Get up. Pick an outfit for the day. Come home. Change for bed. It seems like such a simple and unconscious process, doesn’t it? But there’s a lot more involved in it than you might think. Both for ourselves and for the people around us. Have a glance at the Subtle Ways Clothing Affects Our State of Mind.
You’re doubtless aware that you feel sentimental about specific garments. The clothes you were married in, pants that no longer fit, a coat that isn’t wearable anymore. These are all associated with specific memories and feelings; emotional attachments that compel you to hold on to them.
You also probably have at least one casual outfit that brings you comfort when you’re feeling under the weather. Clothing that only your closest loved ones have seen you wear. A silent signal that you’re going through something difficult.
It’s something we rarely consider. But the phrase “clothes make the person” has a lot more truth to it than you’d think. Our outfits impact not just how others see us, but how we see ourselves.
The Right Outfit for the Job
There’s a reason people tell you to dress for the job you want — because we’re hard-coded to associate certain outfits with certain professions.
When we see easily recognizable articles of clothing, our perception of the person wearing them changes. It’s just how our brains work. We love to categorize everything we see, and outfits are no exception.
For instance, mechanics often don coveralls to protect them from the grime and grease of the machines they work on. Healthcare personnel often wear outfits from scrubs to full surgical garb. Financial analysts and lawyers are usually clad in smart, tailored suits that convey a sharp sense of professionalism.
Just as we recognize these outfits on others, we recognize them on ourselves. Even those outfits that are purely functional end up taking on a sort of symbolic meaning, a phenomenon often referred to as enclothed cognition.
The Power Outfit
We all have an outfit or two that makes us feel unstoppable. A set of clothing that, for one reason or another, makes us feel capable, energized, and in command. When we’re clad in such an outfit, people notice — they see how energized and confident we are, and that impacts their first impression of us.
These ‘power outfits,’ as they’re often called, vary from person to person. Some might choose well-fitted clothes in red or black, while others might prefer blue, yellow, or white. And while there are often general moods and feelings associated with each color, they’re influenced heavily by culture, tradition, context, and our own subjective experience.
Just as we choose flattering or fitted outfits when we’re feeling good about ourselves, we tend to go for unflattering, baggy, or drab clothing when we don’t want to be noticed. Blending into the crowd provides us with a sense of anonymity. It can be a coping strategy for low self-esteem or a defense mechanism against bullying or mental health issues.
Speaking of coping, that brings us to our last point.
Social Status and Emotional Well-Being
Since the earliest moments of recorded history, clothing has been an expression of who we are. Looking back into the annals of time, we see multiple examples of tribal and ritualistic outfits from all over the world, used to convey everything from one’s culture to social status. Intricate and beautiful though these designs are, they’re but a fragment of what actually survived the ravages of colonialism.
Only traces remain, with the rest of these unique fashions and traditions scattered to the wind.
Still, when combined with a larger historical context, they speak to a universal human truth. Human beings care about fashion. We care about both fitting in with our peers and establishing our own social standing.
Everyone from the monarchs of medieval Europe to the politicians of the modern-day must put careful thought into how they look. You would, for example, be hard-pressed to see a nationally-recognized politician presenting themselves as unkempt or disheveled. When you cannot explain your motivations and intentions, appearances are everything.
And again, it’s not just for other people that we dress ourselves up. Assuming you’re working from home right now, try dragging yourself out of bed one day and working in your pajamas. The next day, get ready and dress up as though you’re planning to go to the office.
Note the difference between how you feel — your thoughts are probably more organized and focused with the latter outfit, right?
Dress for Success
Clothing has a huge impact on both how others see us and how we see ourselves. And the influence is only subtle when we’re not looking for it. Now that you have an inkling of the powerful influence of fashion, you’ll be able to see the evidence everywhere.