If you believe that fashion is purely for fun, think again. One of the simplest ways we can transform our emotions and overall confidence, and affect our personal experiences, is through the clothes we choose to wear. By recognising how our clothes make us feel and embracing our own personal style we can dress for success.
It all comes down to a phenomenon scientists call "enclothed cognition", which is the systematic influence that clothes can have on a wearer's mental and psychological processes.
According to the authors of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology this influence is, firstly, a result of the symbolic meaning that we as a society ascribe to different types of clothing – we consider a suit to be powerful, a uniform to be strict, and casual clothes to be more fun. And secondly, because first impressions do count. We tend to evaluate others based on their clothes and judge occasions based on the physical experience of what we're wearing at the time and how this makes us feel.
"I believe that most of the time we're on autopilot where we allow fashion trends to dictate to us what we're supposed to wear and so essentially we're not in tune with how what we're wearing impacts us," explains US-based fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen.
"But when we take notice of the influence clothes have on us, we can actually be in the driver's seat to consciously choose our outfit, which means developing our own unique style based on our personality, irrespective of trends or fashion labels."
In other words, we can try to adopt dress behaviours that suit our values and create positive mental processes and perceptions.
A 2012 University of Hertfordshire study found that our outfit influences our mood and that by changing what we wear we can alter how we're feeling. Specifically, 57 per cent of women admitted to putting on a baggy top when depressed, and found that they were 10 times more likely to put on a favourite dress when feeling happy.
"Just like any other daily behaviour we have, what we wear can be an indicator of what's going on for us internally," says Dr Jennifer Baumgartner, clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear.
"In essence, the inside and the outside are inextricably linked, and by approaching how we dress as a form of self-care we can alter the external contents to facilitate an internal shift."
"To achieve this begin by asking yourself, 'How do I want to feel?' and then go to your closet and pick your clothing based on that sensation," suggests Karen.
"By dressing for the mood you want to affirm, you'll uplift yourself and feel healthier."
By understanding the psychological dynamics of why wearing the right-for-us clothing can make a difference to our self-confidence and improve our self-esteem we can begin to effect change in our life.
"In the same way an actor puts on a costume to express a character, similarly we can create confidence in ourselves by dressing for the life role we're playing, enhancing in this way our sense of self," explains Dr Baumgartner.
This is backed by research conducted by psychologist Karen Pine, author of Mind What You Wear, where a group of students each wearing a Superman T-shirt reported feeling more confident, likeable and superior to other students.
In addition, a 2008 report published in the journal Qualitative Research in Psychology suggests how clothing can be used to manage bodily appearance and reduce anxiety by accentuating our best bits and flattering the figure.
"On the flip side, dressing the way you want others to perceive you is important, but don't allow that to override your response to yourself," says Dr Baumgartner.
As stated in another report from Qualitative Research In Psychology, simply thinking of certain items from their wardrobe they were complimented on gave individuals a boost in confidence.
"What we want to achieve is a balance between our perception of ourselves and others' impression of us," adds Karen.
"So, dressing in a way that blends you in with the crowd while staying true to your own clothing personality is what most of us aim to achieve."
Even if we're unaware of it, we adopt some of the features associated with what we wear. Research in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that people who exercised in red could lift heavier weights, compared with those who wore blue, indicating they were working harder than those wearing blue, even though both groups reported similar rates of exertion.
"Colours have a psychological effect on us and whether we realise it or not we begin to mirror their symbolic meaning, indicating that we can deliberately plan our outfit to make an impression," explains style coach Gessica Marmotta. "For instance, the colour red symbolises courage, blue is embraced as the colour of authority and confidence, and green sparks creativity."
Subsequent new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that the clothes we wear can influence the way we think. More precisely formal dressing increases abstract thinking – an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategising.
"In turn, our relationships with others benefit when we're comfortable in our clothes – and our romantic relationships receive a boost when we're loving the clothes we're in," says Karen.
Dressing with less can actually change our life. Although we love clothes, we don't want them to overwhelm us to the point of outfit decision fatigue – the result of having an overflowing wardrobe but still not knowing what to wear. Based on psychological findings, trying too hard early in the morning can significantly reduce your decision-making capacity later in the day, while minimalism is considered to be a way to lasting happiness, health and productivity according to supporters of the philosophy that 'less is more'.
For example, relying on the same outfit daily – think Steve Jobs – can help us to avoid wasting valuable energy on worrying about what to wear.
"Similarly, rotating a small selection of clothing seasonally can also result in less mental power expended, easier mornings and more time to focus on important tasks, and can also save money," says Courtney Carver author of Soulful Simplicity.
"As a result, simplicity in the closet will most likely seep into every other area of your home and life, as once you begin to enjoy the benefits of dressing with less you start to wonder about living with less and how that can contribute to a more thriving and happier life," says Courtney.
So, next time you go shopping make it an empowering experience.
"Purchase clothes that are inspiring, you know you'll wear and don't treat your shopping trip as retail therapy where you buy items just for momentary satisfaction," suggests Karen.
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