The Psychological Reason Why We Wear The Clothes We Wear
The Debrief: Why do you go for THAT jacket and not THAT one? We asked the experts...
Our fashion choices are not just dictated by Vogue and Kendall Jenner, y'know. Oh no. In fact, there's a lot more going on when you decide to go for Those Jeans or That Jacket (and, also, why you shun certain styles too). While, yes, we're influenced by our mates and the bloggers we follow on Instagram, we're also influenced by our emotions and memories. We spoke to two style experts - Kate Nightingale from Style Psychology and Lisa Showman from Stylebug, to understand a bit more about why we wear the clothes we wear...
It could be an emotional reason
There are many reasons we opt for one cut, colour and fit and not the other - one of them being the way we were raised. 'The things we were exposed to as a child are going to have a crucial effect because they're more available in your mind,' says Kate. 'For example, if your mum was wearing a particular shape of jacket, you'll have a higher inclination towards it. You won't know why, but you'll be driven towards buying that piece as opposed to something of exactly same colour and made of the same fabric, just a different shape.' Our sartorial tastes come from a subconscious place, so its unsurprising that our parents, or the people we grew up with, affect our choices just as they affect our mannerisms, behaviour, and personality. On top of that, we also gravitate towards the clothes that originally made us feel great, safe and secure: 'You get people who felt good at 18-24, and they discovered a look they enjoyed so they stick to that look and never move,' says Lisa. 'They never move and they take it with them through their entire life - which is why you can often tell a person's age by the way they dress.' She's found, while working closely with those needing style help, that we tend to hold on to the things that remind us of happier times - something Kate agrees with: 'There's an element of attaching emotional and security to old representations of the times when you felt comfortable and secure,' she adds. 'They are times when you're a kid or a teenager, when everything was provided for you so you didn't have the challenge of taking it yourself.'
You could just fear change
There's a reason that, when Vogue announced low-rise jeans would be in fashion, loads of people lost their shit. It's also the reason that some are only just boarding the Skinny bandwagon despite it having been going for around 10 years. 'Skinnies have been in for a long time, some people will have been 10 years old, and now they're 20, so all they know is skinnies. They think that's a normal jean shape,' says Lisa. 'How will they feel now bootlegs are coming in? Some will find it very hard to change.' Anyone who has tried on a pair of flares recently and cringed to high heaven will understand this concept, but it can be waivered if you have a particular love for a brand: 'If a retailer we love start selling a new design, we might be willing to try new things because they're telling us to.
It might be to do with the near-exposure effect
Yep, sometimes it's just good old-fashioned advertising leaking into our porous and impressionable little brains. 'The mere exposure effect works on the basis that, the more you see something, and the more you are exposed to something, the more likely you are to act with a positive reaction without knowing why you did it,' says Kate. In essence, if you see some crazy new style in a shop window, only those with an interest in fashion or a sense of adventure are likely to buy it immediately. But once you've seen it on a few people, walked passed a few billboards, then it'll slowly start to move from your subconscious to your conscious mind and you'll end up giving it a go. 'It's like converse at the moment; if there are 10 people in your office wearing converse, then you'll probably end up buying a pair,' says Lisa. 'Easy trends like this make it easier to fit in with your peers, and you can see certain areas having a different 'look' to prove this. So, in cities like London, you've got an area where everyone dresses quite media-y, or artsy, or high fashion...'. Your brain is constantly picking up clues and signals from everyone around you, so it's a case of you dress as well as the people you're friends with...
It can be dependent on your job
Of course if you're a fashion editor, you're more likely to dress a certain way. And if you're an IT consultant, the same goes. But those who move to corporate environments find their style, and the clothing choices they make, to have a pretty negative effect overall: 'When you start working in a corporate field, you hold on to what you know because all of a sudden, your peers have disappeared,' Lisa explains. 'It's like a school uniform - you know what to wear in the day, and how to power dress but you don't know what to wear when you go out. Because you're not used to thinking for yourself, and you don't have anything to be influenced by. This is how people get stuck in ruts, and panic when it comes to smart casual.' If the last time you were able to regularly express yourself was at the age of 18, then you'll hang on to those styles for dear life until it becomes uncomfortable to change them (see the above paragraph on being afraid of change...): 'Some people don't stray far from the basics and they dont have any kind of demanding trend-led job, so they just wear old-fashioned corporate textures,' Kate says. 'They don't have any visual influences. The life they've created, usually on purpose, is not demanding a change from them.'
... Or if you're having an identity crisis
This sounds a lot more intense than it is - an identity crisis could mean anything from getting dumped to getting a new job, and it's in those times that we're more likely to go hell-for-leather and buy those leather chaps. Or something less insane, but still out of our comfort zone. 'When you see situations of crisis, and crucial changes in life, you will see a different style or a change in the person's overall look,' says Kate. 'It's because our sense of self is reflected in the clothes we wear. If someone, for example, constantly changed their look and there was no common thread running throughout, then that would probably imply that they're trying to find themselves and are a bit lost.' Hence why, as teenagers, we can go from goth to chav to skater to girlie-girl in the space of six months. We're figuring out which 'tribe' we belong to, but as you get older, you'll find your style reflects your life: if you're stuck in a rut, your style will be too. If you're all over the place, then you'll be a clothing chameleon.
It may be the bloggers
There are loads of psychological tricks shops use to get you to buy stuff (we wrote a whole article on it), but it only really works if a) you trust the brand enough to start wearing white dungarees (for example) or b) you've seen someone influential wearing it, too. 'A while ago, we needed real people to recommend things to us. A good friend who was maybe a little bit more objective than our close friends who may be jealous, so tell us the wrong information, or just recommend things that work for them. With bloggers, we can choose who we follow and like,' says Kate. 'It's the same with brands - the followers are either similar to the blogger, or it's aspirational.' Word of warning, though - if you're copying a blogger's style completely, or finding yourself totally obsessed, then that might say something about your own self esteem: 'You rarely get people who copy someone completely who have high self esteem,' Kate says. 'More comfortable people will take elements and mix them with their own personality.' Which leads nicely on to...
And finally, self esteem plays a big part
'If something suits your body shape, then you're more likely to gravitate towards it,' says Lisa. 'So, for example, hourglass shapes tend to prefer skirts because they feel more comfortable in them - and it's no coincidence that skirts flatter their shape a lot more than trousers!' But if you're not confident, and you find dressing your body really stressful, then you're more likely to either opt out and wear tracksuits, or slavishly follow trends. That last one, Kate adds, is especially noticeable: 'If you are comfortable with your body, and who you are as a person, you're not going to pretend to be someone else. If you don't have healthy self esteem then you will change yourself to fit in with a particular scheme. Sadly, it doesn't work because our brains can spot elements of communications via things like body language or facial expressions; we can see that conflict, and see how you're not authentic.' Basically, if your face, voice and stance are saying one thing, but your clothes say another, we can tell. So it's worth trying to figure out what YOU like, rather than what
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