Sunday, 11 March 2012

Your clothes influence how you think and feel.

I never cease to be amazed at the myriad of tiny things that can influence our personal psychology. 
Like my recent finding that women who wear jeans are more likely to be depressed.
Or the finding that women do worse on a maths test when wearing a bikini. No kidding.
Or that sports teams who wear black behave more aggressively.
Or that wearing a lab coat makes you more conscientious.

The clothes you wear have the power, literally, to change your mood or change your mind. 
That’s pretty amazing if you ask me. Psychologists even have a name for this, they call it enclothed cogition. It all goes to show that we should think very carefully about what we pull out of the wardrobe in the morning.
Sad? Jeans can be a giveaway. Photo credit Daily Mirror.

I asked 100 women what they wore when feeling depressed. More than half of them said jeans (that’s almost double the number who would wear jeans when feeling happy).
Also 57% of the women said they would wear a baggy top when depressed, yet a mere 2% would wear one when feeling happy.
The women also revealed they would be ten times more likely to put on a favourite dress when happy (62%) than when depressed (6%).
Accessories can make a difference too. My study found that:
·      Twice as many women said they would wear a hat when happy than when depressed.
·      Five times as many women said they would wear their favourite shoes when happy (31%) than when depressed (6%).
It seems that ‘happy’ clothes - ones that make women feel good - are well-cut, figure enhancing, and made from bright and beautiful fabrics. The opposite of most jeans in fact.
Since clothes can exert an influence over our psychological processes pulling on a pair of jeans and a baggy top because you’re feeling a bit low could actually make you feel more depressed.  
So the recipe for happiness? 
Well, as we say in our behavioural change work, it helps to act the opposite of how you feel. To do something different. 
So if you're a bit blue, put on a happy dress!


  1. Hi,

    Your finding sounds very interesting but I have a question about types of jeans women . You said that 'happy' clothes tend to be well-cut and figure enhancing. This description also fits many types of jeans like skinny jeans or butt enhancing jeans... So I wonder if the type of jeans you were talking about in the article is just the baggy, large kind of jeans.

  2. Hi Linh,
    You make a very good point - that if women like figure-enhancing clothes then jeans should fit the bill.
    But when you look away from the shots of models and celebrities, and look at people at large, you'll see that many people wear badly fitting jeans. Or wear them to dress down and deflect attention away from their body.
    It seems they are worn by many to disguise a figure they're not happy with, rather than to enhance it.

  3. Thanks for your reply! Actually, I am an international student studying at a research institute in the US, who is interested in doing fashion and psychology. But to me, it seems combining psychology and fashion is overlooked by people in academia (or at least just in the US). So I wonder if there is any PhD program about the psychology of fashion in UK.

  4. Hi Linh,
    You're right, psychologists haven't paid enough attention to fashion - which is surprising since it is such a ubiquitous aspect of human behaviour and ripe for theoretical and empirical exploration. The work of social psychologists on impression formation and management is very relevant. Also cognitive psychology can shed light on the way fashion is perceived and on the creative processes behind it. Evolutionary psychology can inform us about the mechanisms underlying why we respond to different visual signals and display. Fashion is, after all, another form of non-verbal communication and the way in which individuals express themselves, and now my research demonstrates that it impacts upon their affective state too. So, I guess I'm saying, there is so much to study and that is why we are implementing fashion psychology into the fashion degree at Bilgi University in Istanbul, where I'm also a Professor.
    However, in the UK we do not have taught PhD programmes (only professional doctorates). PhD research is supervised by academics with expertise in the student's area, so if you're really keen you should put together a research proposal then seek out the relevant academics in the UK and approach them about supervising your PhD. I hope that's helpful - best of luck, Karen.


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