Rio Salado College
Button Up Your Confidence
Victor T Rodriguez
November 10, 2022
It has been said that the clothing we wear can alter how we approach and interact with the world around us. When we put on clothes a chemical reaction happens within our brain that either gives us empowerment to fulfill our day to its greatest or to sulk in the depths of our despair. It seems to be such a silly concept to believe that something as trivial as picking out formal attire could be a critical factor in closing an important business deal or land the job of your dreams. However, studies show that what we wear has very empowering effects on our psychological mind. The studies not only show that clothing can make your more confident but can also open your minds attention to detail and deliver impressive results from that confidence you have. So why does your sense of fashion have such a strong effect on your confidence and the way those around you perceive you?
With this subject there is much room for further research and development as it pertains to the psychological connection between your brain, the clothes you wear, and the chemical reaction it gives your brain. I have found a number of online articles and resources that further support the idea of how clothing affects our cognitive mind, influencing our mood and our confidence. Within these articles there were studies performed in which individuals dressed in certain attire and were asked to close certain deals. In some other studies different individuals were asked to wear a certain piece of clothing that had authoritative meaning and shown photos, they then had to find the differences between both photos. "Mind what you wear" a book written by fashion psychologist Karen Pine had a ton of good insight in regard to what types of fashion affect our moods in different ways. I also created a brief survey for a senior leadership team at a department store. The survey asked a series of questions pertaining to the look of a candidate for a job and what influenced them to go with the candidate or stray away from the candidate. The questions were directed towards the clothing and how they felt the interview went based on that clothing.
The chemical reaction that happens when you put on articles of clothing transcends beyond just a boost of confidence. There are certain studies that show people attention heightens when they put on certain pieces. "The New York Times" produced an article titled "Mind Games: Sometimes a white coat isn't just a white coat." In which scientific write Sandra Blakeslee speaks of her studies with enclothed cognition. This term is used to describe the systematic that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. In this study there were three groups of people, one group wore doctor's, one group wore painter's coats, and the third group saw doctor's coat but didn't wear it. All three groups were given two photos to view in depth and locate the differences between the two photos. The group of individuals that wore the doctor's coats were able to find the most differences between the two photos. This is where enclothed cognition comes into play, the symbolic meaning of clothes and the physical experience of wearing them. Typically, a lab coat is associated with being attentive and careful, therefore the researchers believed that this type of clothing would enhance the wearer's attentiveness. To which the experimental results proved to favor that theory. (Blakeslee)
Aside from clothing of authoritative nature, there are separate studies that show formal clothes also have a heightened effect on the wearer. In a study reported by "the Journal of Experimental Psychology" The were five studies done that provided evidence supporting the theory that formal clothing enhances abstract cognitive processing. Meaning that the formal clothing people wore seemed to enhance the wearer's ability to complete creative and organizational tasks better than the groups of individuals wearing casual clothing (Ilic). Think about this when we wear formal clothing, we feel different, more confident. It's almost as if the formal clothing opens our minds to be more creative, more attentive, and heightened attention spans. It's natural to feel powerful in formal clothing and it shows to those around us as well. Imagine a scenario where there are two contestants both with the same qualifications applying for a position. The interviewer has never seen or met either candidate but solely knows what they have read via a resume. Both of the candidates walk in for their in-person interviews, one wearing formal wear such as slacks, a button up shirt, tie, and even a jacket. The other candidate shows up in jeans and a t-shirt. The interviewer's first impression is going to be to pick the candidate that is dressed in formal wear. The why is simple, our brain's natural instinct is to believe the person who takes the time to dress themselves up is going to perform better because they clearly have the organizational skillset to implement dressing up and the creativity to throw together a nice formal outfit to fit the needs of the interview. The flip side to this is both candidates' reaction to each other, the formal wearing candidate is going to feel a sense of dominance over a candidate that they feel is improperly dressed for an interview.
