Anyone who is even slightly interested in fashion has experienced the look-good-feel-good promise of fashion. When inside and out match, a look starts to radiate—the person starts to beam.
Slogans like Dress like a boss and Dress how you want to be addressed work, because they speak truth. Thanks to a psychological phenomenon called “enclothed cognition”, dressing up congruently is as functional as it gets.
Coined by Adam and Galinsky’s in their 2012 paper, enclothed cognition contains the influences that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes.
Clothes hold the power to boost or activate certain traits. If you put on your glasses, you might feel smarter, which in turn makes you act more intelligently. Similarly, choosing color over blacks might get you into a happier mood for the day. In the end, enclothed cognition is the fashionable twin of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Adam and Galinsky conducted three studies that support and illustrate the idea behind enclothed cognition.
The first experiment compared the alertness of participants in white lab coats versus street clothes, which team lab coat won.
They found a similar thing for heightened attention—doctor’s coats outperformed artistic painter’s coats.
Finally, they tested if merely looking at the coat had the same discriminating effect on participants’ sustained attention, which was not the case.
This proves that physically wearing an item is a requirement for fashion to have a measurable effect on behavior.
Interestingly, the coats in all experiments were exactly the same. They were given an identity by description.
The latter reflects the second pillar of the theory: our individual beliefs around our clothes determine how they affect us. Society created strong general ideas around painters as creative and intuitive, and smart, attentive doctors. That is why wearing “their” coats evoked similar behaviors among the participants of Adam and Galinsky’s experiments.
However, painters and doctors (and fashionable people that like to borrow their looks) don’t behave like identical clones. After all, the subtle symbolic meanings we assign to a garment, and not the piece itself, determines what accommodating traits will be activated.
You can use the theory of enclothed cognition to your personal advantage. It has nothing to do with hocus-pocus, and everything with conscious choice concerning your wardrobe and personal development.
It starts with outlining the characteristics you want to boost in yourself. After all, you hold the keys to many different versions of you, and priming certain traits can help you move into desirable directions.
Ask yourself: who do you want to be(come) right now? How do you need to behave to get there?
The second step is to look at your wardrobe and match these traits with items. You must become aware of the subtle meanings you have already attached to certain pieces.
If a white blouse means business to you, you’ll wear it for that job interview.
If bright indigo and apple green make you think of summer and easiness, you might want to pop those colors on when you need an uplifting tap on the shoulder to perform.
When you buy something new, you can even consciously (out loud) talk value into them: this bright set will be my assertiveness attire, those pointy boots will be my focus flats.
Tools like Style Fundamentals help you benefit from your looks based on enclothed cognition, by advising styles based on selected traits-to-be-primed.
Clothes can be tools to rule your daily life and help you navigate to new horizons. Take some time to pick the pieces that symbolize the personal traits you want to magnify, and you will see your mind and actions change accordingly.
Your wardrobe can be a nudge toward your ideal self.