Self-identity is the perception we have of our self including our personality, skills and abilities, occupation and lifestyle. Our appearance is an outward expression of our self-identity, so when we experience an important event in our life, our self-identity and consequently, how we feel about our self, changes.
We express our self through our clothes. For example, research has found that typically we strive for self-enhancement, to be and be seen as the best we can be. If we’ve broken up from a long-term relationship, our identity changes. We’re likely to feel strong emotions that influence how we express our identity and therefore, our appearance. We may care little about what we wear (in a similar way to people who are experiencing depression) or we may decide to up the game and dress to make us feel better about ourselves and our situation. Whichever we go for will be a factor of multiple psychological and situational factors.
Clothing can influence mood as long as the wearer is motivated for it to so. It takes more than simply putting on an outfit for it to boost mood…it needs to ‘mean’ something to wearer.
We like to belong and so we choose to dress in a similar style to those we aspire to or who are in our social groups. Therefore, changing our style following a career change is likely as the social circles we move in will also change. Self-comparison theory argues that we compare ourselves with others either upwards or downwards to feel better about ourselves. However, the impact of these comparisons may be negative as well as positive and will influence how we feel about ourselves (our self-esteem). Again, the strength of the influence is dependent on many psychological and situational factors.
Style is a matter of personal preference. It changes throughout the lifespan. We are socialised into particular attitudes, beliefs and values through the socio-cultural groups we belong to starting in childhood and continuing throughout our lives. As we extend these and join new groups, our attitudes, beliefs and values also change and this is also true of clothing and style. Because we want to be accepted into groups, we want to appear like them externally as well as psychologically.
We can align with social groups through adapting our clothing and other appearance-centred behaviour.
I’m not a fan of being told that certain styles should or shouldn’t be worn at particular ages or on particular body types. For me, clothing should serve multiple purposes depending on the context in which its worn. As we get older we tend to have higher self-esteem, we know what we want and care less about other people’s opinions of us. Nevertheless, the need for self-enhancement doesn’t go away and we continue to want to be accepted and liked.
Our appearance is important. We decide whether we like someone or not in under a second and then look for evidence that confirms our initial judgement.
Confidence is a very attractive trait (not over-confidence though!) and being able to move, sit and stand comfortably in an outfit gives the wearer confidence.
Fashion is still not representative. We all wear clothes yet clothing imagery rarely shows items on a range of bodies. This is reflected in the market-place where it can be difficult to find items for different types of bodies. Consequently, as we experience changes in our lives, such as a significant loss or increase of weight, an accident or disease that results in changes to our body, and the natural process of ageing, we may need to reassess our style. Some people seek professional help with this (personal shoppers, stylists), others rely on their own aesthetic sense to guide them on what suits them best and makes them feel confident.
Ultimately, applying psychology to fashion helps us understand that “one size does not fit all!”.
An edited version of this blog was published @StylistMagazine.