The psychology of fashion

These past few weeks have been super stressful for me due to a relentless workload and multiple deadlines. I’m sure it has been the same for many of you as well, especially from the amount of people that I have seen at the Billy B in the early hours. Reflecting back on this dreary January, which felt like it would never end, I realised that the clothes that I wore played a huge role on my state of mind. My oversized navy jumper and favourite pair of jeans (much in need of a wash now) with long, green earrings became my go-to outfit for the library. This was a perfect combination to help me through the late-night study sessions, enabling me to feel focused but also cosy.

I’ve always felt a comfort from clothes and have experimented frequently with what I wear. In the past, I once assigned each of my A-Level subjects a certain colour and would only wear that colour to lessons. This was useful in boosting how I felt. Yes, maybe the conclusion to all of this is that I am a little unhinged! But, from a wider perspective, this shows how fashion can influence our mood.

In Adam and Galinsky’s 2012 study, the term ‘enclothed cognition’ was introduced to describe the “systemic influence that clothes can have on the wearer’s psychological processes”. It was found that enclothed cognition involves both “the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them”. In the study, they found that participants who wore a lab coat performed better at the attention-related tasks they were given. Interestingly, performance changed as soon as the lab coat became associated with a certain profession. When the lab coat was described as a doctor’s coat, there was increased performance in comparison to when it was described as a painter’s coat. This highlights how the associations that we attach to clothes influence our behaviour.

Fashion plays an essential role in relation to identity and self-esteem. Professor Karen Pine, in her book Mind What You Wear, argues that clothing affects mental processes. In her study, it was found that students who wore a Superman T-shirt felt more confident as well as more physically strong. This suggests that the clothes we wear directly influences our performance, highlighting the interconnectedness between fashion and the mind. Further support is provided by a study on the link between clothing choices and emotional states. In this study, 96% of the women interviewed believed that their confidence was affected by what they wear. A strong link between clothing and mood was found. Often, first impressions are based on the clothes that we wear. Clothing choices can act as a conduit for self-expression and are influenced by numerous factors. Therefore, it has the power to shape how we feel about ourselves.

The trend of dopamine dressing showcases the positive impact that clothing can have on our mental health. This involves dressing in our favourite pieces to boost happiness. There is a common misconception that dopamine dressing is all about wearing the brightest colours. However, psychologists have emphasised that it is the individual perception of colours and fabrics that is important. Certain colours are well known for carrying connotations such as blue being associated with calmness and yellow being linked to happiness and hope. However, these connotations are not universal, and colours contain different significance for different people. For example, I really dislike the colour yellow and so, wearing it would not make me feel particularly happy. However, last week when I wore an all-red outfit (red is my favourite colour), I felt energised and cheerful! This suggests that being mindful about what we wear can elevate our wellbeing.

This all suggests that, essentially, we are what we wear! Clothing choices do have a great impact on our mood and behaviour. Though the fashion industry can be mentally damaging, especially when it comes to perceptions of body image, the power that clothing choices hold can also be used to make us feel happier. Being more aware of the clothes that truly give us joy and making a conscious effort to wear these pieces can be important in improving how you are feeling. In tiring times, (especially when summative season kicks off) clothes can be an unexpected source of comfort in helping you power through!


Featured Image: cottonbro studio on Pexels

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