According to a recent study (by Wink Slots, but stay with me), 60% of 18-30 year olds have a lucky pair of pants. The irony is twofold: 1) we’re supposedly having less sex than our hedonistic elders, and 2) collectively, at least if the headlines are anything to go by, we’re an unlucky bunch. Everything from our mental health to our careers to our chances on the property ladder are supposedly blighted, and yet we’re prepared to believe in the power of our pants. The stat is only 24% for the population as a whole, so you have to wonder if our generation is simply grasping for good fortune wherever we can find it. (We also believe more in astrology than Gen-Xers, so it makes sense.) Call it delusion or a latter-day hippie revolution, but when your life path feels so uncertain, it’s unsurprising we want to follow the path of the stars instead.
Asking around, I quickly get confirmation that even those too cynical for horoscopes (typical Capricorns) still get superstitious about clothes. We need to wear that perfect dress, those favorite socks, or everything will fall apart. Sometimes, luck is mixed up with Sod’s law (“I will always buy a new pair of black tights for any important meeting,” says Susie. “Failure to do so equals certain disaster.”) But sometimes it’s less tangible than that. Clothes equal confidence, and they so often feel tightly bound with our successes and failures. The wrong outfit can make us feel awkward and discombobulated all day, while the right one can be an instant mood boost.
“I must have at least 10 little black dresses, but there's one I bought 12 or 15 years ago that still feels really special for me,” says journalist Faith Eckersall. “I was up for a writing award and early for lunch with a friend, so I popped into a shop. The dress stood out immediately because it was so classy; georgette fabric, cut loosely with sheer, slightly balloon style sleeves, and the most wonderful soft, drape-y bow at the neckline. It cost £60 and I won the writing award. I wore it to several other ceremonies and won awards at those too, so it started to feel like a 'lucky' dress. I honestly feel like nothing bad can happen while I'm wearing it.”
As a logicist (or in millennial parlance, a ‘Well, Actually’) might point out, it really works the other way round. When good things happen, the clothes we’re wearing feel lucky because they have positive associations, which then put us in a better frame of mind next time we wear them. Or, as a spokesperson from the study puts it, “for many, these lucky garments carry lots of history and fond memories, hence why their owners feel that they bring prosperity. Possessing a lucky charm can bring its owner luck by boosting confidence and lifting spirits, resulting in better decision making.” While a positive frame of mind might not stop us failing our driving test or dropping coffee in our crotch, it does mean we’re more able to laugh off those setbacks when we do.
Anna, a university lecturer, and her friend Sarah coined the phrase ‘good day dress’ to sum up the phenomenon. “Mine’s a palm/firework print sack-like number and hers is a perfect drapey black midi,” she says. “I wear mine whenever I'm scared, e.g. my first day of teaching and through many, many conference papers.” Sarah adds that she is “utterly reliant” on her dress — “I even wore it back-to-front for a second interview. It's nearly falling apart, but it's never failed me in the five years we've, um...been together.”
My own lucky dress circa 2006-2009 was a '60s polka dot trapeze-line number with a striped pussy bow and button-cuff balloon sleeves, bought from eBay. It felt lucky right away because it fit perfectly (anything vintage you buy off the internet that fits perfectly tends to feel blessed and golden) and looked miraculously right for everything from 9 a.m. lectures to sticky-floored club nights; then it was certified as lucky a few weeks later when I got snapped for a street style page in Grazia while wearing it. World, I had arrived! It felt slightly less lucky when the magazine came out and they captioned the photo ‘Ugly Betty chic,’ but still.
My lucky earrings are worn to ALL big meetings, dates, etc... I haven’t tried going without them but I’m pretty sure the world would end.
The dress became my go-to, never out of rotation, the one I was wearing in every Facebook album called BEST NIGHT EVER!!!!, until the aged material eventually gave up and holes appeared under the arms. It’s still in my wardrobe, though, smelling faintly of Coco Mademoiselle and spilled Red Stripe. When clothes have served you so well, it feels sacrilege to pack them off to the recycling bin. Lynley feels the same about a tie-dyed grandpa shirt she bought when she was 20. “It is older than everything in my life, just about,” she says. “Now it is finally starting to wear through in places so I dole out the days that I do wear it carefully, and it feels like I am eking out my luck — making it last as long as possible.”
But life is short, and we could all do with a little more good fortune, so what happens when the luck doesn’t find you? You go out and make your own, of course. If luck is really confidence in disguise then it makes sense that some of the best wardrobe mood-boosters don’t come from the perfectly tailored goes-with-everythings, but the loud and proud scene-stealers. The ritzy, the garish, and the beautifully impractical — like Christie, who wears “glittery socks for when I need reminding that I'm doing fine at life,” or Alice-May who wears a pair of gold glitter sneakers every time she does a speaking event. “They’re just the most fabulous thing and always help to make me feel more confident.”
Then there are slogan clothes, the motivational poster of the modern wardrobe. Not since Katherine Hamnett’s '80s heyday has wearing your heart on your sleeve (or chest) been so popular — and when your clothes make a verbal statement, they challenge you to live up to them. “I have a T-shirt from Literary Emporium with a quote from Pride and Prejudice — ‘My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me’ — which I wear on bad anxiety days,” says Sarah Anne, a book blogger. “It reminds to be a bit more like Lizzie Bennet.” Likewise, my friend Amy’s lucky necklaces have ‘Be Brave’ and ‘Why not me?’ stamped on them. “They feel like a talisman when I'm feeling sad and scared,” she says.
Historically, jewelry has always been linked with fortitude. Amulets have been worn to ward off evil in cultures across the world since the days of Ancient Rome, when certain gemstones were thought to imbue the wearer with the powers of the gods. “I have a pair of star earrings that I feel oddly attached to,” says Ashley, a social media manager. “They are worn to ALL big meetings, dates, etc. I haven’t tried going without them, but I’m pretty sure the world would end.”
And as for lucky pants? They’re a thing all right — but it feels like we’re banking that serendipity for our careers, not the club. “Mine are lucky for big meetings and work presentations and so on, not *that* kind of lucky,” says Anna, a fiction editor. “I always wear them whenever I'm nervous about something.”
They say ‘dress for the job you want,’, after all. And while once upon a time that meant sharp suits, now everything from pants and black dresses to glitter socks and slogan tees can feel like power dressing. As long as they survive the wash.