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The Significance of a Lucky Outfit

And what happens when it loses its magic.

A woman in red heels and a white blouse waiting to be called in for a job interview Photo: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak/Getty Images

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My “lucky outfit” is a thrift store spaghetti-strap black top and a vermilion midi skirt from Zara. I wear it with ankle boots or suede brogues in winter, or sandals in the summer. It’s lucky because I wore it to a party in a new city a few years back, completely alone and slightly nervous, and met two of my current best friends there. The outfit, which I bought for the party, gave me the confidence and the courage to join conversations because I felt good. The whole thing now comes out of my wardrobe whenever I have something special ahead, or an event I need to look my best for.

The occasions have varied. I’ve worn it to job interviews, on my last birthday, for important meetings, and, once, for a job interview over the phone as I sat on my couch with my cat on my lap. The pattern is pretty much the same for me: noteworthy event = black top + vermilion skirt.

Before this outfit, there were others. Although I don’t consider myself superstitious, I’m drawn to the idea that a dress, a blouse, or a pair of sneakers might enter my life to serve a purpose: bestowing a bit of magic to my person.

And I’m not alone. Before she retired, my mum swore by a Max Mara gray pantsuit. She first wore it during her job interview and then on every important occasion after, switching to similar variations by Henry Cotton’s and Ralph Lauren through the seasons. In a male-dominated office where, at the time, she was one of the very few women managers, her sharp blazer, crisp white shirt, and tailored trousers boosted her confidence — and, she thinks, led her to rule quite a few meetings.

“Magic” or not, that suit, like many other lucky outfits, is reflective of the emotional value we attach to some items, and the belief that sometimes, they give us attributes we don’t think we have.

“In reality, having a ‘lucky outfit’ is a cognitive bias as a result of attributing meaning to coincidence — a particular outfit paired with a positive outcome,” says Dr. Carolyn Mair, a reader in psychology at London College of Fashion, UAL.Our brains make sense of the world through ‘pattern matching,’ even where none actually exist. That theoretically allows us to predict what will happen based on what has happened before and gives us a sense of control, often where we have none.” Mair adds that, of course, “this can be flawed.”

But what happens when that luck runs out? Sara Pollan DiMedio, the co-founder of New York-based styling consultancy Le Curate, says she’s helped clients — mostly women — find a new lucky outfit after theirs has lost its magic. “Sometimes that happens after a life change, like a divorce, a move, a new job. Clients lose faith in their old items and yearn for substitutes to grant them new fortune. It’s a funny phenomenon, but a very common one,” she says.

My lucky top and skirt did not land me the most recent job I interviewed for. And yet, it’s still the first thing I grab out of my wardrobe if something significant is coming up. It might be illogical, but I can’t help myself — slipping into this particular top and skirt reminds me of how confident I felt walking into that party where I met my best friends. It’s also the thing that makes me feel the most like myself, and that’s exactly what an item of clothing should do.