Photographer: Myron Edwards
Model: Cora Reed
Fashion Psychology: What Your Choice in Clothes Say About You
Wish you knew how to pick the perfect outfit for every situation?
Wish no more! In this post, I am going to show you how to choose clothes that make you feel confident, bold and ready for anything.
This post is for BOTH men and women!
You Are What You Wear
The type of clothes you wear – and the kinds of accessories you use to either jazz them up or tone them down – says a lot about who you are, where you’re from, what you do and how you feel about yourself and others.
In fact, dress scholars Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Eicher, find that dress is one of the main ways we send social signals because what we wear shows our identity.
What you wear — or dress, as Roach and Eicher define it — sends nonverbal cues to other people. Our clothing shows:
- How much power you wield
- How much influence you have
- How smart you are
- How much you earn
You see, writers, costume designers and directors use fashion all the time to show clues about a character. Think about Harry Potter’s glasses, Imelda’s shoes, Wall Street power suits or Cleopatra’s jewels.
The question is, what signals are you sending?
Let’s do a little self-quiz to find out:
How would you describe your current style? (Check all that apply)
- ___ Edgy
- ___Flirty / Attractive
- ___ Unique
- ___ Young
- ___ Mature
- ___ Powerful
- ___ I have no sense of style
Look at your answers to the question above. What specifically about your style makes this impression?
- ___ The colors I wear
- ___ Where I buy my clothes
- ___ How I tailor my clothes
- ___ How I accessorize
- ___ The brands I wear
- ___ The patterns I wear
- ___ The people I emulate
Now let’s talk about your ideal impression. In your dream world, how would you like to come across? What is your ideal style?
- ___ Edgy
- ___ Professional
- ___ Flirty / Attractive
- ___ Unique
- ___ Powerful
Lastly, when helping clients build wardrobes they love, Elsa Isaac starts by asking them to write down 3 words that describe how they want their clothes to make them feel.
“Maybe you want your clothes to make you feel powerful or confident or sexy. Or maybe creative and edgy….make sure (the words) resonate with you and write them down.”
Once you identify the feelings you want your clothes to elicit, she says, the easier it is to choose the right pieces.
“It’s not about trends or being fashionable per se, it’s about how capable we are of expressing ourselves,” Isaac believes. What are three words that describe how you want your clothes to make you feel?
Now, let’s make it happen! My goal is to help you understand the psychology of your fashion choices. Why do certain types of clothing change our first impression?
Clothing and Perceptions
Researcher Mary Lynn Damhorst says “dress is a systematic means of transmission of information about the wearer.” A person’s choice of clothing can heavily influence the impression they transmit and is therefore a powerful communication tool.
When it comes to communicating confidence and ability, what you wear plays an important role in creating positive first impressions. Whether you agree with the statement or not, clothes make the man. Or at least others’ perception of the man, science shows.
How to Dress:
So how can you get closer to your ideal first impression? Below I have a guide to each type of fashion psychology and how you can get more of it. You can use color, styling and fit to get closer to the personal brand you want.
Color Psychology: How you use colors is a great way to harness the power of fashion in your first impression. Don’t pick out colors randomly, think very carefully about how you use each.
What to Wear: Our Color Guide
Download this one-sheet and put it on your closet door for easy reference!
- Fit: How you tailor your clothes and the shape of your clothing affects how people perceive you.
- Styling: Accessories–for both men and women can completely change an outfit. From shoes, to watches, to scarves, to hats, these are easy ways to change the impression of your style.
- Brands: If you have trouble understanding fit and color on your own–let brands do it for you! Go to brands that emulate or showcase your ideal style and rely on their styles to decide for you.
How to Be Seen As More Formal:
Researcher Yoon-Hee Kwon of Northern Illinois University asked men and women about the effect of clothing on judgements made in a working environment. Kwon found men believed wearing the correct work attire increased the likelihood of them communicating they were intelligent, competent, knowledgeable, honest and reliable.
