Your Clothing: Friend or Foe?

“Your Clothing: Friend or Foe?” New Era, Apr. 1980, 20

Your Clothing:
Friend or Foe?

When I was in ninth grade, I was tall, skinny, and self-conscious. You’ve heard about the late bloomer? That was me! I didn’t look like the rest of the girls—or so I thought—and I was always afraid they might laugh at me. Like most of the kids my age, I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be popular. As I remember, one of the ways we all thought we could make more friends was to dress like the most popular kids in school. Generally that meant in the latest fashion and fads. When I think back on some of the get-ups we wore, I chuckle and sometimes shudder to think how we must have looked. I wish I could retrieve all of those hours we spent worrying and trying to look just right—and just alike. What I could do with them now!

I learned a lot about who my friends really were during those years. And in the years following, since studying and teaching about the effects of clothing, I have come to think of my clothes as friends, too. I have found they can be like a best friend or a worst enemy. They have the ability to influence the way you feel, the way you think, and the way you act.

Good friends tend to bring out the best in you and may influence you toward the achievement of your goals. They make you feel terrific, confident, and capable. Enemies, on the other hand, may influence you to behave in ways not conducive to the best in you. An enemy may reveal your weak points, make you feel terrible, inferior, and incapable.

Generally we know who our friends are. But often we don’t recognize a potential enemy until after it’s too late, when his influence has become obvious. With this in mind, I suggest that you select your clothing as you would your friends—very carefully.


Start by having a good, heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Ask such questions as: Who am I? What do I like to do? Where do I need to go? Begin by taking a good, long, objective look at yourself in a full-length mirror (fellows as well as girls). What are your best features and what are not? As you evaluate your appearance, remember that you’re looking for your assets as well as your variations from that so-called “ideal.” That ideal is merely a statistical average. Its existence is extremely rare.

Adolescence is a period of rapid growth and physical change. You may need clothing styles that will camouflage a figure variation and help you feel good about yourself, possibly less self-conscious. Clothing has the unique ability to create illusions. It is a tool for you to use to present yourself attractively.

Move now to the closet. Are your clothes within Church standards and appropriate for the places you need and want to go? Have you ever stayed home or felt uncomfortable once you arrived somewhere because of what you were wearing or how you looked? Do you perhaps have a closet full of clothes and yet feel you have nothing to wear?

Conduct an evaluation of what clothing you now have. Take the clothes out of your closet and drawers and sort them into three groups:

1. A group of clothes you love and wear often.

2. A group of clothes you don’t particularly like to wear but must wear because they are all you have.

3. A group of clothes you never wear, regardless of whether you like them or not.

Now comes an interesting part of the evaluation. Starting with the first group, try to discover why you like them. Look for similarities in the colors, styles, textures, etc. How do they fit you? How do they make or allow you to feel when wearing them? How well are you able to function when wearing them? You may discover you have certain preferences for specific colors, types of lines and shapes, styles, etc. Maybe you’re a girl who prefers simple, straighter lines as compared to curved lines and fullness. Maybe you prefer floral prints instead of solids and plaids. Maybe you’re a boy who prefers smooth textures as compared to rough, nubby textures. Maybe you receive frequent compliments on how nice you look in these items due to the fit, styles, color, etc. Maybe they are styles you can wear for a variety of occasions.

The variety of “maybes” possible is endless in terms of the discoveries you might make about yourself. Don’t expect to learn everything in one session. Wardrobe evaluation is an ongoing process. As you grow and mature and experiment, you will gradually come to know yourself and your resulting clothing preferences. As you take on new responsibilities, your needs will change.

Now, go on to the second group. Ask yourself why you dislike these clothes. Don’t be surprised if your answers are exactly the opposite of your answers concerning the first group of clothing. If you were one who preferred simple, tailored styles, these clothes may be too fussy and frilly for you. If you like warm, light colors and soft textures, maybe these are predominantly dark and rough. Maybe you feel out of place, inappropriate, or unattractive in these clothes. Maybe they don’t fit you well. Maybe you are a quiet person and the colors or styles are too bold for you. You may now begin to see some agreement between the person you decided you were and the traits communicated by the clothing you preferred, in their ability to present you well or appropriately in the places you need to go.

Go on to the third group now, those wardrobe orphans that hang unloved or unworn in the back of your closet. Chances are, you feel guilty about them. They may be perfectly good clothes, and you may feel you should wear them. You may actually like some of them. Do some checking. Are they in need of cleaning or repair? Maybe they don’t go with anything else in your present wardrobe. Maybe you don’t have any place to wear them. Is there anything you can do to return these items to active service: a cleaning, a mended seam, a replaced button, a remodeling job, a new piece of clothing to pair it with or update it? Who knows, you may even discover a long-forgotten treasure.

