Remembering Subtle Details

Six items to wear is all a woman wore for an entire month as part of a “shopping diet”. What’s really interesting is that nobody seemed to have noticed:

No one notices.

Nearly a month into what amounted to just such a self-inflicted fast of fashion, Stella Brennan, 31, an insurance sales executive from Kenosha, Wis., realized last week that not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, had yet figured out that she had been wearing the same six items, over and over, since June 21. The sad punch line is that Mr. Brennan is the one who actually does the laundry in the family.

It is possible people noticed but didn’t say anything within earshot. Her husband could just be a stereotypical male who doesn’t remember subtle details. I couldn’t tell you what shirt I wore on Monday (it’s now Thursday). However it seems more likely that nobody did actually notice.

Human memory is extremely complicated and not yet fully understood by science. This is generally considered to be an episodic memory. Unless you have Hyperthymesia, you likely only remember portions of your day that for some reason became memorable. Odds are you don’t know what color shirt the person sitting next to you on the bus was wearing, or the person in front of you on line was wearing this morning.

If Ms. Brennan had been in a situation where her clothing had either become a focal point or an accessory to an event or situation it would have been memorable. For example if someone noticed her shirt and complemented it. Another obvious situation would be if she had spilled something on herself in the presence of others. If she told someone very important news, they might remember what she was wearing when she told them the news. People can accurately recall seemingly small details from emotional events. That is a phenomenon known as a Flashbulb memory.

Self-consciousness is an interesting thing. What for one person is viewed as obvious and eye-catching might be completely ignored by others. We remember more things about ourselves than we do of others.