How Can the Clothes We Buy Impact Our Confidence?

Ellen Lees
By Ellen Lees,
updated on Apr 15, 2020

How Can the Clothes We Buy Impact Our Confidence?

We’ve all felt the pressure to dress to impress, but really, we should be dressing for ourselves. What we wear, and the clothes we buy, can impact our mood, and confidence

I’ve always had an interest in fashion and clothing. From playing with my dolls as a child, going shopping for the first time with friends, studying textiles at university to finally, finding what I believe is ‘my style’, fashion has stayed with me. While I’m no longer interested in working in the fashion industry, the power that our outfit choices can have on our attitudes and feelings completely fascinates me.

When I walk into work wearing a great pair of jeans, a shirt, boots, and a trench coat, I feel like I have my life together. I hold my head higher and find myself making better decisions. I’m assertive, confident, and firm. Of course, I don’t always feel like this. Sometimes, I need to be in my pyjamas all day, binge-watching a TV series while nursing a hangover. It’s not all glamour.

What I find so interesting, is how an item of clothing, or a whole outfit, can change how you feel about yourself. And, when you’re holding your head higher, you appear brighter, and the people around you will likely notice your change in attitude, too. Not because of what you’re wearing (though a compliment never hurts), but because you’re glowing from the inside out.

With so many trends, brands, and now the added pressure of shopping sustainably, not all of us will have a reliable, sure-to-make-us-feel-incredible style. Trends change, and while there’s nothing wrong with following them, the power you can feel when you have a wardrobe filled with items that are truly you, well, it can really be life-changing.

To gain better insight into how we can find our style and how dressing can impact our psyche, I spoke to Shakaila Forbes-Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of the website Fashion is Psychology.

Hi Shakaila! Tell us, how can a person find 'their style'?

The best route to discovering your personal style involves first acknowledging that your personal style is an extension of yourself. Once you accept this, you need to decide which version of yourself you want to portray to the outside world.

Research has found that we all have a dynamic relationship with clothing that impacts the three different ways we view ourselves: the person you want to be, the person you hope to be, and the person you fear to be.

Think about the qualities that make up the person you want and hope to be, the things they do and the places they visit. Do you know anyone that embodies these qualities and lives this lifestyle? How do they dress? Take inspiration from them.

What are your tips for dressing to feel strong and confident?

Comfort is key.
When putting together your attire in an effort to feel both strong and confident, always make sure that you consider your comfort first. An easy way to do this is by introducing soft shapes and fabrics into your wardrobe. Studies have shown that clothing comfort affects cognitive performance. Uncomfortable clothing is associated with distraction and increased cognitive load, so anything that forces you to lose your focus can topple your confidence.

We’re all different and one of the best ways to express our individuality is through our clothing choices

Formal clothes allow you to think differently.
Taking a formal approach to dressing confidently is also advised. Research has found that wearing formal clothes makes people think more broadly and holistically, opening you up to new ideas and challenges. Wearing formal attire also encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete thinking. Concrete thinking refers to the thinking on the surface, whereas abstract thinking is related to thinking in depth. Wearing clothes that allow you to engage in such thought practices is a sure-fire way to build confidence.

Black clothes evoke authority.
Particularly in work environments, dark and black clothing is a great way to evoke a sense of power and authority. One study found that managers evaluate job applicants wearing black clothing as possessing more integrity and greater moral reputation. Managers or those in higher positions are also encouraged to wear black, as individuals wearing black clothing can have a greater influence on a group.

And what about trends? Do we follow trends to feel a part of something?

Following trends can definitely make people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. For example, when describing the millennial it-bag by designer Telfar Clemens, the Business of Fashion wrote that the design resonated with “young consumers who are looking for something to belong to, not just something to buy.”

Research has also shown that wearing in-fashion clothing can make people appear more sociable. I believe that’s because a united sense of style can make us feel like we’re a part of a moment in time.

Of course, we’re all different and one of the best ways to express our individuality is through our clothing choices. But it’s not always so easy to see ourselves that way. As Shakaila says, personal style is about acknowledging that it’s an extension of yourself and dressing to fit that persona. So why not ask a friend to pick out some outfits for you? Not only is it a fun way to spend time with each other, but they’ll likely choose something you’ve not considered before.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, too. It may be that you have a favourite film star or musician, whose style you admire. Maybe it’s Freddie Mercury, Anne Hathaway, or Michelle Obama. What aspects of their style can you take and adapt to suit your own?

It’s certainly a case of trial and error, but learning the tricks of the trade is guaranteed to help you understand the power of fashion, and discover what makes you feel like you can take on the world. So, who are you and what is your style?

Shakaila Forbes-Bell is a fashion psychologist with a BSc in Psychology from University College London. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Follow @fashionispsychology

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