The evaluation complete, move on to the next step. You may need to discard those few items in your wardrobe that are no longer of use to you, present you unattractively or inappropriately, or make you feel uncomfortable due to fit or style. Invite a friend over to pick and choose. Check with mom and dad first, as they may have some salvage ideas you hadn’t thought of. Any leftovers should go into the rag bag or be given to a charity organization where they can be further salvaged for some useful purpose.

The Wardrobe Plan

Now the fun begins. This is the step where you plan for the addition of new clothes or accessories or the renovation of what you presently have. Using the wardrobe outlines, check off those items in your present wardrobe. Remember that these plans are geared to a satisfying, functional, yet economical wardrobe for most temperate climates and cultures and is not a Church-approved or required list. All clothing must uphold Church standards and be appropriate for your life-style; you may need to eliminate or add items to fit your individual needs. The plan is merely a guide you can use when planning how to best use your available resources so that you acquire items that will enhance, not clutter, your wardrobe. For example, if you don’t have a basic dress, you will probably want to choose it over a pink pantsuit that you will only be able to wear occasionally.

As you begin to check off those items you need, keep in mind the advisability of a planned wardrobe. Considering what you already have and plan to add, concentrate on a patterned fabric you really like. It may be found in an existing print blouse or plaid skirt for a girl. It may be in a striped shirt or tie for the fellows. Identify the colors present in the pattern and use those as the basis for your color scheme. You should work to coordinate solid colors, prints, and patterns. Fashion neutrals that combine well with a variety of other colors include beige, navy blue, brown, rust, burgundy, and dark green. You will be the one to decide how much of what color to use where in the outfit. These decisions will be based on what you discovered in your self-evaluation in front of the mirror.

A complete, harmonious appearance should be your ultimate goal. You’ll need to watch for a blending of styles, lines, textures, and colors. Let one feature of your outfit be dominant. If the style of a particular outfit has real pizzazz, then go easy on the color and textural combinations. If the style and color combinations are simple, then play up the variety of interesting textures. Whatever your decisions in putting together an outfit, make sure all of the parts or details go together to give out the same message. Make sure the outfit creates a positive statement about the “you” inside the clothes. Make sure that you can compete with the outfit and not get lost inside the fashion of the moment. Take a look in the mirror and see if you like what you are saying about yourself. Is it what you want to say? Clothing that is right for you will make you look your best, feel your best, and act your best. It can readily be used to give a boost to your self-esteem, provided it is selected wisely as a good friend is!

A Functional Coordinated Wardrobe

These are not Church approved or required lists, but are merely guidelines. You may need to add or eliminate items to fit your particular climate.

For Young Women

Item of Apparel

Number I have

Number I need

All-season basic coat

All-season basic dress

Short “party” dress

All-season basic suit (Optional)




Blouses and shirts










Pullover or Turtleneck


Dressy leather

Casual leather

Canvas sport shoe


Dressy leather


Belt, narrow leather or gold chain





For Young Men

Item of Apparel

Number I have

Number I need

All-season basic jacket or coat

All-season basic suit












Casual or sport


Dress Leather

Casual Leather




Sports jacket

Basics First

The provided wardrobe outline stresses the selection of a basic, all-weather coat, dress and/or suit. The selection of an all-weather type fabric eliminates the need for separate seasonal wardrobes. The purpose of a “basic” is to allow you to dress the item up or down, according to your needs. It should be simple in style, a fashion neutral in color so it may be paired with many other styles and colors to create a variety of looks and moods.

The basic dress for young women may be dressed up with a necklace or a lovely scarf. It may be layered with a blouse or turtleneck shirt for a more casual look. A young man’s suit may be paired with a dress shirt and tie for church or date. It may be worn with a sport shirt or turtleneck, with or without the jacket, for a less formal appearance.

I have included only one suit or jacket for boys and girls due to the limited need for dressy clothing. I suggest that the suit and blazer jacket for the girls, as well as an additional sport jacket for boys, not be purchased or made until growth has tapered off. This is due to the initial expense of the item and the potential for long-term wear.

Coordinated Separates

You will notice that the wardrobe is composed mainly of coordinated separates: skirts, blouses, slacks, vests, etc. One secret of a satisfying, economical wardrobe is flexibility. All clothing items should be able to mix and match with several other clothing items to create a variety of outfits that will allow for many moods and occasions. Remember to coordinate colors, textures, and styles so they may be mixed and matched.

