Fashion + Psychology

Dress for Success: How Fashion Can Empower Women

Dress for Success: What do your clothes say about you?

What does it mean to dress for success? Your clothes are a reflection of you. They are a visual statement of how you see yourself. The first impression you can make on a person whether that’s in the workplace or personal life. Clothes tell the world a story. They give strangers an insight into your values, personality traits, beliefs, and mood. 

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Yet in reality several industries profit off our desire for beautiful product packaging, eye-catching colour combinations and appealing book sleeves. Thus, it seems although we are reluctant to admit it, we do factor in appearance and we are designed to appreciate how something looks. 

Our clothes are a visible extension of our key attributes. With this in mind, how do you want to be perceived? Office attire has shifted massively in recent years. ‘Smart casual’ seems to be the ambiguous protocol for most both in the workplace and elsewhere. It is difficult to know where we stand. Too smart, and we look overzealous and dominant. Too casual, we’re labelled as scruffy and careless. It seems in today’s world we have to appear simultaneously capable, relaxed, focused and playful. 

A sign of respect

Whether you take pride in your appearance, closely following trends and curating your own personal style, or if you view fashion as materialistic and perhaps irrelevant – we all consume fashion. Dressing appropriately for the situation marks a level of respect. Whilst individuality is important, we must recognise when our own style takes away from more pressing issues. How we dress allows us to connect with other people. We can show we understand, support or agree with a situation or person. 

During the 2018 Golden Globes we saw celebrities adopt the all black dress code in support of victims of sexual harassment. This demonstrated a sense of solidarity and a shift in both male and female thinking. The typically extravagant dress code was ignored, with one colour, black, aiming to unify and empower women. As a result, the Me Too movement was able to gain momentum and media attention, provoking businesses and individuals to take accountability whilst hopefully developing long term change.

Although this Hollywood story seems far-fetched from our everyday lives, we could all benefit from a little more human connection and understanding. Clothes are universal and the perfect catalyst to drive change. 

Beyond clothes

Whilst clothes and their stories make up one of the material ingredients for success, it’s their psychological effects that can be far-reaching and create long term changes that enable us to feel successful.  

How do we measure success? Does this translate to getting your dream job and breaking through the glass ceiling at work? Maybe success is a measurement of your happiness and mental wellbeing. Perhaps it’s both?

When we look good, whether we’re wearing our favourite jeans or a tailored suit, we view ourselves in a slightly different light. We feel uplifted, ready to face the challenges the day might bring and we step into life with a little more confidence. Perhaps we begin to believe in ourselves an inch more and bring more positivity into our routine. These positive affirmations can rewrite how we view ourselves and in turn how others view us. 

Granted, no one is claiming an outfit will solve for all your problems. However, it may be able to help. Through a conscious choice to make small, tangible changes, in the way we dress or by creating time for ourselves, we can improve our quality of life and help to challenge our own identity. 

Creating lasting change

As a society we must acknowledge that to ‘dress for success’ is a privilege not everyone has access to. Whilst the fashion industry brings the UK more than £30bn a year in revenues, it often ignores the needs of the most vulnerable. 

The global not-for profit organization Dress for Success is trying to change this. The company uses a network of volunteers around the world to provide women with professional attire and a support system to help them gain financial independence and thrive in the workplace. This programme reaches further than just providing an outfit. It enables women to feel empowered and carry this confidence with them through life, aiming to break the poverty cycle and create long term lasting change. 

Through monthly workshops, mentoring, mock interviews and mindset coaching, Dress for Success creates an opportunity for women to excel. Looking the part becomes an added bonus. 

As consumers buying into the season-less, perpetual fashion machine we must do better. This could be through donating clothes, money, or helping organizations like Dress for Success. Reaching further than our wallets, we can use our voices and social media platforms to start conversations and support women. As a community we can push brands and the fashion industry into finding new ways to help women succeed and gain both economic security and mental wellbeing. 

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