The skills of psychology are a critical yet often overlooked part of being a good personal stylist. When dealing with people in any capacity, you will eventually run up against their pathology. No matter how small the situation, a person can be triggered and reminded of something, can see a connection to their past, hear something their mother said, remember a bad relationship, and so on. I’ve always said, messy closet, messy life because the direct connection between how a person manages their wardrobe and how a person manages their life is usually one and the same. As the saying goes, how you do one thing, you do all things.
It’s the psychology and the difference personal style can make, not the fashion, that has kept me doing my work as a personal stylist all these years because it’s what gives my work the substance and the teeth. In addition, when I started my business in 2002, I was a frustrated fashion designer, soured by how the industry works, how it didn’t help its customers and didn’t make it easier for women trying to shop smartly. I started my business to bridge that gap between women and the fashion industry and not due to a “passion for fashion,” as many people assume I did.
I’m not a “fashionista,” a pejorative term among industry people used to describe obsessive fashion victims and a word that makes my skin crawl. Please don’t call me a fashionista, ever. I had to heal and reestablish a renewed love of fashion over the years through distance once I left my career as a designer. I do love fine clothes, beautiful things, and gorgeous style, but the fashion industry? I will always have a bone to pick with it. My point is, I started my business because I wanted to make a difference with women and my business was originally was meant to be a stop-gap or something I could do on my journey into figuring out what that difference-making career would be. Additionally, I’ve always been interested in human behavior and psychology. Little did I know, being a stylist would be the job where I could make a difference with women, that this work is quite psychological, and, as luck would have it, it would allow me to keep doing the thing I did still truly love about working in fashion. I really do have my dream career.
I was texting with Mrs. Radiant last week when she told me she was going to buy the green Akris Punto pants and green Margaux loafers I had in the wardrobe capsule I built for her. These were some of the last holdouts of things she hadn’t bought yet and given the amount she had already purchased, perfectly acceptable that she hadn’t pulled the trigger. Her wardrobe would have spun on just fine without these additions, yet she loved them so much it was hard for her to resist.
While we were texting about these newest acquisitions, she mentioned that her childhood experience makes her gag about spending a lot on clothes. Mrs. Radiant may have told me her backstory about why she has this reaction at some point, I couldn’t remember, but I didn’t need to hear more, I just texted her back, “So, you’re a Pauper Closet Personality Type then, huh? You know about my different Closet Personality Types, right?”
It has been years since I had dusted these off and talked about the Closet Personality Types I created almost two decades ago and being a somewhat new client, it turned out Mrs. Radiant hadn’t. I told her there are six personality types, the sixth only having been added recently, which I have observed in women’s relationships to fashion and their wardrobes. Not all women have a personality type and the women who do are most often a combination of two, sometimes, but rarely, more. These personality types not only reflect how a person manages clothing and their wardrobes but beyond that because what we do in our closets and how we shop speak volumes about us.
The Six Closet Personality Types
Closet Personality types can range from mild to severe. If you notice some of yourself in these different personalities but not completely, I am describing each personality type in its strongest form. If you are a Closet Personality Type and it’s healthy, there may only be parts you relate to. It may not even be something to worry about and more something just to observe and keep in check so you can build strategies and manage them. In stronger forms, however, these Closet Personality Types can create larger obstacles and could be reflective of bigger issues that may require help from a trained professional. Don’t force yourself to fit into one or several personalities if they don’t resonate and if something offends or triggers you, instead of getting upset or pushing back, ask yourself why you had the reaction you did and consider giving yourself time to explore it without judgment.
Paupers are afraid to spend money. Instead of being smartly frugal, they can be cheap to their own detriment. Paupers are more inclined to spend $100 on four things they have lukewarm feelings about instead of spending $500 on one for which they feel passionate. Despite being austere with money, bordering on stingy at times, paupers tend to amass a lot with most of it being cheaper in quality. Paupers don’t really love most of it because paupers have a hard time allowing this level of passion into their lives. In addition to being cheap with their clothing, they can be cheap with themselves. Paupers can also lack trust in abundance, have a history of financial trauma, and can have a low level of self-worth. They have miserly tendencies, worry about having enough money now and in the future no matter how much they have, are prone to hoarding, and sometimes possess the inability to let go. Paupers tend to spend less in order to amass more because the physical appearance of stuff gives them a comforting and tangible sense of having more. Paupers can sometimes come across as ungenerous or selfish, particularly when it comes to money, when in reality, what is driving that behavior isn’t a Pauper’s lack of generosity or selfishness, but an ingrained mindset and fear about the scarcity of money and abundance in general.
