50% Cotton, 50% Polyester… 100% Happiness? The Psychology Behind Clothes and Our Emotions


Back when I was in high school, it was all about Ralph Lauren and Nike Air Force 1’s. Nowadays – or at least when it comes to the state of General Academic’s Study Lounge – it’s all about Vineyard Vines and Sperry’s. It seems like even when students aren’t in their typical school uniforms, they’re still in a uniform of some sort. Is it to fit in with the rest of their peers? Maybe they saw their favorite celebs wearing the same outfit? Or could it be that they just really like that cute, little pink whale logo?

In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner reviews a number of reasons for why we wear what we wear, ranging from the privileged flocking to designer labels in order to match their socioeconomic status to the broken-hearted getting all fancied up as a way to get over a bad break-up. Whatever the inspiration may be behind our clothing, Baumgartner encourages people to have fashion work in their favor by selecting pieces that portray how they “want to feel” as opposed to mirroring their present state of emotions. In fact, in a study set up by Northwestern University to investigate “enclothed cognition” (a.k.a. the psychological influence of clothes), researchers had two groups perform the same task while dressed in a white lab jacket. The only difference was that one group was told they were wearing a painter’s coat, whereas the other participants were informed they were in standard doctors’ garb. And you guessed it – The latter group ended up actually behaving more like doctors and handled the experiment with greater concentration.

Remember the old saying “Dress for success”? As Dr. Baumgartner and others have found, we can indeed affect our emotions via our style choices. So, go ahead and rock that GQ look if you have an important interview coming up and want to feel confident going in, or get dolled up if you’ve been through the wringer lately and are trying to mend your heart. The world might be a fashion show these days, but remember it’s you who’s rockin’ the runway.

You can check out more of Dr. Baumgartner’s advice on fixing emotional fashion faux-pas here.

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