“You are What You Wear”: The Psychology of Fashion


“You are What You Wear”: The Psychology of Fashion

It’s safe to say that most people disregarded the cliché “you are what you eat” once they realized they weren’t actually turning into french fries or Caesar salads. While this saying is true in a broader sense (you’re healthier when you eat healthy foods, etc.), clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner has a new slogan for the more fashion-apt: “You are what you wear.”

For those of us who live and breathe fashion (or just enjoy being in the style know-how), “you are what you wear” probably evokes a sigh of relief – we’re in style, we’re trendy, modern, innovative and cool, and we’re always one step ahead in the fashion game. That’s the thought process our brains will naturally undergo, according to psychologists. Fashion is more than a superficial means to clothe yourself in varying degrees of “couture.” It is an interwoven fiber of daily life, and the stylistic choices you make may actually reveal an unknown depth of your being.

This new branch of psychology seems to be the perfect emotional triumph for shopaholics everywhere – we now have an excuse to do more than window shop (Or at least we think we do). According to Dr. Baumgartner, while many people classify shopping or styling outfits as “fluff,” our fashion fixation is actually rooted in something deeper. There is a psychological reason behind all of our purchase decisions, and our innermost thoughts and desires might be reflected in our seemingly superficial choices.


Clothes and fashion are often used as status symbols. We learned that from a young age, when Abercrombie and Hollister got you at the “cool” kids’ middle school lunch table. “It’s what helps you figure out where you fit in,” Dr. Baumgartner says. She adds, “Our clothes help place us where we think we want to be.”

That said, what is more important is what our clothes say to us than about us. Your clothing doesn’t actually “rank” you, so to speak. Despite common belief, there is no one style or article of clothing that makes you appear to be successful or unsuccessful, cool or uncool. However, there are certain pieces that can help project a positive image to passersby, Baumgartner explained. Your timeless LBD, blazer, and pumps, for example, will help you transition perfectly into intern season.

Northwestern University researchers have examined what they call “enclothed cognition” or, the systemic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological process. Their study involved distributing lab coats to participants, telling some it was a doctor’s coat and others it was a painter’s smock. Although all participants performed the same task, more careful attention and articulation in task execution came from those wearing the “doctor’s coat.” Their clothing was the influencing factor.

Since your outfit actually influences your mood and the way you view yourself, there is something to be said for getting out of bed in the morning and putting on an outfit that makes you feel like a thousand bucks. Being able to wear clothes that make you feel like the best you you can be gives “retail therapy” a whole new meaning.

-Erica Ligenza

Images courtesy of Forbes.com.

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