Do Clothes Make You Happy? (This will surprise you)

I know what you are thinking: ‘Is this a trick question?’, and I wholeheartedly agree with all those screaming affirmatives: ‘Absolutely, they do!’

What is it about clothes that makes us happy?  Could this feeling of satisfaction really come from simply wearing colors or patterns that lift our mood or could it be attributed to the ease of cut or design that makes our day that bit more comfortable or is it that we find a psychological support from our clothes that cannot be derived from anywhere else?  Can the design of clothing empower or even create a facade or protective armor behind which we can hide the real fragile self?

Clothes make you happy because they enable the wearer to assume an identity to portray to the world; dressing can be a form of escapism and what we wear may or may not be a true reflection of how we feel or who we are but clothing is a form of protection in every sense of the word.  

Who Do You Want To Be Today?

Do you remember your dressing up box when you were a child?  What fun assuming a different identity at will; this morning a nurse, this afternoon a teacher and tomorrow I will be a shopkeeper.  What dynamic lives we led as children but somewhere along the way that fun, spontaneity and variety is replaced by the relentless repetition of mundane routine and responsibility.  There remains, however, one all embracing release from this imprisonment of adult sobriety; clothing and color open the doors to imagination and escape.   

Even if you must wear a uniform or are restricted by company rules while you are at work, you can still find a form of self expression through your clothing, be it your underwear, travelling to work clothes or how you decide to dress in your free time.  Dressing is a form of escapism and empowerment which we can use to our advantage.  

Science Supports The Theory

Experts in the field of psychological science have conducted studies on how what  individuals wear impacts on their attitude and performance.  In their now famous lab coat experiment of 2012 Adams and Galinsky studied the influence that the exact same white lab coat had on the individual and their attentiveness.   

In one part of the test individuals were divided into three groups: one group were given what they were told was a doctor’s coat to wear, the second group were given what they were told was an artist’s painting coat and the third group were told to simply look at a white doctor’s coat lying on a table in front of them.  

The test revealed markedly different results; those who wore what they understood were doctor’s coats were more observant and did better than those who believed they were wearing painter’s coats or indeed those simply looking at the doctor’s coat on the table.  It seems that the first group who wore what they understood to be doctor’s coats were influenced by associations they made with that garment.   

The study inspired Adams and Galinky to first coin the term ‘enclothing cognition’ which describes the effect and impact that clothes have on the wearer’s emotional and intellectual activity.  

Another study by Professor Karen Pine concluded that the color and clothing design you wear on a specific day is a reflection of your mood and can in turn not only influence how you are perceived by others but also affect your behavior and as a consequence impact on personal happiness.  

Thus it appears that scientific studies concur with the fact that clothing can exact a mental and behavioral persuasiveness on the wearer and consequently this suggests that the wearer’s frame of mind can be modified by their choice of clothing.  

It Is Just Common Sense

These studies while useful and supportive to the theory that clothes make us happy do not really present any fundamentally new concepts and in fact a lot of this is just common sense which our predecessors were fully in agreement with.

Who hasn’t heard the expression: ‘ get your glad rags on!’ or the old proverb: ‘fine feathers make fine birds’.  In fact I remember seeing magazines in the 1980s regularly emblazoned with the logo: ‘Dress for Success’, as inspired by John T Molloy’s book of the same name.  In the early 80s Molloy’s subsequent ‘77 edition, which gave advice to women, formed part of the inspiration which assisted women in the strategy of dressing for business.

Dressing Like You Mean It

It was during the eighties, a decade of legendary shoulders, and heroic earrings, echoing the rotund robustness of Captain America’s shield that women began to explore a new found identity and independence which brought a freedom and feeling of self-worth that inspired feelings of importance and value. 

Women learnt to compete in a previously male dominated environment supported by the power suit, giving them the attitude and courage required to succeed in business.  Those shoulders gave one the feeling of being bigger, more powerful and capable of taking on the world.  Women began to visualize success and climbing the corporate ladder became a reality for the well suited career woman.

Identification and Visualization

When inhabiting a character, actors come to rely on and appreciate the value of props and in reality that is exactly what clothes are, a type of prop or support for the actor.  The actor’s inspiration for their character is often informed and enlightened by the costume department’s choice of clothing.  

Norma Jeane Baker revealed that she created her own alter ego the iconic siren Marilyn Monroe and when she removed the guise she could quite literally melt into a crowd without fear of recognition.  

The glamorous facade that she created inspired that walk and breathy speech that became so synonymous with the actress that eventually her true identity became almost indiscernible.  

This ability to take on a new identity simply by wearing clothing which inspires looks of admiration and desire exemplifies the power of clothing in creating a brand new unique external appearance.  The power to manipulate how people judge or perceive is in the wearer’s control as is the mantle of happiness associated with having that autonomy and power..

Color Lights The Way

We all have our color preferences; some people like to dress in conservative shades of navy, black or beige and others throw themselves into wild colorful jazzy patterns which although lively are not always flattering.

Color analysis, advice and guidance proved to be big business in the 80s and early 90s when it reached its zenith; I remember feeling quite sorry for those women who came armed with cards of colors limiting them to specific shades, confiding that they were ‘a light spring’ or ‘a warm spring’ and watching their faces drop in disappointment when the jacket they fell in love with just was not the exact shade of blue they were permitted to wear.  

Personal color analysis is not an exact science and although perhaps a useful way to encourage an individual to coordinate their wardrobe, it is rather restrictive.   By limiting the wearer to certain shades, the benefits of the joy, spontaneity and self expression associated with allowing oneself to be enveloped by a particularly uncharacteristic acidic shade of yellow or vibrant orange is lost.  There is no point in wearing the exact color that matches your skin tone if you are miserable doing so.

Chromotherapy or color therapy, a practice from antiquity, addresses and treats mental or physical illness and is accepted as a complementary medicine.  It is an area within which there is still a lot of study to be done but RLT or red light therapy has been accepted as a treatment for helping to rejuvenate the skin. 

Many in the cosmetic industry now extol the benefits of light therapy; in particular those of yellow light therapy which increases wound healing and also with blue light therapy which targets acne causing bacteria.  

The benefits of the natural world clothed in harmonious shades and hues is undisputed and all of us have at one stage or another found ourselves wandering along a leafy path feeling a quiet calm descend over us as we are enveloped in green.   Color can therefore as we have experienced guide your mood in a positive direction.

Put On The Person You Want To Be Today

In order to feel a greater sense of worth and well being an individual should dress for success or for a successful outcome as dressing in uninspiring clothing and colors can only produce negative results.

The right clothes enfold your body in the arms of comfort, enhance your mood and confidence.   If you feel good about how you look and what you are wearing you can deal with any event throughout the day.

When you wake up tomorrow, go to your wardrobe and pull out that outfit you are keeping for best or better days because that is today!  Happiness is a feeling you deserve right now, so create it for yourself by wearing that outfit that will take you there.

If as they say you are what you eat then YOU can be what you wear!  

Sharon Cunningham

I enrolled in The Grafton Academy of Fashion and Design and studied there for six years before being taken on by a German fashion house with whom I worked for nine years, eventually leaving to return to university to complete my MA.

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