What you wear tells others about your confidence, your job, your imagination and even your moral beliefs. Are you dressed for success?
As much as we tell ourselves that who we are matters more than what we wear, we’ve long known that our clothing conveys a great deal about our attitude, mood and place in the world. Just look at The Devil Wears Prada.
“Our clothing communicates information about us to others and vice versa,” says Dr Jessica Wolfendale, an assistant professor of philosophy at West Virginia University in the US and co-author of Fashion: Philosophy for Everyone.
“What I wear tells others about my confidence, my job, my imagination and even my moral beliefs – conservative people tend to dress conservatively, for example.
“Perceptions based on your appearance can affect how you are perceived professionally – your level of sophistication, intelligence and, most importantly, credibility,” Dr Wolfendale says.
Clothing influences the mind
The more exciting part is that we can use our wardrobes to manipulate how we see ourselves. The effect has been coined ‘enclothed cognition’, which suggests that clothing influences the mind as well as the other way around.
In a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that the clothes people wore could dictate psychological state, with far-reaching knock-on effects.
Participants who wore a white coat that they believed belonged to a doctor performed better on an attention test than participants who believed the coat belonged to a painter and participants who simply saw – rather than wore – a white coat while completing the test.
Donning the signature garment of a profession known to be careful and attentive has a rub-off effect on the wearer, experts concluded, crediting both the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.
“When we put on our clothes for a specific context – work, a date, a wedding – we are also likely to ‘put on’ the behaviour and attitude that we think accompanies those clothes in that environment,” says Dr Wolfendale.