The Psychology of Fashion by Psychologist, Dr Carolyn Mair
Dr Carolyn Mair has had a diverse career in the fashion world, starting her journey window dressing, or visual merchandising as it’s now known, for a chain of family-owned department stores on the south coast while also making props, in-store installations and the sale banners for the business, even drawing the images and writing the copy for the stores’ newspaper adverts.
When she wasn’t working, she spent her time making clothes, initially for herself and then for her friends. She also painted portraits and murals around a young family.
She started studying for her first degree, BSc Applied Psychology and Computing in her 30s and won funding to study for her MSc in Research Methods before being offered a place to study for a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, later becoming a Professor of Applied Cognitive Psychology.
By chance in 2011, she met someone who worked at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, who invited her to give a talk there and in 2012 she took up a post at the College and established the Psychology Department.
She created the Masters courses that applied Psychology in the context of Fashion and was promoted to full Professor of Psychology for Fashion helping ‘the psychology of fashion’ to become a global phenomenon.
Ger book, the Psychology of Fashion, was published by Routledge in 2018 as part of their Psychology of Everything series and was one of their bestselling Psychology books of 2018. She left UAL in 2017 to set up her own consultancy so she could work more directly with the fashion industry.
Since then, she has collaborated with many brands, NGOs and educators as well as running her own short-courses and mentoring sessions. She is currently working with the global fashion company the H&M Group based at their Swedish and London Head Offices.
Carolyn says, ‘There are so many opportunities for Psychologists to make a positive difference across all areas of the fashion industry. Given the complex and unpredictable world we live in, there has never been a more important time for the fashion industry to engage with those who best understand human behaviour…that is, Psychologists’.
1. Describe a typical day for you?
There is no typical day for me. I’m now working with H&M Group and spend alternate weeks overseas at their Head Office in Stockholm. When I’m at HO, my day typically consists of meetings with senior staff from a range of groups within the organisation who are keen to find out how my expertise can contribute within their areas. I’m also planning research projects as well as contributing to ongoing research studies within the company. I work 3 days a week, so on the other days, I deal with press and media requests, personal matters and try to spend time as much time as possible with my family.
2. What do you feel are your biggest achievements?
I feel so fortunate to have achieved so much and sometimes I have to pinch myself when I consider where I am now with so many great opportunities ahead.
Personally, the most important achievement is seeing how my three children have become wonderful adults. Professionally, I feel I have achieved a great deal.
One of my proudest achievements is broadening the scope of Psychology by bringing it to the interest of the fashion industry and in doing so, engaged new public interest.
I’m grateful for the opportunities that enabled me to achieve so much during my time at London College of Fashion: writing the MA and MSc and establishing a department from scratch, achieving British Psychological Society accreditation for the MSc and winning their Innovative Accredited Programme award.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I won the prestigious British Psychological Society Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology Education. I’m also proud that my book, The Psychology of Fashion, published by Routledge in 2018, became one of their best-selling Psychology books that year. Lastly, I am proud of the growing interest in my consultancy, psychology.fashion, and demand for my insights as well as my current role, which is in itself, is a pretty amazing achievement.
3. What’s in your handbag/ satchel?
Usually the contents of bag are a make-up bag (which I like to have with me, but rarely use when I’m out), my glasses, tissues, phone (of course), wallet, headphones, pens and most likely my laptop and some fruit.
4. What are your ambitions in life?
My ambitions are to spend time quality time with my family; to contribute to a fairer, more ethical and sustainable; and as health is key to achieving ambitions, I hope to stay healthy as long as I can.
5. What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career you now know?
Be vigilant for opportunities, see the big picture as well as the detail and pick your battles carefully.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
Given the difficult global political and economic climate and the problems facing retail in general, there has never been a more important time to apply psychology in the broad context of fashion. I imagine there will be increased demand for expertise such as mine across retail as well as in fashion.
7. What advice would you give an author?
It takes much longer than you think it will!
8. What do you wish you’d known about motherhood before having kids?
Nothing…no-one can prepare you for the amazing highs or the worries that come with motherhood. Every mother, every child, every relationship is different. It’s about learning on the job. I was fortunate in that I was able to spend time as a home-maker when my kids were young. I loved those precious times and would advise anyone who is able to do the same, to do so, if they can. I should add that money was tight and we went without so that I could stay home. Also, I didn’t have a career as such at that time and so I didn’t need to worry about my ‘career ladder’. I was a freelancing: making clothes and novelty birthday cakes, painting murals and portraits for not much money, but having time with your babies is priceless.