- Dark colors are more formal–especially black and grey.
- Clanky bracelets, wrap scarves or lots of accessories actually decrease your formality. If you want to be seen as more formal, simple accessories and clean lines are better.
- Professional brands that do great workwear are The Limited, Calvin Klein and Armani on the higher end. This blog post from Fashionista covers some great stores that do affordable workwear.
How to Be Seen As More Casual:
Bright colors, pastels and loose clothes mark an air of casual fashion. Layers and loose fitting clothing tend to come across as more laid-back and easy-going.
- Adam Glassman, O Magazine Creative Director, advises people to wear one bold piece. Perhaps a vibrant beaded necklace or an oversize men’s-style watch (minus the blingy-bling or wacky colors).
- Note: Men should keep jewelry to a minimum. A classy watch and/or wedding band is sufficient. No thumb rings, earrings or weird piercings (unless you’re auditioning for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then, anything goes.)
- Some great casual clothing brands are Macy’s, Nasty Gal, Tommy Bahama and Gap.
How to Be Seen As More Edgy:
If self-expression and creativity is what you’re after, there’s no better medium to communicate that than with fashion. “To me, the more meaning my clothes and accessories have, the more they communicate who I am and what I want to convey to the world,” says New York stylist Elsa Isaac. “The possibilities are endless.”
- Don’t get into a color rut.We all have our go-to colors when we’re stuck for what to wear or pressed for time. Celebrity stylist Daniel Musto advises breaking out of your color rut by getting a little creative. Wear a lot of black? Try navy instead. Always wear brown shoes? Try blue dress shoes to change it up. Usually wear jeans? Don’t stick to the usual blue, try black or khaki green.
- Shop bravely. Try Etsy for handmaid clothing. Go to Amazon for fun leggings or scarves. Try Zappos for funky shoes. Online, you are going to find a wider variety of options to play with.
- Use contrast. Juxtaposing cut, color and texture will make any outfit fun and interesting. It can also communicate different sides of your personality. If you’re wearing a leather skirt that screams edgy, then maybe you don a cashmere sweater that whispers sweet. Or perhaps your jewelry is demure and flirty, but your heels are strappy and vixen. The contrast in fabric and weight creates complexity that can be intriguing both for the wearer and the observer. “It’s a way of adding you to your outfit,” Isaac says.
How to Be Seen As More Professional:
You don’t need to spend tons of money on clothes, but you do need to make sure your clothes fit right. That holds true for both women and men. Doubly so if you want to come across as professional. According to Frank Bernieri, PhD, associate professor in the psychology department at Oregon State University, an interviewer will determine within 10 seconds of meeting a job candidate whether they’re right for the job. “A well-tailored outfit implies that you’re conscientious and pay close attention to detail,” Bernieri says.
“I can’t express that enough,” says menswear expert Nic Screws. “When people come up to me and ask, ‘What is the number one thing I can do to elevate my wardrobe?’ I’m always like, ‘Get a good tailor.’”
“You can take pieces that you have right now and transform the way you look by just making sure they are fitting you properly.” says Screws.
- That means not too tight, not too loose, not too long and definitely not too short.
- Suits for both men and women are always seen as more professional.
- Don’t break the “One and a Half” Rule.This one is for the ladies: Of course you want to look great and feel sexy when you’re out with your crush, but there’s a limit to how much skin you should bare – especially, if it’s a first date. According to Musto, there are three areas of the body women want to focus on:
“You should never show more than one and a half (of those areas),” he says. “You need your outfit to be like the appetizer – it fills his stomach just enough…but dinner’s not served.”
How to Be Seen As More Attractive:
When you love what you wear, you feel great and you look great. New York City stylist Elsa Isaac says when you wear clothes you love, “You perform differently. You walk differently,” Isaac explains. “Once my clients are in clothes they love, their body changes.”
