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.
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
It should follow then, in our own lives that the value we give ourselves is demonstrated in how we present ourselves to the world. And yet sometimes how we present ourselves to the world depends to a greater extent on our circumstances that our identity. The busy mum rushing into the supermarket to pick up milk, in her jogging kit. The rushed executive, up at 5am to catch the train thinking less of the shoes she is wearing than of missing the train. The executive assistant who doesn’t want to stand out in the office so purposefully wears less make up and dresses down. These are understandable situations to find ourselves in but they could be doing us, as women, more of a disservice than we think. We are allowing our circumstances rather than our values to dictate how we lead our life.
If you would like to wear better or smarter clothes, but consistently find yourself in your jogging bottoms and running top then you may need to ask yourself why. Is it because you are busy trying to fit lots of activities in, or is it because you don’t value yourself highly enough?
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?
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.
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.
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
You can’t not communicate, so how are you going to communicate? What steps are you going to take to better communicate with the world about who you are? Start with my tips above and then develop your own. Please leave your comments below as to what you find useful and what you have discovered for yourself. We love feedback and to know that we are making a difference.
Would you like to learn more? We have other great content added to the website regularly. Learn how dressing affects your attitude and confidence. or how to organise your wardrobe and get your life back.
Additionally we have produced a FREE Guide to how to look amazing every day. Download it here:
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Finally why not speed detox your wardrobe? In less than a morning you can restore peace and calm in your wardrobe, reset with clothes you love and want to wear, and recharge and take the headache out of planning what to wear each day. See our speed detox your wardrobe page for more details and to download the worksheet.
Have a great day.