The Psychology of Clothes


What do your clothes say about you?
We all know that what we wear says a lot about us, but most of do not realise just how much it actually reveals. Our attire can convey meaning in very obvious ways such as how wealthy we are to what religion we follow, but there are many other subtle ways that also have a great impact on how were are perceived and consequently treated. We hope that when put on a smart suit we will be taken more seriously, but maybe feel this is just wishful thinking. However this is indeed evidenced by research done by Northwestern University who found that:

women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired, and a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually.”[i]

These perceptions are made within seconds and are based on highly complex social and cultural cues that we begin to absorb from a very young age such as economic and social indicators.

 “After just a 3-second exposure people judged the man more favourably in the bespoke suit.  And the judgements were not about how well dressed he was”.[ii]

Inversely, these assumptions can work in a negative way too especially in relation to the workplace, which just goes to show how important it is to dress to impress.

How do clothes make you feel?
The deeper meaning in clothes can also affect how you feel about yourself. We know this from a favourite dress that makes us feel great or a jumper that comforts us. These powerful associations are revealed in testing done by Professor Karen Pine in her book ‘Mind What you Wear’ which showed that wearers feeling of superiority and strength increased whilst wearing a superman t-shirt against others wearing plain t-shirts.

Amazingly though, clothes can also actually affect your behaviour. This is especially seen when clothes that have strong symbolic meaning are worn. Psychologists term this as ‘enclothed cognition’.

“. . . the current research explored the effects of wearing a lab coat. A pretest found that a lab coat is generally associated with attentiveness and carefulness. We therefore predicted that wearing a lab coat would increase performance on attention-related tasks.”[iii]

The tests showed that the wearer’s attentiveness and carefulness actually increased upon wearing a white lab coat, against wearing the same coat which was instead described as a painter’s coat.

So why do we choose the clothes we do?
There are a multitude of reasons why we choose certain clothes, some conscious and others not. Often it could simply be the weather, our upbringing or maybe they are a means of self or political expression, or possibly to attract a mate or identify with our tribe. But emotional reasoning is often not so obvious.

Research shows a link between dressing in baggy clothes or jeans and depression or low self-esteem. At such times we are trying to blend into the crowd and not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. However, as Professor Karen Pine also revealed; clothes are not only a reflection of how we feel, but can also influence how we feel then maybe we should rethink those comfort clothes and become what we wear instead.

The strong link between clothing and mood state suggests we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when feeling low,”[iv]

​What are your thoughts on the hidden meaning behind clothes and how they makes us feel? 


#fashionpsychology #psychologyofclothes #youarewhatyouwear

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Further reading
[1] “Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat” by Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology –
[1] “Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat” by Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology –
[1] Flex: Do Something Different by Professor Karen Pine

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