And body language is key in conveying confidence and competence. Isaac should know. For nearly a decade, she has styled hundreds of powerhouse women in business. Best known for styling entrepreneur and online personality Marie Forleo, Isaac’s eye for style and fashion is fine-tuned. She knows how to use clothes to give her clients the edge.
“(Marie) doesn’t have to tell me that she likes something, she puts it on and she struts,” Isaac says. Such is the power of clothes and accessories.
- Don’t wear something that makes you uncomfortable–physically or emotionally. Think something stands out too much? Is something too tight? Don’t wear it–it’s not worth it!
- Highlight your best assets. Find outfits to dress for your figure. I like this guide for women. And this guide for how men can dress for their body type.
How to Be Seen As More Unique:
Everyone has a sense of style–even if you don’t know it yet. I think that our clothing is a fun and easy way to stand out. All you have to do is be more experimental. Here’s how:
- Prints and patterns are an excellent way to stand out as long as they are appropriate for the occasion. You may not wear bold, bright florals to a job interview but you may choose to wear them for a summer brunch or tropical getaway. At work, you may decide on sophisticated pin stripes, a classic plaid or subtle polka dot.
- Choose a unique shape. Most shirts, pants and dresses come standard, but you can play with shape to stand out. For example, if you always wear short dresses, try a maxi dress. Instead of wearing a typical winter coat, try a peacoat that has a different length.
- Use your socks! If your job is more formal – say you work for a law firm or the government – then socks might be the best outlet for individual expression, especially since they can be bold and wacky. Colorful or character socks show playfulness and make a great ice breaker or way to connect with others, says Lauren Rothman, a stylist and author of Style Bible: What to Wear to Work. “Folks are showing their power, their bravado in the boardroom,” Rothman tells Quartz. “The louder the socks, the bigger the wallet.”
- For unique clothes, DON’T go with any typical brands. Shop in boutiques or go vintage. I like this post on the best Indie Fashion Brands.
How to Be Seen As More Powerful:
Turns out, fashion doesn’t just impact other people’s impressions of us. It affects how we think and feel about ourselves. A study by California State University professor Abraham Rutchick and others found that formal clothing — suits, ties, dress shirts — makes people think more abstractly and holistic. Indeed, formal clothes made people think more like leaders.
“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” Rutchick said to The Atlantic.
What you wear can also give you leverage in negotiations.
In a study conducted by Yale professor Michael Krauss, men in suits negotiated better than their sweatpants and flip flop-wearing counterparts. In a mock real estate transaction, the suit-and-tie guys negotiated about 10 percent more profit than the casually-dressed dudes.
“You behave more dominantly, you compromise less, and part of that is because your interaction partner is allowing you to get away with more,” Krauss tells NPR of the men in suits.
Indeed, fashion is the vehicle through which humans can command – and project – more confidence, research shows.
“Most men are like, ‘I don’t need to worry about what I look like or that’s not important or that’s not masculine, (but the truth is) part of your personal brand is how you present yourself and that includes fashion,” says menswear expert Nic Screws.
- If you want to be powerful, dress like a powerhouse in a suit and tie or pant suit.
- Channel the most powerful person you know–what would they wear?
- Wear bold colors that stand out and make you feel great.
Some Other Fashion Tips:
#1 Don’t Get Into a Fashion Rut
But how do we choose the right clothes that provoke the right feelings for the right occasions – whether it’s a high stakes interview or a night on the town?
Celebrity stylist Daniel Musto says, “When it comes to your clothes, you have to be ready for anything.” Because, Musto says….
The way you look on the outside pulls out a lot of how you feel on the inside.
That’s especially true when it comes to romance. It’s easy for lovers to fall into a wardrobe rut if they’ve been together for any extended period of time as these couples have found. The trick is to keep things fresh and interesting.
#2 Ease Into It
Ideally, clothes should be comfortable, literally and metaphorically. If you default to wearing jeans and sneakers all the time, a suit and tie might feel like a straightjacket.