The Pauper Wound: There’s Not Enough
Identifiers find their worth and value through their outer appearance and have an attachment to brands, wearing the right things, trends, and impressing people. At their worst, Identifiers can be hard to like. They need validation through their outer appearance because they haven’t developed it fully within themselves. For the Identifier, it’s all about image. Identifiers were often raised with a greater emphasis on the importance of looks than an emphasis to put a value on what’s inside, were taught to seek external validation to find their self-worth, and can have low self-esteem. An identifier can be a shell that is empty on the inside and pretty on the outside. Identifiers can sometimes go to extreme measures to maintain their appearance and run the risk of living beyond their means just to keep up. Identifiers can appear snobby, shallow, and distant, but Identifiers are often paper tigers who use their external appearance to protect themselves from how vulnerable and unsafe they feel.
The Identifier Wound: I’m Not Enough
In its simplest form, a Devaluist is a doormat that everyone steps on, and worst of all, the Devalusit puts themself there. The Devaluist usually has a large dry cleaning pile they never get to, lacks any strategy for wardrobe management, often has clothes with stains they try to pass off as fresh when in actuality they aren’t (the Devaluist just didn’t have time to deal) and is still using a safety pin as a stand-in zipper pull that broke off of their zipper months ago. This person just can’t keep up and can’t figure out why everyone else always seems to have it together. Some see the Davaluist as sloppy, ill-kempt, too casual or they don’t care. Alternatively, because of their people-pleasing nature, Devaluists can be skilled at looking good when it matters and disheveled when the only standard they need to live up to is their own. Devaluists tend to be co-dependent, lack boundaries, put themselves last, are good friends that always help others but forget to help themselves. Devaluists struggle with self-care, and, in essence, devalue their own self-worth by not giving themselves enough to thrive.
The Devaluist Wound: I’m Not Lovable
Sentimentalists take sentimentality too far. Sentimentalists don’t just reminisce, their lives have started to become stagnant reruns. Sentimentalists often get stuck because they fear the future, aren’t currently happy, and wish for a time in the past when they were. Sentimentalists quite often are dealing with grief or trauma they are stuck in and need help working through. Instead of holding onto a few cherished items that remind them of a beloved time, they will hold onto sentimental items as security blankets to feel safe and secure. Sentimentalists can be beautifully feeling and present people but the flip side of those emotions can be fear, reluctance, and distrust. For Sentimentalists, ridding themselves of physical objects that connect to memories is seen as erasing them altogether. There can be varying degrees of pain or trauma, a fear of the future, a reluctance to let go and distrust in the Sentimentalist. Some Sentimentalists can have hoarding tendencies but not all Hoarders are Sentimentalists.
The Sentimentalist Wound: I’m Scared to Let Go
Hoarders engage in the excess acquisition of items that are unnecessary and they do not have space for and where the idea of getting rid of items causes them stress. The reasons people hoard vary and include the thrill and high of accumulation, shopping and acquiring as temporary stress relief, mental disorders, past trauma, and more. As a serious condition, it requires treatment with a trained professional that is far beyond the scope of a person without training. When I speak of the Hoarder personality type, I am not referring to those with a diagnosable medical condition.
In less serious forms, a Hoarder is someone looking to fill something that is empty inside themselves. Hoarding and the accumulation of stuff offer a momentary high that temporarily relieves and fills the emptiness they are feeling. A Hoarder often has several packed closets and can’t let go despite the feelings of chaos and lack of control hoarding creates. The more chaos and stuff, the louder it drowns out the emptiness the hoarder feels. Hoarders feel connected deeply to their things, enjoy the thrill of acquiring them, and struggle to get rid of things even when they yield no value. Hoarders can apply shrewd logic in defense of keeping even the most seemingly senseless of things. In unhealthier situations, Hoarders can be willing to sacrifice their own happiness, health, and well-being to protect what they have. Even mild hoarders can get angry when confronted with the concept of letting go when they aren’t ready.
The Hoarder Wound: I’m Empty
The obsessor takes pride in their appearance and their organizational skills. Less than five minutes after a shirt comes out of the dryer, it’s pressed and on the perfect hanger that matches all the other hangers in the closet, of course. This person is the one who always has the Band-Aid, in the perfect Band-Aid holder, stored in the ideal compartment in her always clean purse. Always looking fresh and neat, never having a pile of laundry, always having the right outfit, the obsessor does everything perfectly. If they didn’t, surely, the world would fall apart.
What seems perfect and having it all together, can be a hamster wheel to the Obsessor who is often run by impossible self-created expectations, crippling self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacy. We admire how together the Obsessor personality type is yet Obsessors without all this in check can sometimes appear like curated Instagram feeds lacking in humanness, flaws, and authenticity. Obsessors are rigid, unyielding, can come across as judgmental, and if the plan deviates or they fail to live up to their impossible expectations they don’t handle it well. You don’t want them to fail necessarily, but you’d love to see them take the pressure off and give themselves a bit more room to be human. If the Obsessor can at least laugh at their need to be in control and on top of things, they could put their fastidiousness to great use.
