking as her major mode of transport; professor; mother of twin toddlers), and aesthetic preferences. Then, we hit several stores: American Apparel, Ann Taylor, Anthropologie, the Gap, and Second Time Around. (Doing the stores in alphabetical order was not a methodological choice. It just happened that way.) Acquiring clothes was only the second objective in the stores; mostly, I was looking to find out what silhouettes looked good on Kestrel, and to educate her eye and vocabulary for clothes.

Here’s what she posted on my Facebook page later:

Today was it — the first day of what may be an on-going makeover. We began with consultation and client education (client=me). At one point Robin said, “We’re not trying to expand your options — we’re trying to narrow them.” This may be related to the ‘paradox of choice.” Choosing what to wear is already so hard I frequently put on whatever is on the bureau not hung up from yesterday. Whew, it was great seeing Robin walk through a store and leave with a calm “nothing here” — like a grandmaster surveying a chessboard and instantly knowing what move to make. Or better — her verdict that the store called Anthropology is too advanced (for me). Yes, it was indeed.

Kestrel and I both enjoy cooking, and like similar foods. So I made an analogy between getting dressed in the morning and putting together a recipe at night. Like a meal, an outfit has three components: the base, the freshness, and the spice. The “base” is the relatively bland component: the pasta, the black pants. The “freshness” is whatever is clean, fresh, ironed, defrosted, or colorful: the ruby cardigan, the vegetable stir-fry. The “spice” is the element that pulls it together and gives it a particular flavor: the spicy peanuts or sliced chicken sausage, the Turkish pashmina or vintage crystal earrings.

My goal was to figure out some parameters for the basic and fresh components of Kestrel’s wardrobe. Here’s what we came up with:

Colors: black, grey, brown, bright blue, bottle green, and deep red.
Shoes: sandals, ankle boots, athletic-inspired, dance or dance-inspired, flats (slip-on or Oxford)
Skirts: pencil skirts (any good-looking length), long flowing skirts
Trousers: any attractive style
Tops: fitted long- & short-sleeved T’s, tanks, cardigans, turtlenecks
Dresses: simple outlines in solid colors with no puffs, frills, etc.

We found a few very nice basics (one or two of which weren’t on the list of approved colors or styles, like the gold cardigan, but which I gave a nod to anyway) to jump-start Kestrel’s wardrobe. In a few weeks, we’ll go through her existing wardrobe together, and figure out where she still needs to make additions.


2 Responses to “Two social scientists walk into a boutique …”

  1. Carolyn on April 7, 2011 6:10 pm

    Thanks, Robin, that’s really helpful.

  2. Shulamuth on April 7, 2011 9:43 pm

    I like the cooking analogy. I’m a great believer in analogy and metaphor. And almost everyone has something they do well that involves combining different elements, so there are lots out there one could use, depending on the person.

    And I (owner of a huge collection of clothing in several historical eras as well as the present day) really think Kestrel is onto something about the paradox of choice. It can be daunting.

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