How Powerful can our Clothing Choices be?

Elena Mychaliska (’23) discusses how design choices-from fashion to interior design-influence both our perceptions of others and how we feel. “…enclothed cognition …is the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. Studies show that our mood can be affected depending on what we wear.”

As the premier of the new season of The Crown nears, and Princess Diana’s iconic, and symbolic, style makes its way back into the media, I cannot help but find myself fascinated by the power of clothing. Whether it be her iconic black sheep sweater or the famous revenge dress, it was one of her most notable forms of communication with her audience: communicating happiness, sadness, and even rebellion. 

Princess Diana’s life can serve as a case study of the influential role clothing plays in how a person is perceived: used as a tool to communicate aspects of a person’s identity, their emotions, and their goals. This phenomenon, or better yet strategy, of careful fashion choices is so influential it has been used as a tactic by the most wealthy and powerful people in the world throughout history. Independent of Princess Diana, newly elected, far-right Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, has been seen consistently wearing Armani, since her swearing in. Georgio Armani’s position on dressing controversial politicians is that fashion “goes beyond politics”. As a classic, politically neutral, “made in Italy” brand, it is hard to criticize, making it the perfect choice for the controversial new Prime Minister. But the impact of our clothes does not stop there.

Not only do clothes heavily impact how others view and treat you, it also impacts how people themselves behave. In 2012, a study was conducted at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in which people were asked to perform tasks while wearing a white coat. Those that wore a white coat, believing it belonged to a doctor, had sharp increases in their ability to pay attention. Whereas, those that wore the white coat believing it belonged to a painter showed no improvement in their ability to pay attention. 

This phenomenon is called enclothed cognition, which is the effects of clothing on cognitive processes. Studies show that our mood can be affected depending on what we wear. Moreover, it has been observed that our emotion upon waking up can have an effect on what we choose to wear on that given day. Happy clothes, or clothes that evoke positive emotions, have a tendency to be flattering and made from bright, beautiful fabrics. Sad clothes, or clothes that evoke negative emotions, however, are just the opposite. Although, this is subjective. Generally, positive clothes are ones that the person feels the most comfortable in. When I think of school design, color palette and furniture selection play a significant role. There are many conscious choices regarding what evokes calming and productive feelings. Green, blue, and beige. Couches, lamps, and rugs. In thinking about how to encourage success in an academic setting, clothing could have a similar effect, following school design as being a new piece of the academic success puzzle, amongst a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast. Making this a conscious element of school preparedness and success could significantly improve how people feel when taking a math test or completing an English essay, or even socializing with their peers. So next time you go to bed, do yourself a favor and pick out your outfit for the next morning-it could help you on your next assignment!

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