Oct 25th, 2019, 07:26 PM

What Are You Communicating to Yourself When Picking Your OOTD?

By Lauren Tosbath
Man Looking at Self / Image Credit: Pexels Lucas Pezeta
What you choose to wear has a strong influence on your psychological being

We have grown up with the common knowledge that the way you dress has a strong influence on how others perceive you. You’ve probably heard phrases such as “Dress to impress,” “Dress for the job you want,” “Suit up.”

Dress is a strong communicator between individuals and can work for or against our favor to the outside world. Dress is also a larger and more important communicator to our inner world. It can communicate ambition, wealth, profession, interests, health, moods, etc. But have you ever thought about what you are communicating to yourself?

In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Week and a wrap up of Paris Fashion Week, I felt like this was an appropriate time to discuss how dress plays into mental health. How does your outfit of the day contribute to your mental state of the day?

Dr. Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University, led a study to discover if the clothes we wear affect our psychological process. Through his research, he concluded that clothing has a significant impact on the psychological state, as it “invades the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”  

Girl looking in the mirror / Image Credit: Unsplash Brad Lloyd

Everyone experiences mornings when you wake up in a funk. You don’t feel great about yourself, question your image, your place in the world, basically a wave of questions. Dressing when a gray cloud is hovering over you is dreadful. In these funks, we commonly turn to an outfit that is easy and effortless. Maybe you reach for the dull colors, the chunkiest and longest cardigan to hide your body or a comfortable pair of jeans.

But why? Why dress the mood that you don’t want to be in? Wearing clothes that feed this “funk” only draws you farther from being in a better mood and can influence your thought process that entire day.  

How we dress affects the way we perceive ourselves and drives our decisions. If we negatively perceive ourselves, how can we expect others to perceive us positively? And in this society, a good image, a “personal brand,” is a high priority.  

Karen Pine, psychology professor, scholar, and author of Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion discovered through scientific research (2012) that “we become what we wear.” If you walk out of the door knowing that what you are wearing isn’t complimenting what you love most about yourself, then you designate too much mental energy into that as opposed to focusing on what matters most.

She argues through her research that, “We should give more thought to what we wear and even dress for happiness, irrespective of how we are feeling. If we knew more about which clothes could lift a person’s mood, perhaps there’d be less need for anti-depressant medication.”  

Donna Stellhorn, Feng Shui expert, and author interprets Pine’s study of dress and the mental state with a Feng Shui “twist.” She explains the five elements of our planet, Earth, Fire, Water, Wood, and Metal, and how each element contains a feeling, a kind of energy. In Feng Shui, people associate dress with the five elements and the energies they possess.

Stellhorn agrees with Pine by stating, “Each element has an energy, and we’ll gravitate to the energy that’s in harmony with how we feel at the moment.” For example, when we are in search of stability and the desire for stillness, we relate the most to the Earth element. Clothing that represents this would be jeans and loose-fitting tops. Whereas wearing animal prints is associated with the Fire element. You feel alive and want that to be recognized.  

Man pointing / Image Credit: Unsplash Etty Fidele

Research shows that certain colors and outfits can serve as pick-me-ups. Nevertheless, Pine’s research says, “Who knows how other people will interpret it (outfit). We make judgments based on our own experiences.”

That being said, you should wear whatever it is that you associate with a positive mental state. We should draw away from the pressure of what others think about us. Before dressing, ask yourself how you want to feel and who you want to be that day. And on our bad days, we should aim to take control of our mental state so that it does not control us.