The Fascinating Psychology Behind Your Fashion Choices | sheerluxe.com
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Fashion may sometimes be described as a bit frivolous, but it has a far deeper meaning than many of us are aware of. In fact, universities are now offering Bachelor of Science degrees in the psychology of fashion; helping to close the gap of understanding when it comes to our outfit choices. To give you an insight into why you dress the way you do, SL sat down with fashion psychologist and writer Anabel Maldonado to explore the style subconscious…

On the difference between fashion and style…

Style is your own personal baseline – what you naturally gravitate towards or away from, no matter what’s on trend – and tends to stay constant throughout your life. Fashion is everything after: the possibilities, the aspirations, the experimenting and the evolution that comes as a result. Fashion is seeing something new on the runway, on Instagram or a woman on the street, and reacting to that.

On fashion and first impressions…

Without fail, people judge others on what they’re wearing – but it’s not always conscious, it can be an automatic perception. The brain picks up visual cues of someone’s appearance and in a split-second compares them to all the visual cues it’s stored up over a lifetime, much like going through files on a computer. We make automatic judgements about people’s qualities based on everything from body language and grooming to body composition, but especially what they’re wearing. We can perceive them to be confident or insecure, conservative or left-leaning, high-strung or laid back, strong or weak-willed, anxious or self-possessed and various other traits.

On using clothes to change our moods…

In fashion psychology we refer to this as ‘enclothed cognition’ – dressing how you want to feel. Some of the more cut-and-dry suggestions include wearing red to feel sexy, a killer pair of boots to feel confident, a well-cut blazer to feel powerful or a classic white shirt to feel wholesome or ‘together’. Whether you can trick your brain or not depends on how much you believe it will work – which means there can’t be too much of a discrepancy between how you want to feel, and how you actually feel. If you’re going through a bad breakup, putting on a skimpy red dress probably won’t make you feel better, no matter how good your friends say you look in it. However, a soft cashmere sweater may actually improve your mood because of the tactile comfort.

On dressing for others, or ourselves…

The majority of people dress for themselves. There’s something distressing about wearing something completely at odds with your character for the sake of someone else – it’s a form of ‘cognitive dissonance’ and is the reason outfits can sometimes feel forced, making us want to run home and get changed. Of course, for certain situations, others do have an influence over our outfit choices – such as dressing up for a partner on date night – but we often subconsciously choose clothing that represents the mood we want to create with people (i.e. a romantic silk dress for a romantic evening), rather than catering our clothing to someone else’s particular tastes.

In general, the more secure you are about your relationship with the person you’ll be seeing, the less you need to dress for them to communicate or exude anything in particular. If an individual is trying too hard to dress for either sex – like over-accessorising for the girls they seek approval from, or wearing provocative clothes to court male attention at all costs – it reflects a lack of belief in their inherent appeal or value. They may have been rejected by friends or romantic interests in the past, so are trying to compensate and protect against further rejection.

On how society influences our outfits…

Large cultural issues have influenced fashion since the dawn of time – and none more apparent than women’s liberation; from constricting corsets and freeing flapper dresses, to micro '60s hemlines and today’s gender fluid designs. With feminism moving to the forefront of pop culture, and more young women identifying as feminists than ever before, it’s also no surprise ‘feminist’ slogan T-shirts are so ubiquitous on the high street right now – however gimmicky they may be, they’re a sign of a much wider movement.

On the psychology of designer handbags…

If fashion is armour, the handbag is a shield. As has been said before, an investment piece conveys a sense of status to the world – that you’ve made it, you’re in the know and part of an exclusive club. But the real reason they’re so popular? Aside from being better value for money than other designer items in terms of cost-per-wear, carrying an expensive handbag every day can improve some people’s self-esteem (especially if they worked hard to buy it) – every time they catch that logo gleaming back at them, it reinforces their positive self-beliefs: You are successful. You are someone of worth.

On how different personality types get dressed…

In terms of nature vs nurture, nature is a much stronger force. People with ‘neurotic’ traits tend to make very specific fashion choices, and this quality, along with other top-level personality traits, are known to be fairly steady throughout life. There is an argument for cultural influences too, but I suspect it’s also your personality traits that draw you to these very experiences – the tendency to prefer hip-hop or rock music over mainstream pop, having the impetus to move to Paris over going backpacking in Asia – you are the common denominator in all of your choices.

On how fashion gives us a sense of belonging…

Our outfit choices communicate what we’re like and what we’re not like to others, and reinforce these notions to ourselves. Fashion sub-culture dynamics usually start when someone finds a figure they find very aspirational, whose style and life speaks them, and adopts certain ‘tropes’ of the figure to broadcast their affinity. They then seek out others who are doing the same.
 

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