“Ease into it”, says internationally-renowned fashion designer Michael Kors.
“If you’re used to being in a traditional suit all day, then a white linen pant and henley might be a little too drastic. But a more relaxed suit—something unlined, maybe, with the wrinkle built in—is a stepping stone,” Kors says in this interview for Bloomberg Media. “You’re still polished, you’re still in a suit, but it’s more laid-back.”
#3 Don’t Forget About Footwear!
The same holds true for shoes. Most men might not feel comfortable sporting this season’s trendy new sandals or open-toed shoes. No worries.
Just “take it a piece at a time,” Kors says.
“If you never wear sandals, start with a heavier sandal, something with substance, on the weekends. Soon you’ll be wearing them with a trouser and a linen sweater at the office,” Kors explains in this interview.
“On the other hand, if you live in sneakers, try a rugged boat shoe. They’re still comfortable, but they’re a little more polished.”
The trick is to be comfortable.
“I do like the idea of ease and comfort, and I think most men do, too.”
#4 Clothing Hacks
I have some of my favorite clothing saving tricks to keep your clothes looking nice over time:
Bottom Line: HAVE FUN
Unlike any other member of the animal kingdom, humans have the unique advantage of choice. We get to choose what we wear. So have fun with fashion. Play a little. Experiment. If something doesn’t work or feel right, switch it up. No one says you’re stuck with wearing something you don’t like. Have fun. But remember, a good rule of thumb is: if you have to question a piece of attire, don’t wear it.
After all, it’s your choice.
ABOUT VANESSA VAN EDWARDS
Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.
16 replies on “Fashion Psychology: What Your Choice in Clothes Say About You”
- SURBHI NAGPALExcellent article… great content , knowledgeableSEPTEMBER 5, 2021 AT 11:13 AM – REPLY
- AMY SMITHVery Nice.AUGUST 31, 2021 AT 4:16 AM – REPLY
- CHRIS HARRISONThis is truly an amazing article and I loved the way you have justified the saying “You are what you wear.” Seriously, anyone can be judged by the way he carries himself. Thanks for sharing such a great article covering all the aspects to avoid any fashion blunders.AUGUST 22, 2021 AT 11:40 AM – REPLY
- PROXYExcellent article covering a wide range of fashion related subjects. I searched the internet for the question, “why don‘t people dress more interestingly?“ Your article was very informative and indirectly answered that question. I am a female in my late 30s and people always stop me and ask about my outfits. I often get asked where I buy my clothes and accessories. Some people claim to like my style but say they are not confident enough to wear what I wear. I currently wear mostly novelty print dresses (cat, unicorn, dog, heart, skull, candy, galaxy, moon and star prints). I usually try to match my accessories with my print so if I am wearing a dress with stars, I will wear star earrings and a star headband. I also try to restrict my outfits to 3 of 4 colors, if possible. I work in local gaming and toy store so luckily I can wear whatever I want. However, all my co-workers are male and they wear jeans and graphic tees, like band, superhero, anime and gaming tees. I live in a town of about 10k people and the most common outfit for males and females of any age is jeans and a t-shirt. Sweat pants and a t-shirt come in second. Athletic and sporting gear comes in third. In terms of sporting gear, camo print and army green is quite common. I never wear t-shirts, jeans or sweatpants! There are only about a dozen of us in my town that wear unique styles. The most interesting is a man in his 80s who only wears clothes from the 70s. He has an extensive collection of shoes and clothes in excellent condition that look tailored. I would love to visit his house for a wardrobe tour but I am too shy to ask him! I would like to conclude with that you should wear what you want. There are tiny ways to incorporate something interesting into your wardrobe. The example of wearing novelty print socks in this article is one way. Another way is through accessories. For example, I have several very beautiful cat earrings that you cannot tell are cats until you are very close. I have some skull and roses dresses that look like floral dresses from a distance. I also have heart print dresses that could pass as a polka dot print from afar. If you have a strict dress policy to follow at work, you can save your novelty items for evenings and weekends. I personally have worn some cat print dresses and accessories to church and got lots of compliments. I have also worn heart print dresses and accessories to church too but no one seemed to notice or compliment my heart prints. I have a few heart shaped purses that people have noticed and liked though (dupes of the heart shaped Kate Spade bag in different colors without the kate spade logo. I call them dupes because I do not think they would have been manufactured without the kate spade bag previously trending on tiktok). So you may be surprised where you can get away with wearing your more interesting clothing and accessories. All that being said, I still sometimes restrict myself. For example, I would never wear a skull print to church. Anyway, I wish you all the best in your life and fashion journey. Good luck.JULY 11, 2021 AT 9:12 PM – REPLY
- TEJINDER SINGH HANSPALThe last sentence is quiet important. Beware of questionable attires.JULY 5, 2021 AT 11:30 AM – REPLY
- MICHAELI consider myself to be a powerful, attractive confident and a lot of edgie dressier. I agree with your article. My style is versatile. It’s always a surprise. I’m a very fit 50 year old. I’ve been into health and fitness all my life and it shows.