The Obsessor Wound: I’m Not Good Enough
Experts Weigh In on Hoarding
Because hoarding disorder is in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it is with a responsibility that I am sharing an interview I did quite a few years ago with two very skilled experts on the topic of hoarding, Dr. Robin Zasio, and Cory Chalmers, who were both on the hit A&E show, Hoarders. Despite the age of the interview, the information is still very relevant.
How I Use Closet Personality Types
To be clear, while many of my clients have been one or more of these Closet Personality Types, I can count one or two clients, in nearly 20 years, I’d put in the category of needing professional help. In nearly all cases, clients are mild to moderate Closet Personality Types. I don’t sit clients down and discuss their type with them unless it’s helpful. I don’t diagnose them and often a personality type doesn’t even wind up on my radar as something to use. How I use these Personality Types, when helpful, is as a strategy, because, as you can imagine, how I approach my work with a Devaluist is very different than how I would when working with a Hoarder.
Closet Personalities frame my language, give me a way in, and help me understand if I should use a lighter touch, if a client needs to be eased into spending money they can afford, or cared for around certain topics where they may have some clear trauma. For example, when I understood that a client was a hoarder, it was sensible for us to negotiate keeping bags of her clothing from high school (this client was in her late 30s) in her parent’s basement vs. just donating them because this was all she could handle at that moment. She could deal with the clothes being out of her apartment but she wasn’t emotionally ready for them to be gone entirely. Understanding her personality type was what made me sensitive to that. Or, this client who I wrote about with permission here, who was one of the greatest examples of the Sentimentalist Personality Type and who I needed to help handle her outdated jewelry as I did.
In both these cases, these clients eventually went on to heal after our time together. It wasn’t our appointments that magically healed them, but they were catalysts. It goes back to my point about messy closet, messy life, and how we do one thing we do all things. In many ways, “retail therapy” in this new way of describing it, is one of the gentlest ways to start doing the work on yourself or at least a way to start noticing your own patterns in an environment that doesn’t feel so confronting or triggering.
I also want to be clear. I am not a trained psychologist or a therapist. My views and definitions are from observations and through my own studies and interest in psychology and human behavior. It is without the assistance of a consult by a trained psychologist and should not be used to replace any form of a psychological diagnosis if you are struggling. If you feel you have identified with something deeply that needs a deeper exploration, understanding, or healing, I encourage you to seek out consult with someone who is licensed and trained to help.
When We Understand Ourselves, Healing Begins
When I explained all the personality types to Mrs. Radiant, she self-identified as an Identifier Pauper. I texted her back and said, “so, in the past, it sounds like you probably bought a lot of cheaper things to try and prove your value to other people because you didn’t always know it for yourself?” to which she replied, “That about sums it up,” and then she said she was going to buy the pants because she was worth it. As crazy as it sounds, for Mrs. Radiant, buying those pants and loafers meant she was taking steps toward breaking past issues. For another person, buying those pants and shoes would mean, simply, buying those pants and shoes, mental turmoil excluded. This is why I bring psychology into my work because if I don’t, I’d be tone-deaf to how much more may be happening in a client’s mind.
My Closet Personality Type
I’m an Identifier Devaluist, which is a bit of a kooky combination because I like beautiful, fine luxurious things and can be a bit of a fashion snob who needs to get into my drawers on occasion and give them a bit of tidying. When I am struggling, however, my wardrobe can become a mess and I will use clothing like armor to protect myself.
When I look back on my formative years, I can see the roots of where this all stems from. I was raised in a family where appearance was everything, where flaws in appearance were made abundantly clear at an early age, where external validation mattered and my strong sense of self was something I only developed later in life. Emotional boundaries were scarce and not everyone had room to share theirs. As a result, I learned to shut my own emotions down and became someone who sought out worth by being the person who was “there for others.” I developed a co-dependent, people-pleasing nature quite young and by the time I was older, the pattern was set. It took me quite long, and years of therapy, to learn how to build boundaries so I could take care of myself first.
When I look at it from that perspective, being an Identifier/Devaluist, makes perfect sense. As an identifier, when I’m at my worst or at a low point is when my clothing becomes like armor that I use as a form of protection to distance and protect myself from people by appearing unapproachable, superior, and aloof. As a co-dependent people-pleaser who has worked on this but can also backslide when triggered and whose auto-pilot reaction is to put me at the back of the line, I know I need a check-in with myself when my wardrobe has fallen out of control, I’m not managing its care properly, my closet looks out of sorts, and so on, because it reflects how little I am paying attention to my own needs.
It is quite incredible that when we do want to look at how we currently are doing emotionally, one telling place to look need to do is to open the closet door and take a look inside.