Have you ever looked at your bulging wardrobe and thought, ‘I don’t know what to wear!’? I know I have.
OK, it might seem to be a minor dilemma in the context of a day packed with important decisions, yet the clothes we choose may actually affect how that day pans out.
Clothes may determine who we meet, how others react to us and even how we think and feel. That’s why in my book ‘Mind What You Wear’ I explore the psychology behind what we wear and show how clothing can change your brain.
In the book I tell the story of Meg who, on a whim, bought a hat, that drew a man to her at a party, that led to a marriage proposal. One apparently insignificant fashion choice had huge (and happy) consequences. Because what we wear changes us too. We walk taller and act more confidently in the right outfit, we literally blossom. On the other hand a dowdy dress makes us feel down, inclined to withdraw and hide away.
We may put on a suit that subliminally convinces an interviewer we’re perfect for the job. Or a red dress that stirs something in a future lover that leads them to ask for a date. Clothes speak to others but they have the power to speak to us too. Sensations and associations in the body lead to new ideas in the mind. Even a swimsuit can deplete our intellectual powers. Yes, when scientists gave a maths test to women who wore either a swimsuit or a sweater, they showed that women struggled with maths much more when wearing a swimsuit.
This shows that what we wear on the outside can actually change us on the inside. In my lab when we put students in Superman t-shirts they saw themselves as more likeable and superior to other students, and even physically stronger. Every day the brain changes in response to sights, smells and experiences. Now we know a piece of clothing can change it too, and that what we wear has cognitive, social and emotional consequences.
Our fashion choices can change who we are, how we think and how we feel and we should never underestimate this power. My research has revealed that when women are depressed they are more likely to wear jeans. What would happen if, on waking up feeling glum, instead of dragging on the sad pants the woman pulled on a favourite frock? The effect could alter her brain and lift her mood, as well as changing how others respond to her. So, who knows? One day we may even see clothes prescribed as therapy, a fashion alternative to medication. In the meantime make sure you choose your clothes carefully, not just for how they make you look but for how they make you feel. It could change your life.
Co-founder of Do Something Different approach to behaviour change
Mind What You Wear, The Psychology of Fashion by Professor Karen Pine is published by Amazon.
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