When I was in college anxiously preparing for a for a big presentation, my roommate told me I'd be more likely to do well if I dressed up. While I wasn't sure if it would work, I put on my best slimming knee length skirt, and packed on loads of pearls (it was the late 90's). I can still see myself in class that day--definitely, anxious, but also dolled up and feeling pretty dapper. I got an A on my presentation, and at the time, I didn't think it had anything to do with my appearance, but now I'm not so sure. You may have heard me talk about fashion psychology, and only a handful of psychologist have begun to explore the psychological impact of clothing. One of them is Karen Pine, developmental psychologist and Professor of Fashion. This past week I had the opportunity to read her book, Mind What You Wear, and it is full of research (including her own) that speaks to the power clothing has on us. Here are some highlights from the book.
1. Fashion isn't just visual, it's psychological. What we wear impacts not only others but us, the wearer--and the impact is complex. It isn't rocket science to figure out that we choose clothes based upon how we're feeling. But our clothes sends a message to others who react to us based upon our clothing choices, which in turn further impacts how we feel about ourselves in the clothes. If I decide to wear an unusually revealing get-up, I'll probably get lots of stares and unflattering attention. This would certainly have an impact on me that either reinforces what I was already feeling (e.g., a desire for attention) or stirs up feelings (e.g., shame, embarrassment).
2. The effects of clothing on our mood is often unconscious. Do you notice that you have a little more pep in your step when you wear that tea length skirt, those sequin wide leg pants, or that cute matching top and skirt? (okay, yes these are all things I'm wanting now) But think of those lucky socks you may have or the piece of jewelry you wore on your wedding day, or other special occasion. Sometimes we form an emotional bond to our things that is so strong, they almost have a magical influence over us when we were them.
3. Clothing can change our character. It's been said that the effects of clothing runs so deep it can cause us to act in uncharacteristic ways. Think of how you feel when you're made to put on a hospital gown or some kind of uniform? Famed researcher, Zimbardo (the one who conducted the famous Stanford prison experiment) showed that subjects who were asked to wear concealing clothing were more likely to express inhibited, cruel behaviors than those who were not dressed as such. They call it the process of de-individuation, and it's a loss of both self-awareness and responsibility. While there are many other factors that contributed to the subjects' behaviors, the study sheds some light on just how powerful clothes can be.
4. Clothing affects the way we think. Yes, it's true. In fact, research has shown that female subjects made to do math problems in a bikini performed worse than those were not made to wear one. They postulated that the women in bikinis internalized society's objectification of women which made it difficult for them to concentrate. In other words, their self-objectification used up their mental resources. This concept has also been known as enclothed cognition, and means that both the experience of wearing clothes and its symbolic meaning affects our thinking. So the next time you choose an outfit, make sure you're comfortable in it, otherwise it can use up the mental energy you would use for other things.
4. Clothing can keep you stuck in a rut or get you out of one. In an attempt to get people out of a fashion rut, Professor Pine co-founded Do Something Different, a psychology based program that encourages people to make small, yet meaningful changes in their look. People are asked to try a "Do" each day for several days, like "Do dress to impress today, "Do try a new color combo today," or "Do stand out today." I love this idea, and it seems to have really made a significant impact in people's lives.
Professor Pine also gives us a treat by including a list of clothes that make us feel happy along with the theoretical basis for it. She calls them happy clothes, and I couldn't resist putting together a few pieces based on her list. See them here:
If you like what you're reading, go ahead and order the book (kindle edition only). I think you'd get a lot out of it. ♥
*Top 2 Images by Truly blog.