What if I told you that I have scientific proof that you are justified to shop to your heart’s content because fashion choices greatly influence our mood, attitudes, thinking, and our mental process? Okay, I may have over-committed with the “shop to our heart’s content” part…but hear me out. 

So, in 2012, Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky, were researchers at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The duo undertook to conduct an experiment proving their hypothesis that our clothing choices systematically influence our “psychological processes” thus coining the term, “enclothed cognition.” 

Despite the fact that Adam and Galinsky are credited as the originators of the term “enclothed cognition”, it’s important to note that the idea that clothing influences our experiential cognition was not their original thought, they simply expanded on it. So, what exactly is “enclothed cognition” and how did Adam and Galinsky test their hypothesis?

Heads up, we’re about to get our nerd on! 

So, Adam and Galinsky’s research consisted of three separate trials. In the first trial the duo tested one group of students’ attentiveness to their work while they were wearing lab coats, and another group without the lab coats. What they found is that the group wearing the lab coats made fewer mistakes than those without lab coats. I wonder if women would be respected if we wore lab coats…

Using the findings from the first experiment Adam and Galinsky conducted a second experiment in which they continued to use the lab coats, but this time they told the group that the lab coats were doctors coats, and the other group painters coats. Guess what? The group wearing the doctor’s coats outperformed the group in painters coats!

In their third and final trial, the duo required one group of volunteers to wear doctor’s coats, another group painter’s coats, and the third group were told the coats were lab coats. Once again those who were in lab coats performed at a higher level proving that clothing associated with a job that is perceived to be high intensity, in this case the lab/doctor’s coat, noticeably increased the participant’s attention on an awareness test. The results of Adam and Galinsky’s trial proves that clothing holds symbolic meaning and invokes our psychological schemas.

A different group of researchers later on further tested Adam and Galinsky thesis by interrogating the impact formal clothing has on our abstract cognitive processing. After studying how formal attire impacts people’s thought processes, the researchers concluded that people who wore formal clothing tended to think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly. It makes sense now why a lot of us associate items of clothing such as tailored jackets or suites with success.

Structured formal clothing not only enhances our confidence which in turn helps us unleash our killer negotiation skills in the boardroom. Formal attire also induces hormones that help us tap into our God given dominance and ability to think abstractly. 

While formal attire helps set us up for success in the business world, wearing a power suit for social purposes might be a slight overkill. Studies also show that people tend to be less open and find it more challenging to relax while wearing formal wear. Now I understand why some of us may experience social anxiety at black tie events because as beautiful as those events appear to be on Instagram, we all know we miserably count down the minutes till we can get out of that gorgeous outfit so we can finally BREATHE

Casual wear however, has the opposite effect on us. Casual wear causes us to feel more relaxed, friendly and creative. This is why most creative industries encourage their employees to dress business casual, and other sectors have implemented Casual Fridays, encouraging their employees to let their hair down and socialise. 

Our mental state also plays a significant role in our clothing choices. While the thought of us slipping into our favourite oversized sweatshirt may conjure up images of sitting on the couch, binging your favourite show, eating your favourite unhealthy snack of choice, and sipping on a glass of wine and feeling nothing but comfort and safety. However, I would not suggest slipping into your favourite baggy outfit on days when mental health may be kicking your butt.

In fact, research suggests that having a selection of statement pieces in your wardrobe will serve you well on challenging days. Bright colours work as mini pick-me-ups, boosting your mood and energy. Try it. Next time you find yourself wanting to dress like you feel and reaching for your dark hoodie, I hope that you remember this blog post on  enclothed cognition and reach for a bright cardigan instead.

Our daily outfit choices not only reflect the way we want others to perceive us, but also impact how we see ourselves, our mental health and influence our cognitive abilities. It’s important that we become more mindful of how our clothes make us feel, think, and be, holistically.