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Dress for Success

Find fresh creative style by changing the clothes you wear.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in your own muse? Same pen? Same screen? Same room? Same song? Left to your own devices, do you default to the same chord progression, the same verbs, the same mood?

Me too. I often wonder if I approached my craft differently — if I were (literally) in someone else’s shoes — would that influence my writing style?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my songs. They’re all my babies. My approach has served me well over the years. But there’s no reason why a creative person shouldn’t consider expanding their palette. We may surprise ourselves at what gets revealed. We may be delighted to meet pockets of persona that are happy to be heard.

I took a class in college called Clothing and Human Behavior, which put forth the notion that fashion can affect the way we feel and therefore how we think and operate. We’ve all experienced this, right? We walk with a less delicate gait in ripped jeans and combat boots than we do in a frilly dress and strappy heels. A more casual stride in T-shirt and sandals versus a three-piece suit and lace-up Oxfords.

In his online posting Psychology of Clothing: Human Behaviour, author BennyOu posits, “Every time we try on a new garment, we discover a new aspect of our personality.”


Googling the idea further, I found there is actually a term for it: Enclothed Cognition. This describes the series of psychological changes that occur when we wear certain clothes: People unconsciously attempt to behave in ways that are congruent to their look. In other words, if we dress for the role, we will start to live it.

Is it possible, then, that the way we dress could influence the way we create music?

My personal go-to “uniform” is jeans and a white T-shirt. It’s the pairing in which I feel the most like myself. But what if I wore somebody else’s uniform? How would that girl act? More to the point, what song would she write?

I decided to experiment. One afternoon, instead of sitting at my desk (in jeans and T-shirt) behind my laptop with a mug of herbal tea, I grabbed a fedora, and a cigarette holder from my daughter’s old dress-up bin and headed across town to a sidewalk eatery. I ordered a glass of wine, dangled the holder between two fingers and opened my journal. That’s right … no screen! That alone is a game changer — the medium on which you plant your words also affects your expression.

It took a moment. Admittedly, I felt uneasy. There was a voice in my head saying: “I’m an imposter. Everybody’s staring!” But then, “Don’t be silly. Nobody knows who the real you is! Relax!”

I let myself imagine:

I am Joni

At a cafe

Wearing a beret

Near Les Champs-Élysées

I scribbled and sipped. Scribbled and sipped.

A few days later (assessment needs space), I read back my work and found the prose to be more whimsical than my usual cadence. The melody I’d imagined to go with them was more shapely and the “voice” uncharacteristically falsetto. I wonder why. No I don’t. 🙂

Next day, in overalls and flip flops, I headed to Venice Beach with my guitar. Instead of a melancholic ballad about some guy who messed me up in high school, out popped a ditty about … sunshine. I never write about sunshine. But perhaps my environment (the waves, the sky, the warmth), along with my “uniform” influenced my creative journey.

Horizons expanded, and enthusiastic about these detours, I vowed to add even more unfamiliar territory to my creative map in future. What else is in my closet?

Creativity is a never-ending adventure. There is no rule that says we must only draw from real-life experience. We’re just like actors on a stage, except we’re composing music. There’s nothing wrong with giving ourselves permission to pretend, to be in someone else’s head and borrow their voice — especially on the days when we’re blocked and could use a jump start.

In the words of Stevie Wonder, “Everybody needs a change. A chance to check out the new.”

I concur.

What will you wear tomorrow?


Check out Shelly’s other postings.

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