The Psychology Behind The Clothes: How Fashion Makes Us Feel

by Amy Rosner

Have you ever heard the expression, “If you dress better, you’ll feel better”?  Most people roll their eyes at this claim— how could fabric and textiles alter our mental cognition and attitudes towards ourselves? Well, if you belong in this camp of skeptics, keep reading.

There is now scientific evidence to support the claim that clothing can affect our emotions, performance, and mental psyches. Experts have coined the term Enclothed Cognition:  the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes and abilities.

Let’s break this complex theory down a bit. Certain articles of clothing are associated with a prototype: lab coats for doctors, uniforms for athletes, and smocks for painters. When an individual wears symbolic clothing, they momentarily assume the role of that prototype. In doing so, they adopt the skill-sets associated with that role. Research has revealed that doctors are affiliated with attentiveness, athletes with determination, and painters with creativity. Dr. Galinsky, a leading researcher at the “Journal of Experimental Social Psychology” administered a study which revealed the Enclothed Cognition effect. The experiment tested that by wearing the clothes associated with three traits: attentiveness, determination, and creativity, there would ultimately be an acquisition of these traits. Galinsky divided the participants into two groups, where half of the subjects wore symbolic clothing, and the other half wore informal clothing. The findings disclosed that the subjects in symbolic clothing significantly outperformed their opponents in their respective areas.

So what are the implications of Galinsky’s study? The experiment revealed that a change in clothing will prompt a temporary shift in identity. After analyzing the results, Galinsky concluded, “Clothes invade the body, blood stream, and the brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state. When we put on a piece of symbolic clothing, we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it. This is Enclothed Cognition ” (Blakeslee). As revealed in the study, clothing has the ability to improve our performance. The act of putting on symbolic clothing is not just an action, but rather a psychological experience. An article of clothing is representative of identity. On account of this, certain articles of clothing will enable us to escape our own realities, and enter the reality of somebody else. Thus, clothing is an extremely instrumental tool, one that can alter the human psyche.

In a broader sense, the Galinsky study can be used to examine the power of fashion in its entirety. Fashion is not just about the external, but the internal too. Fabrics and textiles do have the ability to change how we perceive ourselves and the world around us

So next time time you’re going on a first date or to an important job interview, rummage through your closet for an article of clothing that will make you feel like the best version of yourself. While garments do not always change how others view you, they do change how you view yourself. So, maybe spending those extra five minutes in the morning getting ready isn’t so superficial after all!

Brian Zhao