The Psychology of dressing well: Why looking good is strategy not vanity

Smiling woman in red jumper with red lipstick and long dark hair.
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The Psychology of dressing well: Why looking good is strategy not vanity

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”, said Oscar Wilde.  Succinctly he highlighted that how you present yourself says more about you than your title or your job description.  The psychology of dressing well is a two-part process.  Firstly it is personal, how we dress is a general indication of how we feel about ourselves.  Secondly in its broader context it is a way in which others evaluate us.  This may explain why we are often confounded when there is an incongruity between appearance and the person.  The scatty professor with egg stains down his tie, messy hair and a dishevelled appearance.  The cleaner who dresses impeccably.

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People who value themselves above their job description, and people who undervalue themselves over their life’s work are both a conundrum when considering the psychology of dressing well.  Those two examples are simple ways of demonstrating the discrepancy between who we are, how we present ourselves, and how we value ourselves against other criteria such as our job description.  What clothes say about a person is a language of its own.  That language and the psychology of dressing well are tools which help take us into the job and life that we want.

What does “brand you” say about you? What the Psychology of dressing well reveals

In evaluating whether clothing reflect personality we can then ask does clothing reflect the personality I am becoming.  In the job that I want to do and the life that I want to lead?  How could what I wear and how I present myself better reflect the person I am becoming

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Why what we wear is not superficial: the psychology of dressing well

There is a welcome move away from regarding what we wear and how we wear it as simply superficial.  Fashion can be its own worse enemy in this regard.  When fashion presents itself as a restless, changing force each season it is easy to see clothes like a fast food takeaway: consume and move on.  We even have the phrase ‘fast fashion’ now in our vocabulary.

However, wearing clothes is about so much more than how fast can you change your look or how much more you can or need to buy each season.  The psychology of dressing well evaluates how we feel on the inside about the clothes we are wearing.  Clothing is about who we are and how we want to portray ourselves to the world.  We know that clothing and perception are linked.  We evaluate people each day on their appearance and they in turn evaluate us.

The woman who is well dressed despite her busy day is the women who is saying, “I value myself, I’m not rushed, I’m in control”.  The mother with a months old baby who manages to actually get dressed and wear some lipstick is saying, “I’m still here, I’m still me, holding on”.  How we get dressed speaks volumes without saying a word

The psychology of dressing well reminds us, You can’t not communicate

Everything we do, visually, is communication.  How we have our hair cut or coloured.  What jewellery we wear, what clothes we wear.  Consciously engaging in that communication is a hugely positive process.  Engage with what you are wearing, what accessories you choose to wear, what you wear for work, what you wear at the weekend.  Many of my blog posts address easy ways to communicate. Whether it is creating an inspiration folder of outfits you love in order to help you wear more of what you want to wear or ringing the changes by creating new outfits from clothes you already have I have many blog posts that are designed to help you better communicate your identity to the world.

That positive process of engaging in that communication has a knock on effect on our state of mind.  We feel good about ourselves after a haircut, we feel positive and capable when we are dressed well.  Dressing well, when actively engaged in, becomes a win win situation.

The Psychology of dressing well: Positive cycles of self affirmation

We look better and we feel better, thereby creating a positive cycle of self affirmation.  When we realise that this cycle is in place in our lives we can use the psychology of dressing well process to trigger positive feeling.  We have probably all done this consciously, or unconsciously.  We feel rubbish, so we put on a dress we love, and feel better.  We feel rubbish and wear an old pair of jogging bottoms and tee shirt…. and feel dreadful.  I have written a blog post on how to look your best every day and boost your self esteem.  Check that out for simple ways to put your emotions on an even keel through what you wear.

Not only do clothes communicate about our life right now, but they should also communicate about the life we want to lead, about the job that we want to have.  Wearing those clothes that reflect where we want to go is a powerful indicator to others, our colleagues or the board of directors at work, as to where we want our lives to lead.  Whatever business field you are in, whether you work for yourself or another organisation, you should be dressing for the success of that business.

