The Psychology of Clothes

by The Dyás Admin

For some, fashion is an important form of self expression. For others it is about practicality and comfort. Some days you may want to hide beneath your clothes and blend in. Other times you may want to make a statement. However you wear them, your clothes project information about you to the outside world. 

But if your clothes project information, then what do they project to their wearer? In 2012, Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinksy started an investigation into the power of clothing and found that ‘what you wear directly influences how you think, feel and behave.’ After a series of experiments obviated a phenomenon they coined ‘enclothed cognition,’ Adam and Galinsky  found that the complex social dynamics that give various items of clothing their respective connotation affects the wearer and observer similarly. And it makes sense. Have you ever had an outfit or item of clothing spark a change within you? Has fashion ever made you feel powerful or sexy? Or, on the contrary, maybe uncomfortable and unlike yourself? If the clothes we wear have the power to change the way we think or feel, one must assume that it also impacts our actions and reactions to various situations, right? 

The ‘Enclothed Cognition’ experiments measured how wearing different clothing affected the mental processes of people; how they think, how they feel and how they function. It started with a ‘white lab-coat’ test, where three groups of medical professionals wore different articles of clothing to a science lab. Some wore a white medical coat, some were exposed to the coat but didn’t wear it, and others wore a traditional painters coat. Adam and Galinsky then “instructed participants to indicate as quickly and accurately as possible whether a series of letter strings was presented in red or blue on a computer screen.” The people who physically wore the white lab coat, symbolically associated with medicine, had increased attentiveness and focus in comparison to the other candidates. Across a series of similar experiments, results remained consistent - those who wore the lab coat demonstrated increased focus. It suggests that the symbolism that clothes carry is a large aspect of their effect on the psyche. 

In their conclusion, Adam and Galinsky suggest that further research could see how, for example, wearing a fireman’s suit affects a persons’ valiance, or wearing a suit can make someone feel more assertive. So, next time you are looking for something to wear, why not give the theory a test? Ask yourself how you want to feel, how you want to act, and pick clothes that you symbolically associate with those feelings. Who knows what impact it could have on your life? 

Words by Scarlett Brice-Adams



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