I enjoy being edgy.sometimes in the gym I wear anthracite tights with a long black tee and white tennis shoes. My tights are ruched with a tight wedgie.so you can see the shape of my butt very well. If my t shirt lifts up to see it. Bodybuilding and fitness are 1 my passions. Women usually want to be near me to learn something from my workouts. And I’m a reserved cool guy. What does this gym attire I mentioned say about my personality?
My question is,JUNE 21, 2021 AT 3:16 PM – REPLY
- DORCAS PERRYThe most important thing about chosing your wardrobe is that it is appropriate for your age and the situations you are or will be facing. Being too hot or cold can be life threatening. A long walk or lots of standing can be challenging in high heels. Tight clothing, apart from making you feel uncomfortable, can lead to death and thrombosis if older/sitting for a long time while travelling. When cleaning and gardening we chose clothes that are easy to move in, robust , that scrub up well and don’t show stains. Fabrics that snag, pill and attract bits rarely look good. Black is a poor idea on a hot day, unless you are going to a funeral. If you are going to be out in the sun for a long time, a hat and a bit of lightweight coverup is a good idea. Tidy, non-flashy, formal clothing is important if you need to go to court. If your clothes are to last, it is important to ensure the fit is realistic vs a realistic target weight range. A well cut outfit masks minor bulges, so keep on trying things on until you find the best look..to help this along, observe people when you are out in different situations and see what does and doesn’t work well, especially on people of your age, colouring and bodyshape….and never buy ill fitting shoes that pinch or rub.MAY 31, 2021 AT 3:50 AM – REPLY
- FREDDY JOEQuite a interesting article you have shared here, Thanks.MARCH 17, 2021 AT 2:48 AM – REPLY
- ROSEANNEVery useful. How can I site this?MARCH 13, 2021 AT 9:45 PM – REPLY
- ROBERT HWANGThanks Roseanne! If you’d like, you can simply link to this article! Feel free to share it! Rob | Science of People TeamMARCH 15, 2021 AT 8:25 AM – REPLY
- SERETA WHITFIELDawesome readFEBRUARY 9, 2021 AT 10:54 AM – REPLY
- JEY BOUTIQUEThanks for sharing this nice post.I like your post too much.JANUARY 22, 2021 AT 5:16 AM – REPLY
- JOEVery detailedDECEMBER 4, 2020 AT 11:16 AM – REPLY
- PRADEEP KUMARA KOHOLANEGEDARANice writingNOVEMBER 22, 2020 AT 6:49 AM – REPLY
- CHASITY EVANSLove this articleSEPTEMBER 12, 2020 AT 12:19 AM – REPLY
- ERNESTINE HARRISThis is a pretty cool aricle.SEPTEMBER 4, 2020 AT 10:03 AM – REPLY
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- How to Dress:
- Some Other Fashion Tips:
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