In a survey I conducted for research on this subject, I asked a group of senior leaders in a retail establishment certain questions to gain insight into what they look for in a candidate. The first question for thew survey was "Does a candidate's attire effect your first opinion of them?" Eighty three percent of the answers stated Yes, they are influenced by the candidates first appearance in regard to their attire and how they are dressed. The other seventeen percent stated No. The second question asked was do they feel that candidates that dress formally will be able to perform in a more organizational manner? Again, eighty three percent of the responses lead to a yes. The third question asked if the people who dressed in more formal attire spoke more clearly and confidently then those that dressed in casual wear? With this question the responses lead to a sixty six percent stating Yes. The last questioned asked, of the number of interviews they did, what percentage of candidates did they choose that showed up to the interview with formal wear. The average of all the answers was an eighty percent, meaning eighty percent of candidates chose dressed in formal wear to the interview. While this was a short survey only given to a small amount of people it seems to also support the idea that people who dress in formal wear perform better at achieving business results. In an article by "Scientific American" written by Matthew Hutson, a freelance scientific writer, he also talks about the power of formal wear when it comes to taking on important tasks. In his article he mentions small experiments that were completed such as dressing in formal wear and how those that dressed in formal wear felt more confident and empowered. In these experiments there were groups of men that wore formal wear and men that wore casual wear. The men then had to roleplay with business leaders to close deal, the findings were that the men wearing formal attire were able to close more profitable deals than those that dressed in casual wear (Hutson).
With some of these experiments there were separate findings that clothing can have other effects on the brain. These studies showed that people who dressed in formal wear were able to think on their feet faster and had more creative ideas. Our clothing choice can make you exercise harder and make it feel easier. In a study published in the journal of sport and exercise psychology it was determined that athletes that wore red won more events in the 2004 Olympics than those in blue. The studies showed that the athletes that wore red were able to lift heavier weights and had higher average heart rates (Hilton Andersen). This study was done to see if this was simply a coincidence or if there was something associated within our brains and the color red. Our brains also tend to be more efficient if we dress for a part we may or may not really want. Imagine going to work out, typically it's not something people consider fun or something that excites us to motivate and go do. However, dressing in workout attire tends to be more motivational for us to hit the gym and knock out our workout. It is all about the mind and what it coordinates with when we see ourselves in the mirror. Another interesting theory when it comes to clothing is that it can make you more honest. Amongst these studies two groups of individuals were given sunglasses, one set had designer, while the other had counterfeits. The group of individuals wearing knockoffs were more likely to cheat during the games played for the experiment and were also more suspicious of others.
While there are a lot of studies showing what we wear can have effects on our daily performances and how we articulate ourselves in situations, it also has effects on how others perceive us. As mentioned, our attire could be a deciding factor on whether individuals get a job they have been looking to get or not. We are no stranger to the term dress for success and that term definitely has a deep meaning to it. While we dress to make ourselves feel more confident for whatever we are going to do it is also an indication to people around us that we are well put together. A perception could be that if we care enough about our image to take the time to dress in an impressive manor that we will indeed pay special attention to detail and be the ideal candidate or performer. In an article written by Karen Pine, an author of the book "Mind What You Wear" the author emphasizes on a personal experience from her time in school. She did an award-winning class project, and she recalls her outfit while presenting it. She truly believes that is what made her project grade so good. Her outfit was perfectly picked out and in a dressy manor as she knew she was going to be presenting to a board of teachers. That outfit made her feel confident in her skin and according to her that is what assisted with her presentation of this project (Pine). This author's personal story and the impression that her clothing made on her the day of her school project is just one example of how our clothing can impact our mood. If you think about this, it only makes sense. When we wear something that makes us feel confident, something that empowers us to take on whatever task we may have, we feel like we look like our best self. Once we feel that on the outside the chemical reaction takes over and enhances our best self to be represented through our interactions, our speech, and the creativity we give in our work. All these examples that the theory of enclothed cognition enhances are very evident to those around you. This is why studies are being done to further research enclothed cognition because it's a very interesting psychological phenomenon.
