May 26th, 2023, 02:35 PM

Let the Clothes Speak for Themselves

By Kiera Roddy
Image Credit: Kiera Roddy
Whether you like it or not, your clothing choice says something about you

Throughout history, clothing has meant so much more than just getting dressed. Fashion is an important medium for communication and can quickly communicate a lot about a person without so much as a word being said. But ss much as we can appreciate fashion, how much do people actually consider what their clothes are saying about themselves? 

"Dress functions as an effective means of communication during social interaction”, fashion scholars Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins and Joanne B. Eicher argue in a 1992 research article. They say that fashion not only shapes the way others perceive the wearer, but it also allows for the wearer to build an identity for themselves.  

Throughout history, people have used fashion as a means of making statements about occupation, wealth, politics, and much more. In an article for Vogue, Maya Singer demonstrated this point by highlighting key politicized fashion moments from the last decade, including women's suffrage; just one example of how fashion works to both uphold  and tear down gender and societal norms.  

While clothing is often purposefully designed to make a particular statement, sometimes the statement is unintentional. A 2023 study by, Neil Hester and Eric Hehman outlined the way dress will affect the way a person is perceived, detailing four main factors: social categories, cognitive states, status, and aesthetics. Whether you like it or not, your clothing choice says something about you. 

Research aside, do most people really consider this effect when they pick out their outfit every day? American University of Paris student Tatum Staab doesn’t think so: “Generally I think people are more concerned with their clothing choices when they have an important event to go to.” On an average weekday she personally doesn’t think too much about what story her clothes are telling. Staab added, “Obviously some people think about it more than others, for a lot of people fashion is like a hobby.”

Image Credit: Kiera Roddy

Another AUP student, Julian Aliknavich, is in the same boat. He said, “I think a lot more about how I’m dressed when I’m meeting up with someone for the first time, or have something special to do, but on a daily basis, no, I don’t think too much about it.” When he does have an instance where he is more conscious of his clothing, he tries to consider his clothing choices in relation to societal norms and how others dress, in an effort to avoid over-dressing. “I really like to wear ties but a lot of the time that's too much compared to what others will be wearing. I try to dress so other people will think ‘something about his outfit is nice’ but without standing out.”, he added. 

The way people perceive clothing choices is constantly changing; what we may see as being ‘business casual’ today may not have qualified as such 30 years ago. New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, who started covering fashion in the 80’s, writes about the changing ideas in fashion, particularly about what women are seeking out. In an article about practical dressing she writes, “the desire to be comfortable is profound, shaping attitudes and markets.” She continues, granting designers for trying to create runway looks that are both chic and comfortable. Pairing heels with sweatpants is one successful way to, “tackle the matter of comfort without sacrificing luxury.” 

For AUP student Gabriella Mendes, feeling comfortable in her clothes is her number one priority. “I don’t really consider what my clothes say about me, I just want to feel like myself.” For her, personal identity is deeply rooted in the style choices she makes. She says that she does consider the occasion that she is dressing for, as to match the level of formality of others at the event and reaches for clothes that will make her feel confident. 

Image Credit: Kiera Roddy

It’s clear from the myriad of articles on the internet about how to dress for a job interview, or how to be more stylish, that clothing takes on an important role in our lives. It can affect what kind of people you attract and the confidence you have when stepping out the door- its power should not be overlooked. But, if you don’t spend much time considering what your clothes are saying, you aren’t alone. It can seem like a chore to pick out an outfit that is uniquely you each morning, and thinking through exactly what it will convey can be exhausting. However, fashion is an outlet for endless creativity. Tapping into your style and finding what is uniquely you can boost your confidence and sense of self.