What is the Psychology of Fashion?
“Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a diary. Everything is a self-portrait.” Chuck Palahniuk.
When we wake up in the morning, open our closets and decide what to wear for the day, we are consciously or subconsciously deciding what message we want to send to anyone who meets us that day. Even if you decide that you don’t particularly care and throw anything on, there’s still a message. In this world of sights and sounds, it is inevitable that your image is inextricably connected with the way that others perceive you, and maybe even more so with the way you perceive yourself. As an image consultant, I strongly believe and have witnessed that when we look our best, we will feel our best. This isn’t to say that the work of building your personality and making an impression is complete after you’ve chosen an outfit, but it is definitely a significant piece of the intricate puzzle that makes you YOU.
Some may choose to see this as an unnecessary burden but it can just as easily be turned into one of your greatest strengths. After all, this just means that at the end of the day, you alone hold the power to be seen the way you wish to be seen. Bright red lips show that you aren’t scared of taking up room, a quirky pair of sunglasses says that you will never shy from standing apart from the crowd, and a tailored blouse tells people that you care about yourself and expect them to do the same. We subconsciously form such opinions about other people while they are forming their opinions of us. Knowledge of the inner machinations that go into these judgments gives the power back to us and helps us use these mechanisms to our advantage.
The job of an image consultant is not to place every client in the same mold according to what seems to be trending at a certain point in time, but to help you discover your own signature style that best portrays who you are on the inside. The same kind of clothes won’t make everyone feel comfortable and happy in their own skin, so your wardrobe has to be carefully curated with an educated eye.
We no longer live in times when clothing was designed with just its function in mind, or when royalty and nobility were the only ones with access to high quality fabrics and colours. One of the advantages of living being intricately entangled in today’s fabric is that we have access to millions of items of clothing and accessories. Whether you are interested in finding what reflects your inner world, mixing it up, standing apart, or going with the flow, you can do whatever you wish when you pay careful attention to the relationship between clothing and your image.
A Little Bit of History
We have been intrigued by the relationship between clothing and perception of personality for centuries. On the surface, it merely seems that people will judge you based on how you are dressed and you will be treated accordingly. But this also means that you can change how you are judged and how you are treated by making simple changes to the way you dress. Simply put, the importance of clothing can’t be overstated when it comes to making lasting impressions in people’s minds.
Why Everyone Should Care About the Psychology of Fashion
Some of us remain under the impression that our physical appearance is not as important as it is chalked up to be, and there will be more important aspects of our personality that will always shine through. I am not one to tell you that looks are all that matters, but deliberation when it comes to fashion choices can help you out in many ways. Malcolm Gladwell tells us in his global bestseller “Blink” that a major portion of the opinions we form about people or things we encounter are subconsciously formed within seconds after seeing them for the first time. In that extremely limited time, the first thing that speaks for you is your clothing. We often hear people say “Dress for the job you want.” This is a nod to the fact that people will naturally place you in a certain role when your appearance is playing the part. In hiring situations, this can mean that you will seem like the perfect fit for a position if you already look the part. Dressing appropriately can also give you a boost of confidence when you feel nervous at a new job, since you yourself will receive affirmation that you can do this job, you certainly look the part!
Dressing for the Occasion
Although it is possible to maintain a signature style most of the time, inside some social environments it is sometimes considered appropriate to dress in a specific way according to the occasion. This is a social requirement that displays respect for the host and the gathering you are attending. Sticking to dress codes when deciding what to wear can save you from awkward feelings and helps you look friendly and non-threatening. You can certainly manage to stand apart through the artful use of high-quality fabric and tailored outfits.
The Psychology of Colour
Artists and psychologists have long been united in the idea that colours have an impact on our mood, emotions and feelings. Since we all form our associations with colours through our experiences and inherent personality traits, it would be reductive to say that colours are “good” or “bad” for our mood. However, meanings have been ascribed to certain colours according to the emotions that these colours evoke in a majority of people. For example:
- Black is a timeless and sophisticated colour, but it can represent darkness and gloom as well due to its longstanding associations with negative energies.
- Red is the colour of passion and love, but just as much is of fire and anger. Red is considered the most emotionally charged colour on the spectrum.
- Blue, being the colour of the seas and the skies, is most often described as cool, calm and serene. But as a cool colour, it sometimes becomes distant, cold and icy.
- Green evokes the imagery of nature so it is seen as a refreshing and tranquil colour.
- Yellow is the colour of brightness and intensity, it takes after the sun after all. It is associated with happiness and warmth but can become tough on the eyes if overused.
- Purple is associated with wealth and royalty. It is seen as a mysterious and intriguing colour that invites the imagination to unexplored places..
- Orange, much like yellow, is an intense and attention-grabbing colour. It represents energy and enthusiasm, but there can be something as too much of a good thing when it comes to the colour orange.
- Pink is seen as the colour of nurture and romance. It is also strongly associated with femininity so men tend to shy away from it, although they can own it incredibly well if they choose to.
- White feels fresh and clean. It tends to be associated with modernity, wonder and new beginnings.
While we don’t often make the conscious decision to dress in a particular colour according to our mood that day, we can use them to our advantage to influence our mood and that of other people who see us. Try wearing a chirpy yellow sweater the next time you feel a little under the weather and you might find yourself feeling brighter after a little while.
Finding your wow colour and dressing for your skin tone is a whole other chapter that I will address in another post. As a professional image consultant, it is something I can’t wait to share with you and let you see for yourself how life-changing your colours will be for you.
The Visual and Emotional Comfort of Comfortwear
Although it’s a good idea to remain cognizant of your clothing choices and what they are saying about you, this definitely does not mean that you have to look put-together all the time or that wearing your comfiest sweatshirt in public makes you look less in control of your life. The important thing is to feel comfortable in your skin and in your clothing. Sometimes you want to look your best simply because you feel like it and other times you just want to stay as comfortable as possible and still look good. Always put comfort first and experiment with dressing for your body to find the perfect balance of feeling and looking your best.
Dangers of the Conformity Trap
The pressures of social conformity constantly try to convince us that there’s comfort to be found in looking just the same as everyone we see around us, or to conform to stereotypes related to how people of a certain gender, age or profession are “supposed” to dress. But in order to lead a life of fulfillment, it’s imperative to let go of any anxieties and insecurities and just dress yourself as YOU. There is no perfect body or perfect weight to be reached after which you can finally dress the way you’ve always wanted, any perfect body or style other than the one you already possess. If your style isn’t fulfilling its purpose of making you feel good about yourself, it’s time to dig deep and figure out what needs to change in your mind first, then in your wardrobe. I am fully aware of all the harsh self-talk we go through every single day while dressing up, so I can help you navigate the art and psychology of fashion through personal wardrobe shopping and customized style tips for you to learn how to eliminate the guesswork and self-doubt.
It’s possible that if you change up your entire persona too abruptly, there might be some criticism. These pressures may have a hold on us but I don’t see how it will do you any good to know that you spent your time on Earth weighed down by expectations and never letting your true self truly reach its full potential. Imagine the world we’d be living in if we all walked around looking like clones of one another.
If this seems too much to follow at present, I advise you to start your journey of self-expression through something small like an unconventional pair of earrings or some fresh kicks that are not what people expect from you. I assure you, the pleasure that comes from having your outer self mirror your inner self will empower you to stay on this track and always express who you are through your attire.
Always boldly stay true to yourself!