Clothing is also a way of expression for people. There are many ways people can choose to express themselves it could be through music, through art, or even through the articles of clothing we wear. We are able to non-verbally express ourselves through our clothing, whether it be through bright floral patterns, eye-catching pieces, or pieces that symbolize alternate meanings. Typically, people that choose to wear bright colors and patterns are extroverted and cheerful, however, wearing these colors and patterns when you are down can actually improve your mood as well as your demeanor. If you are in need of comfort, it has been said that baggy clothes in muted colors can give you that sense of comfort. It's a very interesting thought that clothing has such a vast variety of self-expressional value seeing as when clothing was originally invented it was to protect our skin from the elements. Clothing was originally made out of animal hides and objects found that could protect us from the sun, the harsh weather, the environments, and terrains that were hazardous to us. In a sense we still use clothing to protect our skin, but the effects are no longer just for physical reasoning the change in clothing has turned into psychological empowerment. Think about a protest and the evolution of the pieces people wear to get their voices heard. A prime example of this was the civil rights movement. Some of the resistance methods were non-violent but a big part of getting the message these individuals wanted to get across was the communication being shown in their clothing. When Rosa Parks was arrested, she was dressed outside of what society stated her stature was. The clothing she chose was a statement piece that she deserved to dress in formal wear like everyone else regardless of her color. Some of the non-violent protestors were known as the people who dressed for freedom.
With all of that being said there have also been studies that link negative connotation to clothing. The effect clothing can have on us runs so deep that it can actually cause us to act in uncharacteristic ways. In an experiment done by famed researcher Zimbardo some subjects were made to put on concealing clothing. Those that wore concealing clothing were more likely to express inhibited, cruel behaviors than those that were not made to wear concealing clothes. They call this the process of de-individuation, which is a loss of self-awareness and responsibility. With this experiment there were other factors than just the clothing that contributed to the behavior, but the study did show how powerful clothing can be when it comes to the psychological aspects.
Clothing can also be an indicator that someone is depressed or in emotional distress. It is hard to tell because people show depression different ways, some people can be extremely put together while others show their depression by their physical appearance. Clothing can be a key indicator in noticing if someone is in emotional distress. One article stated that some signs of depression in clothing were wearing dark solid colors. If you think about the opposite side of the spectrum and how bright colors symbolize extroversion and happiness, it makes sense that darker colors could symbolize the darkness or depression within someone. They were this to communicate their feelings through their clothing. While there is still a lot of research to be done on the aspect of the downside of clothing and the feelings it can bring when we let our clothing further influence that depression, it seems to be an ever-growing study.
To conclude this paper, it should be known that this subject is continually being researched and developed to prove the theories of enclothed cognition and the study of how impactful our clothing can be in our everyday lives. While the studies are continuously growing it is a very interesting subject and even more interesting the fact that our clothes can have such an influence on us and the perception of those around us. If anything, these studies should be an indicator that there is a correlation between our brains and what we choose to wear. A distinct link between what makes us feel confident enough to own whatever it is we do, and the way others are influenced by the non-verbal form of confidence that we wear as our armor each day.
Blakeslee, Sandra "Mind Games: Sometimes a white coat isn't just a white coat." The New York Times
Hilton Andersen, Charlotte. "10 unexpected ways your clothes can change your mood." Readers Digest, 23 Feb, 2021, How Your Clothes Affect Your Mood and Emotions | Reader's Digest
Hutson, Matthew. "Dress for success: How clothes influence our performance." Scientific American, 01 Jan. 2016
Ilic, Aleksander. "Science says what you wear largely affects how you think and behave." Lifehack.org
Pine, Karen. "Dress to impress: how clothes can improve your confidence." Fashiongonerogue.com
Pine, Karen. "Newsworthy: Mind what you wear by Professor Karen Pine." Trulery.com