Although we may not think about why we purchase certain items as buyers, or why we are drawn to certain styles, these are inherently personal choices that we make about our appearance. Fashion is often regarded as a form of self-expression and the way we style ourselves is a part of that expression. Whether we look for comfort, utility, or price, there are a variety of motivating factors that influence what we wear on a daily basis. An overarching factor at play is how our mental health affects our buying and our fashion choices.
Our mental health can influence us as consumers in a number of ways, but there are three key motifs which stand out as the most common. We may dress to impress, dress to show status, or dress to fit in. These are all common ways in which what we feel about ourselves, and what we want people to think about us, can affect what we buy and what we wear.
Dressing to fit in:
The most common way that mental health affects our fashion is through us wanting to dress to fit in. The entire fashion industry is built on the idea that there are trends, designers, and styles that we should be wearing if we want to be considered ‘fashionable’. This is the traditional model that has governed how high-fashion and luxury fashion has monetised people’s insecurities. Or, this can affect those not directly involved in the industry of fashion. We may choose to buy a type of shirt our work colleagues also have or that our friends have. Although we may never have seen the item before, seeing something be popular within a certain social group inherently makes us want it too. In this way, we dress to fit in, so we do not feel like outsiders, whether we’re dressing as Vogue dictates or as our friends do.
Dressing to impress:
On the other side of this is dressing to impress. This is the way in which we may dress-up or buy items to make ourselves feel better or to try to make ourselves feel attractive. This is not necessarily a negative; dressing in something which makes us feel better is in fact one of the benefits that fashion can have on our mental health. Buying an item that makes us feel a certain way, whether that be empowered or high-class, is what fashion is all about. It is only when the motives of this are skewed that it can be detrimental. Dressing to impress can take a turn when we no longer buy for ourselves but for others. With the rise of social media, there has been an increase in people buying items which they may not feel comfortable in themselves, but which they know will make people notice them, which leads into the final motif.
Dressing for status:
This may be called many other names; showing off, flexing, etc. but the motive behind it is always the same. Dressing for status is not necessarily a negative issue per se, but in recent years with the rise of social media and exclusivity within fashion it is an increasingly dangerous issue. Dressing for status may simply be us feeling better about ourselves when wearing a suit due to the connotations behind the attire and its history. But in more recent years, this idea of dressing for status has rapidly changed due to the rise of influencer fashion and how brands are marketing themselves. The 14-25 demographic is increasingly catered to as these are the ages most influenced by social media. As consumers on social media, when we see models and influencers that we follow or are promoted to us, we want to be like them. Dressing for status has become one of the main motivating factors in why people buy clothes, queue for clothes, and are willing to spend hundreds.
The importance of understanding:
Understanding why we as consumers of fashion buy, and how this is affected by and can affect our mental health, is becoming increasingly important. We may feel under pressure to keep up with trends and our friends, or to buy into luxury fashion just to show that we can, but understanding where these pressures are coming from can greatly benefit our understanding of our mental health.
It is no coincidence that luxury houses such as Louis Vuitton are hiring young creatives like Virgil Abloh, a man known for his ability to market to a young audience. The fashion industry is aware of how your mental health can influence what you buy, and it is our duty as consumers to also understand this, so we can better understand ourselves and our choices.
If you are interested in exploring further how mental health affects our buying patterns you can view a scientific study carried out on ‘Enclothed Cognition‘ here or a study carried out by Highsnobiety here to further explore why young people feel compelled to buy luxury fashion.