Clothing and perception: Clothes as therapy, Clothes as self promotional tools


Cognitive psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinksy from Northwestern University  examined the psychological of dressing well and performance-related effects that wearing specific articles of clothing have on the person wearing them. They called this term, enclothed cognition. Enclothed cognition captures the  influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.  In short, what I have been saying about about the relationship between what we wear and how we feel

Embodied cognition experts have discovered that our thought processes are based on physical experiences trigger abstract concepts, such as those generated by the clothing we wear: the psychology of dressing well. Clothing can enhance our psychological states, and it can improve our performance on tasks. Therefore not only does clothing reflect personality but it encourages and even develops personality too.

Happy, smiling woman in black coat, with black bag, gloves and boots. Waving hat at camera. Red lipstick
Look good, feel good

The Psychology of dressing well: Burn some bridges and build others

It may be time to stop wearing clothes that you have brought with you from another period in your life.  All those student slouchy outfits you are still wearing that remind you of when you were 21?  They may need to go.  That suit you are still wearing because you wore it to your first job interview?  Thank you and good bye… The memory of what those clothes represent to you may be a healthy one, but the physical garments themselves probably have no place in your wardrobe of today.

If you want a promotion, stop looking back.  You don’t need to wear that suit anymore, you need a new suit that embodies the qualities you need, the person that you need to become in order to step into the life that you want to lead.

How to change your wardrobe to “dress up”

You may realise that you need to make some serious changes in your wardrobe.  It might seem rather overwhelming and you might be wondering where to start.  Below are practical steps to take to move your wardrobe out of the past into the present and to take charge of your life.

Practical steps to dressing well

Start by taking one or two items of our wardrobe and asking yourself if they really reflect your values and aspirations for the future.  If they really don’t then it is time to recycle them.

If there is still some hope left in that item then match it up with something else from your wardrobe.  This changes its look to better reflect that life you want to lead.  For example you have a great black shift dress that you wear with a cardigan.  Well, team that dress with a jacket, and add a statement necklace.  You’re on your way to a look that better reflects looking forward rather than back.

Elevate your style journey by unlocking the secrets to a wardrobe that truly reflects YOU.

Simple Wardrobe Styling is the new concept from Working Frocks. It’s a 10-step system designed to help you create your wardrobe, simply and with great style. Download the guide and get started.

Those default items that you wear to keep warm or feel comfortable at work may have to go.  The overcoat that you are wearing in the office because it’s too cold, needs to go.  Replace it with a  more elegant wrap or large scarf.  Items that don’t serve my needs anymore are often the ‘comfort blankets’ of my wardrobe.  A scruffy cardigan, the coat in the office (guilty!), a zip up top that precedes the children’s birth, eugh.  Simply upscale the replacement.  Buy a new zip up top that is smart and on-trend and looks great.  Replace the cardigan.  Buy a beatiful warm wrap for the chilly office.

Don’t forget accessories…

Scuffed shoes that need resoling and reheeling and be cleaned and repaired.  That’s an easy win.  Shoes and boots that you may have been wearing but aren’t smart enough for work can be assigned to weekend wear only.  I really recommend a weekend wardrobe, an intentional one.  Not just a default one.  Your too-casual shoes and boots can become part of that weekend collection.

Handbags can be easily changed to reflect the life and job that you want to step into.  If you want to smarten up, smarten that bag.  Conversely, if life is taking a different turn then you can reflect this change in your life.  If you are at home more or pursuing your own projects then buy yourself more informal accessories.  Buy a slouchy bag rather than a structure one for example.

The psychology of dressing well: dress for the job and life you want

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Entrance to a world of elegance is absolutely complimentary. Join us for free and let your style transformation begin.

Have a great day,

Sarah Banks is a designer, blogger and internet entrepreneur. Having started her entrepreneurial life with a couture wedding and day dress company she then got hooked on all things on-line, bringing her businesses online and fusing both worlds. Her experience and knowledge in creating one-off garments for her clients was the foundation for Working Frocks and she is uniquely placed to give styling advice, being not only a blogger, but a couture designer too.

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