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You Are What You Wear: The Psychological Impact of Your Chosen Fashion

Clothing is not just about fashion and style; it has a profound impact on our thoughts, emotions, and self-perception. In this article, we will delve into the psychology of dressing mindfully and explore how our clothing choices can influence our mindset and overall well-being.

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Table of Contents


I. Psychology meets Fashion

Ever wondered, “ Why do I feel better when I dress up ? “ Well, Professor Karen Pine's research (1) is at the forefront of uncovering how clothing choices can influence personality projection, self-esteem, and confidence levels. In her work, she explores the intricate relationship between our outer appearance and inner perceptions, shedding light on the profound effects of clothing on our psyche.

One example is the concept of "enclothed cognition (2)," where the symbolic meaning of clothing can influence the wearer's psychological processes and behaviors. For instance, the researchers note how wearing a white coat associated with doctors can enhance attention and focus, showcasing how clothing goes beyond mere aesthetics to impact cognition. 

"If we’re not careful, personal style can also become a straightjacket, in the way that behavioural habits can." – Professor Karen Pine (3)

Image of Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux in a red gown in a castle.

II. Psychological Impact of Clothing Choices

Clothing plays a significant role in altering perceptions of competence and success, shaping how individuals are viewed in various social and professional contexts. "Studies have indicated how provocative dress choices can affect not only how individuals perceive themselves but also how they are objectified by others, emphasizing the complex interplay between clothing and social interactions (4)." Furthermore, research on body modifications delves into societal standards of attractiveness, addressing issues such as eating disorders and the pursuit of muscular ideals.

An example of this is the phenomenon known as the "red dress effect (5)," where wearing the color red can influence perceptions of sexual intent, attractiveness, dominance, and competence. This showcases how something as simple as the color of clothing can have profound implications for how individuals are perceived in different situations. 

Image of Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux in a green gown at the winter film award

III. How Clothing Affects Self-Perception and Confidence

“Clothing has the remarkable ability to possess mind-altering properties, impacting not only our thoughts and behaviors but even our trajectory in life (6). The right outfit can serve as a powerful tool in enhancing confidence, self-esteem, mood, and even perceived sex appeal, showcasing the transformative potential of mindful clothing choices. It is fascinating to note how a simple tweak in one's clothing selection can lead to significant and life-changing outcomes, underlining the profound impact of what we wear on our overall well-being.

With the aforementioned concept of "enclothed cognition," where individuals experience shifts in their cognitive processes based on the symbolic meaning of their clothing. For instance, wearing formal business attire can not only influence how others perceive one's professionalism but also boost the wearer's own sense of confidence and authority. In a marketing language, one could consider this a type of “branding” strategy. The “package” (clothing) is giving the message and brand persona to your audience.

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Image of Paradise Rodriguez-Bordeaux at Harvard University convocation.

IV. Mindful Dressing Techniques

Mindful dressing involves a deeper understanding of why individuals choose to wear specific clothing and the ripple effects these choices have on themselves and those around them. Professor Karen Pine's "work combines scientific psychology with insights from nonverbal communication and fashion, illustrating the potent influence that clothing can exert on our psychological well-being (7) ." By aligning style with personal identity, mindful dressing techniques can not only enhance mental well-being but also empower individuals to express themselves authentically through their clothing choices.

Another interesting concept is "dopamine dressing (8)", which explores the motivations behind why we dress in a certain way and why we buy certain clothes to satisfy our emotional needs. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, and dopamine dressing suggests that our clothing choices can trigger the release of dopamine, leading to positive emotions and a sense of satisfaction

For instance, intentionally selecting bright and vibrant colors when feeling low can help uplift one's mood and boost positivity, showcasing how clothing can serve as a tool for emotional regulation and self-expression. “Psychologist and Reiki master Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, author of Rock Your Midlife, points out that in the context of Reiki, each color has a different energetic vibration and is associated with a certain energy center in the body, or chakra. For example, red is associated with feeling grounded and safe, orange with emotion and creativity, and indigo with intuition, she says. (9)

“While perceptions of color are somewhat subjective, some effects have universal meaning. Colors in the red area of the spectrum can be yellow-based such as scarlet red and red-orange are known as warm colors. These warm colors evoke emotions ranging from feelings of comfort and warmth to feelings of hostility and anger. Reds can also have an undertone of blue and are known as cool colors such as burgundy, ruby, raspberry, deep cherry. These colors are often described as calm but can also call to mind seriousness and dignity. (10)

Graphic of color psychology chart

Symbolic meanings that are often associated with different colors (12):

  • Red: Passion, excitement, love

  • Pink: Soft, reserved, earthy

  • Purple: Mysterious, noble, glamorous

  • Blue: Wisdom, hope, reason, peace

  • Green: Nature, growth, freshness

  • Yellow: Hope, joy, danger

  • Orange: Warmth, kindness, joy

  • White: Truth, indifference

  • Black: Noble, mysterious, cold