3 Reasons You Should Care How You Dress (and it’s not to impress)

Fashion has often been criticised as being vapid, shallow or frivolous. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts, right? In many ways what you wear is unimportant, except for the fact that it can affect how you feel — which is important.

There are articles galore on how to ‘dress to impress’ — but there a number of reasons clothes are important for you and you only. Fashion is psychology, it is about behaviour, mood and self-identity. Here are 3 reasons you should think twice the next time you pick out an outfit.

  1. You Are What You Wear

Research has shown that If you put on a doctor’s white coat you behave more like a doctor. Now you won’t suddenly be able to perform open heart surgery, but when participants of a 2012 study wore white coats they experienced an increased ability to retain focus and concentrate– something they called “embodied cognition”. So next time you want your partner to listen to you, hand them a white coat.

The “power suit” is a real thing. Studies have shown those that dress up feel more powerful and control of situations. When it comes to the boardroom, the suit reigns for self-esteem. And it’s no surprise since clothes act as a form of status signalling. However, in more casual and social environments, formal wear can be a barrier to relaxation and opening up to other people. Casual wear is also said to boost friendliness and creativity, so there’s a good reason for the creative types to pattern a t-shirt and jeans uniform.

Are you a couch potato but want to be a fitness fiend? Try dressing for the part. Even if you are just running errands, wearing running shorts and trainers could motivate you to walk faster, take the stairs and even haul yourself to the gym afterwards. Clothes have a symbolic meaning, and it’s more powerful than you might think.

2. Mood Change

Professor of psychiatry Raphael Bonelli claims that: “An interest in fashion and personal appearance is a sign of mental health. Psychiatrists are able to infer changes in mood from changes in their patient’s clothing.” Clothes and emotions affect one another.

When we look into a mirror, the vast majority of what we see isn’t our body, it is our clothes (with the exception of nudists of course). Even if we are just casually walking past or looking up as we wash our hands, how we dress can do wonders for our self-perception. When you see your reflection on a tough day and think “wow, I look like a mess”, it confirms how you’re feeling. When you look put together and sharp it can be the little pick-me-up that keeps you going.

Clothes can act as armour to survive the reality of everyday life. We often dress to reflect on how we feel. If we feel upset or lazy we dress in sweats and drab colours. But psychology dictates that instead, we should dress how we want to feel. When I feel lacklustre I personally love to wear a suit, if the occasion doesn’t call for it I’ll pop on some red to make me feel energetic. Does it cure a depressive slump? Not always. Does it make me feel mildly better to make the effort? Always. And the compliments from my peers aren’t bad either.

Low moods are sometimes an accumulation of many small things, so even the littlest of changes can make a noticeable impact. Just like tidying your room after a depressed period can help tear you away from a slump, dressing up can do the same. A task confronting you can appear less overwhelming when your environment (which includes you) is refreshing.

3. Dress to Express

Self-expression is a fundamental part of wellbeing. Decorating ourselves is part of our DNA and is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. Kit Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy notes how even cavemen “spent time and energy collecting trinkets to wear, thinking about what they might look good in.” And renowned psychologist William James goes as far as saying clothes are more deeply linked to our identity than families, home, or property.

This can be shown through the colours you wear, a jazzy tie, an interesting pair of earrings. Even barristers who have a strict uniform are known for wearing funky socks because this is the one element of individuality they can express. Similar motives are found in how we might decorate our office space, from screensavers to knick-knacks. Expressing ourselves through clothing is a key way to show pride in one’s individuality.

Are you not yet suede?

We know that confidence is linked to performance. If you feel smarter and more self-assured you are more likely to perform better. Clothing is a big part of self-perception, so it’s not fickle to pause before you make a purchase or take a moment or two to decide an outfit. Whether you are a fan of fashion, or the thought of clothes shopping makes you want to stick pins in your eyes — we all have to buy clothes, so why not make them the right ones?

Maybe start by taking a Marie Kondo approach. Don’t just consider practicality, consider wellbeing. Does this spark joy? Does this spark confidence, dominance, creativity?

Being clothes minded isn’t so bad after all…