The Situationist

The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 15, 2009

women-smelling-clothesInteresting piece by Linda Carroll of MSNBC on how we take comfort in the clothing worn by loved ones.  We excerpt the piece below.

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As many as three-quarters of women say they snuggle with shirts and other clothing worn by someone dear, but not near, researchers reported in a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Even more striking was the data on men: A full two-thirds of men admitted to cuddling with clothing.

To learn more about how ordinary people used body scents to evoke memories, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh rounded up 121 night school students. The students were asked several questions, including whether they’d ever intentionally smelled another person’s clothing to remember or feel closer to him or her, whether they’d ever slept with (or in) another person’s clothing because it smelled like him or her and whether they’d ever given an article of unlaundered clothing to a loved one because it smelled like them.

Although the students mostly reported smelling or sleeping with the clothing of a romantic partner, some said they had also gotten comfort from smelling the clothing of a child or other close relative.

The scent of lovebrokeback-mountain
The findings seem to run counter to what you’d expect from a culture inundated with products designed to obliterate personal scents, from deodorant to mouthwash. Even the researchers were surprised to see how many people use smell to conjure up a loved one’s memory.

“It’s the kind of thing that never really comes up in normal conversation,” says the study’s lead author, Melanie Shoup, now a doctoral student at the State University of New York at Albany. “But when I was going through high school and college, I would wear a boyfriend’s shirt to bed when I was separated from him. And when I asked my friends, they said they had done similar things.”

Some of the study subjects provided specifics, such as a father who smelled his baby daughter’s clothes to feel close to her and a woman whose boyfriend sent unlaundered shirts back from Iraq in plastic bags to preserve his scent.

Students also talked about memories evoked by a dead person’s belongings. People would say that as they were going through a relative’s clothing, the scent on the clothes would suddenly hit them. “It was almost like a presence,” Schoup says.

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To read the rest of the piece, click here.  To read an abstract of the study, click here.  To read other Situationist posts on clothing, click here.

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4 Responses to “The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes”

  1. [...] The Situationist points us to a piece about why we crave the smell of a loved one’s clothes [...]

  2. [...] the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)The Situation of LoveWomen’s Brains [...]

  3. kimberli said

    when i need to get into a relaxed stress-free mood i reach for a pair of my cotton shorts and a tank top. this is my idea of changing moods without breaking the bank!!

  4. Swamprat said

    I have a dozen pairs of Dankin cotton long pants. That along with a short sleeve T-shirt is my comfort clothing. In the winter I wear the same pants along with a long sleeve sweater which belonged to my late husband. He was 6’4″ 200 plus and I love the way it feels.

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