Whilst I don’t want to diminish the damaging qualities of narcissists or the impact that they have on those around them but sometimes narcissists have little quirks which can be both interesting and perhaps appealing. One such quirk is an obsession with personal appearance, clothes and style. When I think of a narcissist obsessed by appearance I can’t help but focus on Tony Stark AKA Iron Man as played by Robert Downy Jr not only are his clothes sharp, so is his metal suit. Tony is not alone, narcissists need to be different, probably to bolster up their fragile sense of self with an outward, admired display.
Narcissism does have a distinct physicality, and can be detected from physical appearance according to Dr Peter Rentfrow, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge who has carried out a study on the physicality of narcissists. In Rentfrow’s study, people were asked to rate people as narcissistic or not based on their appearance. And by all accounts, they were pretty good at spotting them:
“The results showed that the rating panel was able to spot narcissists with a high degree of accuracy. The giveaway clues were a neat, organised and attractive appearance; stylish and expensive clothes; and a cheerful demeanour. For women, key markers included showing cleavage, having plucked eyebrows and wearing make-up. For men, a muscular physique was rated as a key indicator, whereas wearing glasses was a sign of not being narcissistic.”
The narcissistic focus on clothes and image has, I would suggest several possible variants, each slightly different. Some value standing out from the crowd, being different; others want to be the best or most expensive; a third category may show us too much and finally, those who achieve style vicariously through an attractive partner, pet or place
The Green Carnation and Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde, the famous 19th century Irish writer, wore a green carnation and whilst now the symbolism has become associated with Wilde’s sexuality, its origins lay in an affected desire to stand out, which would ultimately lead to Wilde’s downfall. You see, green carnations are rare because nature doesn’t make them, they need to be dyed and yet still retain their beauty. Wilde wanted to be different, to be admired. His writing and wit alone could have achieved that for him but he had to add more: his physical appearance had to strike too.
Some narcissists like to stand out from the crowd in their style of dress and appearance. Some attempt to shock by wearing clothes which are lurid, clashing or even a might too sexy for the occasion. I wrote about celebrity and narcissism elsewhere but the red carpet is a place to spot the narcissist – the person not wearing underwear under a sheer garment, the bloke no wearing a tux or the girl who looks as if candy wouldn’t melt in her mouth and who twerks like crazy..
It is possible to spot them in your local bar too. We had a guy who used to turn up wearing a bright, white T-shirt topped with a black bandana. He never wore anything else. The whole effect was added to by his extremely fit physique. His swagger said it all, a peacock in human form.
Style Over Substance
Narcissists must be ahead of the trend so that they can set the trend. This means they must constantly renew their wardrobe and never shop in sales. They want to be admired for their appearance, not their thrift! Narcissists like brands too which in turn say something about them. The watch will be Omega, the car an Evoque and the gadget, pre-ordered. For some narcissists, it may be that they become the brand – even trade marking their identity and name.
The Shock Generator
Now whilst some people adopt quirky dress with a sense of irony, humour and possibly even pastiche – the potter and artist Grayson Perry, probably fits into this category as does the Comedian, actor and political activist Eddie Izzard – narcissists have an entirely different motivation. Their chameleon, ever-changing sense of style is often an attempt to shock and gain attention. They want to be talked about, to create a stir since it is part of their supply.
Narcissists are known to break rules because after all rules are for everyone else. There are rules about good dress sense – colours which go together; how much flesh to show (or not) and what to wear when you are not supposed to be the centre of attention. And the award for best dressed narcissist must go to Miley Cyrus who has a habit of wearing outfits little wider than straps across her breasts and skirts so short that they leave little to the imagination. And she is far from alone in this category. The outfits usually hit their mark in that they garner attention for the hungry narcissist.
The Vicarious Dresser
In the case of some attention may be harvested vicariously. It may be through a partner – having an attractive model on your arm which like an outfit, can be replaced when it becomes worn or soiled in some way. The guy in the bandana I mentioned earlier always had a succession of leggy blondes on his arm, though none of them seemed to be around for very long.
There are those who garner attention with accessories – With Paris Hilton it is her designer dogs and their accessories. In other cases, the accessories may be inanimate – having the biggest, fastest, newest technology for instance. Sir Philip Green the UK businessman has a penchant for Yachts
So why is it important to know about the quirky dress sense of narcissists. Some, including Dr Rentfrow suggest it is useful to be able to “spot them coming” and avoid the pain of a relationship on any level. Others perhaps, just want to lean back and enjoy the show.