A smaller wardrobe of separates is advantageous for teens because they can be replaced one at a time, with less strain on the budget as they wear out or you grow out. Separates can do wonders to camouflage a figure variation or extra weight. You can layer them to add weight to a slight build. Your choice of styles, colors, and textures will account for the difference in the results. If the new clothes are to be home-sewn, complete wardrobe patterns are available that contain patterns for many mix and match separates. It’s up to you to coordinate the fabrics. The selection of separates allows you to invest less on fads. A single separate may be replaced with a new, trendy item, thus updating the entire wardrobe.


Speaking of fads, the outline stresses classic styles as opposed to obvious trend items. That is done purposely, to allow your wardrobe to be worn over a longer period of time without looking obviously dated. This need will become more important as your growth tapers off and you no longer grow out of your clothes in a year’s time.

Fads come and go each year, each season. They may involve whole outfits, parts, or accessories. The cost of adopting and discarding the latest fad can mount up over a period of time, creating undue financial strain and waste. The current fad may present the wearer unattractively or inappropriately. Learn to anticipate the coming fads. Keep up on current events and take notice of people in the news. An occasional fashion magazine can alert you to what will soon be available. As you observe, evaluate the trends. Ask yourself which ones are right for you, which will fit into your existing wardrobe, and which will present you attractively. Ask yourself how they will influence your attitudes, feelings, and moods. Decide what you might want to adopt, to adapt, and to ignore before being faced with the pressure to go along with the trend just for the sake of conforming to fashion or friends.

Dressy, Casual, and “Grubby”

Slacks and shirts are listed for both young men and young women. You will note the distinction between dressy, casual, and grubby wear. This is a purposeful distinction often lacking in the selection of appropriate clothing for an occasion. We currently enjoy a great deal of freedom in our dress, but it is important to realize that grubby attire is not the same as casual attire and is inappropriate on most occasions. During the evaluation process many young people discover that “grubbies” make up the bulk of their wardrobe. That discovery generally comes as a surprise, a result of not having clearly defined the distinctions in different types of clothing while acquiring a wardrobe. Therefore, it is very important to recognize the differences between dressy, casual, and grubby slacks and shirts, and wear them accordingly.

Comparative Shopping

You may be concerned about the designation of leather shoes and handbag. This is to alert you to the need for quality. To some, the higher price for better quality may seem unwise in terms of the budget. To determine whether a wardrobe item is too expensive, you must evaluate it according to the number of times it will be worn or used. The formula to be applied is:

Price ÷ Times Worn = Cost per Wearing

A $30 leather handbag does not seem too expensive when it is used nearly daily for five years. However, a $12 plastic handbag may become more expensive when it must be replaced every year. Granted, the ability to pay the higher price for higher quality takes patience and planning. But that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

There are times when it may be wise to seek out lower quality items at a lower price. Maybe the item will be worn for only a short period of time. Maybe you are still growing out or your clothes too rapidly to warrant the investment in higher quality. In planning a wardrobe, there are always lots of maybes. You must discover and evaluate your own.

As you consider your plans for the attainment of needed wardrobe items, stop and ask yourself if you have been realistic. Don’t plan to purchase all items at once.

Take your time and save your money. Plan for the most expensive basic items first and build the rest of the wardrobe around them. Make those clothes you can sew well. Help mom with her work so she might free some of her time to sew for you. To obtain items that cannot be home-sewn (inexpensively or well enough), plan for the end-of-season sales on classic items. Sale or not, do some comparative shopping. Look for your styles with the best fit and quality available at the price you can afford. Don’t be pushed or pulled into making purchases inappropriate for you. What is great on someone else or in a picture may be poor on you, due to differences in personal coloring, body build, personality, or life-style. As you accumulate the clothes you want, plan, and work for, make them work for you. Mix and match them for greater variety. Care for them so they will last. Read those care labels. Clean, press, and repair them as needed. Think of your wardrobe purchases as an investment.

Recently I met a young man who had just graduated from high school. He was about to start a new job and discovered he had absolutely nothing to wear to work in an office. What was worse, he had no money to buy new. A student at BYU shared her frustration at all the clothing needed to begin college. She said she had never thought about the need to plan her clothing purchases while in high school. Now she wished she had. Prospective missionaries are often hard hit to supply the many clothing needs required of their new role. I find it good advice to think of your planned wardrobe as an investment in your future.

You are a unique individual, that child of God we so often sing about. You have the potential to accomplish, to contribute, to become that special person you desire to be. But it is a big, fast-paced world out there, and you need all the friends you can get to help you along the way! You can’t afford to carry any enemies along with you. So, find that mirror and start asking those questions. Find out whether your clothes are friends or foes. Plan your wardrobe and invest in your future.

  • Editor’s note: Sister Rasband is a member of the faculty of the Clothing and Textiles Department at Brigham Young University and is a frequent fashion lecturer in the Intermountain area.

Illustrated by Pat Hoggan