The link between the way we dress, our second skin, and human behaviour is a two-way street. On the one hand, mindful fashion is a means of developing self-expression, non-verbally communicating personality traits, and projecting socio-cultural symbols we wish to emphasise. On the other hand, our clothing sends messages to those interacting with us. It represents the first layer people see and strongly influences their first impression of us. Fortunately, the impact of a sense of fashion in our mental health, our self-confidence, and self-concept, has been stressed over the years. Nowadays, the sub-discipline Psychology of Fashion aims to understand this reciprocal influence so that fashion can be, finally, applied in psychological therapy.
This growing awareness is only possible with the help of scientific research that asserted this connection was, indeed, a reality. In 2012, a group of researchers coined the term “enclothed cognition”. An experiment with lab coats has shown that participants who wore a lab coat have displayed increased selective attention compared to those who wore their regular clothes. This research proved that what we wear impacts our self-image, attitudes, behaviours, emotions, interpersonal interactions; in other words, it affects our mental processes. A simple lab coat can increase our competence and intelligence simply because, socio-culturally, we associate lab coats with these two qualities. Other experiments have reached the same results with formal and informal clothes: research has indicated that the wearer of more formal clothes is perceived as less approachable and more professional, whereas casual clothing is deemed more intimate and familiar. Moreover, colour therapy suggests that the colours we wear can also play a significant role in our moods and behaviour. We can be perceived as extroverts or introverts simply and feel different ways depending on the colour of our clothes. The power of improving our moods lies right inside our wardrobe.
In short, research concludes that yes, we can dress how we want to feel. Fashion can help us get closer to the best and healthiest version of ourselves, and not only by dressing in specific ways that convey particular messages, or by wearing certain colours that promote certain emotions. Shakaila Forbes-Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of the platform Fashion is Psychology, has pointed out that “if you are wearing an outfit perceived to be used by powerful people, you will embody those traits.” If fashion can be a vehicle to the exploration of the self, to freely decorate our identity and enrich our personalities, it can also be a revolutionary tool. We can deconstruct identities, conforming roles, and symbols that no longer serve us, and create new, non-conforming ones. In other words, fashion can help us mould human experience, and write a different story.
Article by: Mariana Henriques Martins