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What Does Our Fashion Sense Say About Us?

Do you ever wonder why fashion week events are well-attended by A-list celebrities, stylists, and trendsetters. It is even covered by different news outlets and social media sites. What is the driving force that makes these events capture the interest of a large group of people?

Is it because people simply want to know what the latest trends in fashion are? It may be a trivial thing for non-fashionistas, but fashion psychologists may say otherwise. The saying “You are what you wear” does not only apply to fashionistas who regularly attend fashion week events. Dressing up is an effective way of sending out a signal on what image we want to portray and let others see. The way an individual dresses up allows other people to formulate impressions.

Setting The Trend

Why do people still follow trends when, after a few months or so, it will change again?

Fashion week events are big hits because the brain loves short-lived booms of novelty. According to a study conducted by Dr. Nico Bunzeck and Dr. Emrah Duzel, there is stimulation in the reward circuitry of the brain when it is presented with things regarded as new. There is some sort of neural payoff because the brain is wired to look for something new in order to receive reward from it.

People follow trends because the feeling of change and progress is rewarding.

“We also want to belong – to be part of something recognizable – and there is no more obvious way to demonstrate this than through your clothes,” says Rebecca Arnold, author of Fashion: A Very Short Introduction. “A new outfit that fits with what magazines and advertisements are promoting can be really pleasurable to buy and wear. It can give you a new identity, even if it’s only for one night.”

Clothing Choices and Social Behavior

Whether you like it or not, your choice of clothes says a lot about you. While clothing is part of our basic needs as it keeps us warm and protected, clothes eventually developed to mean something more. It has become a social marker and a tool that influences how we view ourselves.

Based on historical data, economist George Taylor proposed that choice of dresses is a way of sending information about wealth and personal taste. Using the Hemline Index, Taylor noted that as an economy goes into recession, many women prefer to wear longer dresses. Conversely, preference for shorter hemlines is noticeable during times of wealth and prosperity.

Clothing choices also relate to signaling theory. People dress up depending on the message they want to convey. Those who want to stand out will choose to wear something vibrant to distinguish themselves from the crowd, while those who want to blend in might go for uniform clothing.

Wearing clothes is such a vital part of one’s everyday existence – giving birth to hashtags such as #OOTD, #OOTN, and #Fashion.

“We wear clothes every day and it’s a huge part of our existence. We think we have to care about what others think of our clothing choices,” says fashion psychologist Dr. Dawnn Karen. “We wear a sort of ‘uniform’ based on what we think is expected of us and it’s a kind of performance. It’s hard.”

This is also the reason why Karen claims that retail therapy is only a temporary emotional fix. Having wardrobe full of new clothes will never give a long-term satisfaction because its only focus is on what is external.

Karen advises her clients to dress according to their authentic emotion rather than based on what is appropriate – and this is where individuals can better express themselves and eventually develop a good sense of well-being.

Emergence of Fashion Psychology

Fashion psychology is much more than just helping people dress up according to their taste and lifestyle. It is more about dissecting the complexities of human behavior in relation to the fashion industry. Psychologists want people to see fashion psychology more than just a form of communication of identity. It should be used as a tool to give fashion industries an insight of how they take into consideration fashion choices during production.

Fashion psychologist Dr. Carolyn Mair, who is also the course leader for MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals and MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion at the London College of Fashion, says that fashion industry needs to evolve to correct misconceptions about the human body and psychology.

“We need to educate people to become more media savoy, to let the world know that models are models and they don’t necessarily represent the whole spectrum of body type. None the less, studies have shown that showing diversity in fashion imagery, does increase sales,” says Mair.

Mair is positive that fashion psychologists will soon change the current landscape of the fashion industry in the coming decade.

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