What Is Wardrobe Envy And How Does It Affect Your Friendships?

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At one time or another, we're all driven by a need to "Keep up with the Joneses," a phrase which originated from a long-running Arthur R. "Pop" Momand comic strip (via The New York Times). However, Momand's work came prior to social media, an invention which has made besting your neighbors and, nowadays, your neighbor's neighbors, even more impossible.  According to Nelson W Aldrich Jr, author of 1988's "Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America," envy is "the almost frantic sense of emptiness inside oneself, as if the pump of one's heart were sucking on air," per Psychology Today

In ancient mythologies, envy sparked wars between gods. In the 6th Century, Pope Gregory I categorized it as one of the seven deadly sins (via The Guardian).Today, desiring what others have can lead to impulse buys, insecurity, and symptoms of depression. "I think what social media has done is make everyone accessible for comparison," explains clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew. "In the past, people might have just envied their neighbors, but now we can compare ourselves with everyone across the world," per The Guardian. 

Especially in the age of ever-evolving micro trends, it's not at all uncommon to experience wardrobe envy, specifically. "The trends prey on our insecurities about the way we look and feel, encouraging us to consume more in order to stay on trend," explains Tom Crisp, fashion lecturer at the University of Falmouth, via Vice. So, how does a deep-seeded desire for your friend's closet impact your relationship and your self-image?

Surprisingly, wardrobe envy isn't always based on a price tag

Sometimes, walking a mile in your friend's shoes (in the quite literal sense of the phrase) sounds a bit too appealing. Aristotle defined envy as "pain at the good fortune of others." Sometimes, this "pain" is piqued when we see someone else's clothes. "One of my dearest friends is a costume designer with a beautiful wardrobe, and when I see her closet, I get triggered," says Pretty Ripe founder Monica Corcoran Harel told InStyle. Grazia calls this "competitive dressing," the desire to not only belong, but to clean-up better than everyone else while you're at it. 

However, "Style doesn't have to be expensive to invoke envy," clinical psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Miriam Kirmayer explains to InStyle. Rather, it can anything from thrifted to fast fashion. "Purchasing new clothes and keeping up with trends requires disposable income that many people do not have, and this disparity isn't just an individual problem." Longing for a friend's possessions can get in the way of cultivating a healthy relationship, especially since feelings of envy lead to embarrassment and guilt. Pope Gregory I did warn about "death of the soul," after all — the fear of eternal punishment is never a great foundation on which to lay a friendship.

Feelings of guilt get in the way of friendships

Author Tanya Trevett is no stranger to wardrobe envy. "One of my friend's has impeccable style, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't mimic her look," she tells InStyle. "I felt guilty and immature for feeling this way about someone I love." Rather than talk to her friend about how she was feeling, Trevett opted to steer clear of her entirely. Psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Miriam Kirmayer notes that feelings of envy — and the embarrassment that surrounds these jealousies — should always be addressed in conversation. "Recognizing and validating our experience can help us work through the emotion in healthier ways," she says.

For starters, think about what these feelings tell you about yourself. As noted by friendship expert Shasta Nelson in Harvard Business Review's "Ask an Expert" column, "envy isn't something to be ashamed about. It's just your body's way of telling you that you're feeling emotional pain." Rather than categorizing the feeling as a negative and avoiding it's immediate source — in this case, your friend — track down where the jealousy is really coming from. Ultimately, your feelings of envy merit a conversation rather than avoidance.