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Cabarrus Magazine

We Are What We Wear

Apr 01, 2018 08:30AM ● By Jason Huddle

We Are What We Wear

At least that’s the thought behind the emerging field of fashion psychology – now being offered by some universities as a Bachelor of Science course of study. Whatever color, cut or style we choose to wear, it can both impact those we meet as well as how we feel about ourselves.

At an early age, yes, we were dressed primarily by our parents and had little say about it. By the time we reached our teenage years, we developed our own style, what we’re most comfortable wearing.

“Style is your own personal baseline – what you naturally gravitate towards or away from, no matter what’s on trend, and it tends to stay constant throughout your life,” fashion psychologist and writer, Anabel Maldonado, says. “Fashion is everything after: the possibilities, the aspirations, the experimenting and the evolution that comes as a result.”

And our style, whatever it may be, gets swift reactions when we walk out our front door. Psychologists call it slicing or thin slices. “Thin slices are the very small window – about five minutes – people use to observe and ‘accurately draw to conclusions in the emotions and attitudes of the people interacting.’ In mere minutes, your friends, dates and job interviewers can surmise your level of intelligence, status, sexual orientation and more. If they happen to glance at your shoes, one study suggests they can correctly judge your age, political affiliation and emotional personality traits,” according to

Think about it. You see a man walking down the sidewalk in a stylish suit complete with silk tie and designer shoes. First impressions of him likely include wealth, education, strength or confidence.

Studies have been conducted relating to first impressions. One conclusion is that the quality and cut of clothes can convey social status and intelligence. “For example, people wearing name-brand clothes are perceived as higher status than those wearing conventional brands. And people who have their clothes tailored are considered to be more successful than those who wear clothes that aren’t as fitted or flattering,” explains.

“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,” Maldonado adds. “We make automatic judgments about people’s qualities based on everything from body language and grooming to body composition, but especially what they’re wearing.”

Maybe that man walking down the street needs to dress a certain way for his job and the suit doesn’t necessarily reflect his clothing preference after hours, although it does reflect his personal style. When he’s in his happy place, mentally, he’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. So how we dress can reflect our mood or how we want to feel.

“In fashion psychology, we refer to this as ‘enclothed cognition,’ ” Maldonado explains. “Some of the more cut-and-dried 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.”

These studies also suggest that women – especially in the workplace – may have more of a challenge.  “Women generally have a wider choice of dress style for work than men, but still have to maintain an identity that balances professionalism with attractiveness. Their solution is a skirt suit, an outfit that ‘may achieve that balance without appearing provocative.’  

“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.”

But back to the red dress. Color can certainly play upon our emotions, with red representing passion, aggression, maybe anger. “Women wearing red, on the other hand, are perceived differently. In fact, men report feeling more sexually attracted to women in red clothes and lipstick; they’re even willing to spend more money on their date. Similarly, a study found waitresses who wore red lipstick earned greater tips than those not wearing lipstick,” according to

Additionally, color can mentally label genders. It’s assumed babies dressed in pink are girls and those dressed in blue are boys.

“Color has the power to evoke everything from femininity and masculinity, to emotion and appetite. Lighter tones can suggest friendliness, and darker tones can suggest authority,” adds.

Whatever the color, Maldonado believes that most of us dress in what we inherently like. She refers to dressing to impress others as a form of “cognitive dissonance.” This can be defined as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to dress in what speaks to you and what is appropriate for the occasion. Maybe it’s the feel of the fabric rather than the outfit. Maybe it’s the color or the print. If it makes you happy and comfortable, it’s all good.

Article by: Kim Cassell

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