What we wear doesn’t only influence how others look at us, but how we look at ourselves and assert our personal identity.

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little to no influence on society      

Words once voiced by the illustrious American author Mark Twain. It tells us something simple: the clothes we wear on our backs have a strong and powerful impact on the way we are perceived by others. 

This influence is further illustrated through the image makers within the fashion industry. The stylists and creative directors who put together looks to create stories through clothing. What we wear serves as a communication tool, allowing others to make assumptions and judgements about us, whether it be right or wrong; we all do it! Our first impression of a person is gaged through the way they present themselves, the main factor being, the way they dress. The way a person dresses often effects the way we treat them. Do we approach them with kindness, affection, hostility?  A lot of it boils down to the clothes. 

This is evident in a study by Howlett, Pine, Orakcioglu & Fletcher (2013), which found that when it comes to a man’s suit, differences in alterations significantly impacts the impressions he gives. The study showed that individuals are more likely to judge as man as having a higher level of confidence, trustworthiness and success when he is wearing a made-to-measure suit compared to when he is wearing one off-the-rack. 

Our clothes definitely say something about us. It could potentially be a contributing factor that’s preventing us from moving up the career ladder, getting that second date or even losing weight, as it also influences how we feel about ourselves.  

What we wear doesn’t only influence how others look at us, but how we look at ourselves and assert our personal identity. There is limited research out there which discusses the power clothing has over our behaviour; but to grasp some understanding of it we must acknowledge a widely respected study by Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam (2012), two professors who coined the term ‘Enclothed Cognition’(EC). 

If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good  - Deion Sanders

To better understand EC, I have to refer to one of my favourite LBD dresses, hanging proudly in my closet. I’d probably wear this dress on a date, or on a nice evening out where I’m not trying to overdo it but still wish to look good - you know what I’m talking about! We all have outfits we hold on to because of how they make us feel. The connotations I give to that dress are sexiness and confidence and when physically worn, I feel I exude those qualities. Enclothed Cognition is all about this. It outlines the influence clothing can have over our behaviour due to the fact that we assign certain connotations to certain items of clothing. When we go on to wear these items we subconsciously exude those same qualities.

The role of a doctor is one that is associated with a great deal attention and focus. Galinsky & Adam’s (2012) study found that a white lab coat described as a doctor’s coat actually increased the level of attention in the people who wore it. I find this quite reassuring, given that a doctor’s main job is to save lives!

In my psychology final year project, I was able to further explore the phenomenon of Enclothed Cognition. I interviewed university students to understand their thoughts and feelings when wearing different items of clothing such as a science lab coat or a university jumper that had some degree of meaning to them. The purpose of my study was to see whether the different garments effected how they felt about themselves. I found that the clothing had some level of influence over their thoughts, but only when they perceived themselves as desiring the traits of intelligence, whilst also being proud of their academic success.

In their study, Ellis & Jenkins (2015) were able to further establish the association between clothing and behaviour, focusing on the wristwatch - a fashion accessory or better yet, a demonstration of social status. The researchers uncovered that wearers showed lower levels of extroversion and were more likely to arrive early for appointments when wearing a wristwatch. All of this research is expeditiously summed up by the saying "If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good."- Deion Sanders.

The next time you’re being indecisive about what to put on, just go for that one item you know makes you feel great!

Author

Rochelle Rodney-Massop is a recent psychology graduate and full-time mummy to twins (most days she feels like superwoman). She is now seeking her calling within the fashion industry.

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