How we interact with and wear our clothes can say a lot about us. How do you choose what you wear? Are you a minimalist who owns a micro-wardrobe? Or do you own many of the same outfits to avoid decision fatigue like Steve Jobs did? Perhaps you’re a fashionista that follows the latest trends, a bold person who loves to express through colors and decorative patterns, or a type that just doesn’t care at all for what you wear. Before you go ahead and disregard fashion as an unimportant choice, you may want to reevaluate a wardrobe that will help you become the person you want to be.
Whether we like it or not, every morning, we wake up and put our clothes on. Our every clothing from work uniforms, suits, dresses, traditional outfits, casual outfits, gym wears, to pajamas, all make social statements for the occasions we participate in. It’s easy to associate social status with textile materials and brands, but there is more to fashion than we understand at a superficial level. It can change our psychological behavior and how we feel.
The Transformative Power of Fashion
We’ve all heard the saying, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have. “ The truth of this phrase is actually backed by science, and there are studies dedicated to this idea. In scientific terms, it’s called “Enclothed Cognition.” It’s the field of study in how the symbolic meanings of clothing affect our behavior and moods.
For example, a 2012 study showed that wearing a white lab coat where people associated the coat to scientific or medical professions, increased their performance in detailed oriented tasks. In another 2016 study, people who wore a tunic and associated it with a nursing scrub, showed more empathy and volunteered more hours. Formal clothing has repeatedly demonstrated positive benefits through studies, resulting in increased abstract thinking, feeling of power, and profits in negotiations. Our personal interpretation of the symbolism in each of these fashion items is what changes our processing and behaviors.
All of these studies point that wearing items associated with certain symbolic meanings have measurable effects on our mental state. So yes, dress not only to impress others, but yourself! Wear a sharp suit to work to perform better in business, casual clothes to be more friendly, and sporty gym wears to stay active. Who do you want to be? The person you aspire to be is just a step closer by putting your wardrobe together in that direction.
Color Your Mood
The influence of color goes beyond fashion. Have you heard of color psychology? It’s the idea that different colors hold different meanings, emotions, and power over how we behave. We see this applied everywhere nowadays as a powerful communication tool, especially in marketing, art, and design.
Color can be so influential, that swallowing the same pill with different colors show significantly different placebo effects on a patient. Particularly, red has been a high-interest color for scientific studies. For example, in the 2004 Olympics, some scientists noticed that winning combat fighters often wore red more than blue. This led to research in 2013, where 28 athletes were matched with similar age and size opponents, each wearing red and blue jerseys. They then competed against each other while measuring strength and heart rates. Although wearing red did not result in more wins, participants wearing red showed significantly higher heart rates and pre-contest strengths. What this all means is that we are subconsciously influenced by the color we choose.
Although color perceptions are highly subjective, there are some universal and general understandings. For example, warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow tend to side with a range of emotions from warmth and comfort to anger and passion. Cool colors, such as green, blue, and purple, often associates with a range of cold and sad feelings to tranquility and calmness. Bright colors are a great choice in giving a boost to your energy and mood. I recommend you look into the effects of each color and use it to your best benefit.
It’s pretty common for us to want to wear clothes that best conforms to our societal beliefs, values, and ideals. If a style is not aligned with what we feel emotionally comfortable in, the uneasiness reverts us back to what we feel most familiar with. This is especially true if you are not the type to take risks in fashion. However, intentionally risking to show your own unique style that’s different from others, pays off.
Researchers at Harvard examined the effects of non-conforming behaviors through clothing. In this study, the status and competence of a professor increased when the professor showed his uniqueness by wearing red Converse sneakers during a lecture. The experiment concluded that unique non-conforming styles that stand out positively influenced us when perceived as styled in a deliberate manner. This interesting phenomenon is called “The Red Sneaker Effect”. In real life, we see this when high-status individuals or successful entrepreneurs choose to dress casually in jeans in formal business settings. Higher status and performance correlates with stronger tendencies to deviate from conforming dress codes. Vice versa, research also suggests that people judge these deviations from the norm as positive because we perceive the individual as powerful enough to risk social costs as a nonconformist.
It can be a simple bright tie, a shoe, a sock, a piece of statement jewelry. You can start with anything small. Showing your originality through unique styles, not only gives you the liberating opportunity to express yourself but rewards positive impressions from others. If you haven’t tried expressing yourself through fashion yet, now is the time to start experimenting!
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