Fashion + Psychology

How to dress for the mood you want

Fashion today is no longer driven by function. Where humans once needed clothes to keep themselves warm, we now have central heating. Where shoes once needed to be practical and sturdy, we now frolic around in flimsy footwear between an endless string of Uber rides. What used to be a means to an end, is now a form of expression, a benchmark of social class and a reflection of wider society. We’ve all been told on countless occasions “dress for the job you want”, but is it possible to dress for the mood you want as well?

What does your clothing say about your mood?

On one hand, our fashion choices can certainly reflect how we feel on the inside. Research has identified that women, when feeling depressed or down, tend to wear baggier clothes, particularly jeans and T-shirts. Conversely, studies have also found that women often wear more form fitting clothes when they are in a more positive mood. In this respect, it is clear that we dress from the inside out at times. But is it possible for this to happen in reverse, that is, can our outfit alter how we feel? 

Dressing from the outside-in

The growth of fashion psychology has created an abundance of evidence that indicates that we can in fact alter our mood through what we wear. Studies have shown that dressing in certain colours is effective in improving our moods. This doesn’t mean you have to drape yourself in the latest neon trends or break out your holiday wardrobe. Clothes of any colour that you identify with positively, or any garment that holds good memories, could boost your mood significantly. 

We’ve doubtless all heard of power dressing; which took the US and the UK by storm in the late 1970s and 1980s. Power dressing arose in a time when gender roles were rapidly shifting, and it was becoming more common for women to enter the corporate world. In order to keep up in this “boy’s club” and to communicate authority and power, women began power dressing. Dressing to feel powerful doesn’t mean you have to raid your mum’s wardrobe in search of shoulder pads, nor must you show up to work looking like you just stumbled off the set of Dynasty.

Throughout the 1990’s designers like Donna Karan, Jil Sander revamped power dressing, embracing femininity with soft cut suits, cashmere and bodysuits. Today power dressing comes in the form of slouchy tailoring and bold prints, with a good deal more individuality than the uniformity of the 1970s and 80s. 

Can clothes really make a difference?

Fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen has spoken openly about her journey to finding her career. The turning point for her arrived in the wake of being sexually assaulted by her fiance. On what she calls one of her darkest days, Dawnn went into her wardrobe and threw on her favourite outfit. Years later she understands this as her subconscious way to make herself feel better, by effectively dressing the way she wanted to feel.  

It does seem odd that in times of difficulty there are those of us who, instead of turning to family, friends or faith, seek comfort in our wardrobes. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I see now that this is something I’ve taken to doing myself. At 13 years old, I was faced with the daunting ordeal of attending my mother’s funeral. One of my only memories around this time was being told to find a cheap, ugly dress I’ll never want to see; let alone wear again.

It didn’t occur to me at the time why, but I went against this advice regardless. In putting on a simple black wrap dress and strapping my scrawny ankles into a pair of high heels, I felt more confident, in control and empowered than I had in months. Bearing in mind my age and inexperience, this was most likely not a conscious decision; nor a particularly stylish one, but it helped me to feel the way I wanted others to perceive me. 

Dress for you and only you

Ultimately what makes each of us feel happy is entirely subjective. While some of us may feel at our best in a form fitting number, there are others who may benefit from a splash of colour. Remember that it’s okay to express how you feel, and that your emotions are always valid. However, if you want a helping hand, clothes give us the power to not only express how we feel but also help us to feel happier, more powerful, authoritative and self-assured. Dressing from the outside-in comes down to determining what makes you feel your best and an open mind. 

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