If you find yourself twirling about whimsically whenever you wear your favorite floral dress, and you walk with more stomp in your step in a specific pair of boots, it’s not just your imagination that your clothing is influencing your behavior. In an interview with The List, organizational psychologist Joanna Lovering, founder and CEO of the style coaching service Copper + Rise, explained that clothes actually can change your brain chemistry. “What you wear doesn’t just affect how others perceive you,” she said. “Namely, your performance can actually change according to your outfit.”
Lovering pointed to several academic studies that demonstrated a link between clothing and mental performance. Research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people wearing formal business attire had improved abstract thinking. A similar study found improved negotiation powers in men wearing suits compared to men wearing sweats (per Scientific American). Meanwhile, if you’ve ever thrown on a white coat and joked, “I’m not really a doctor, I’m playing one on TV,” that costume indeed might have given you more MD-like mental powers. The Journal of Experimental Psychology reported that subjects wearing doctor’s lab coats were more focused than those who were dressed casually. “These examples illustrate just a tiny fraction of the research that shows how our clothing affects our performance,” Lovering said. “It’s not about the clothes themselves; it’s about how the clothes change your brain to allow you to show up in the world.”
How to dress for success, according to a clothing and psychology expert
So if what you wear indeed influences how you act, think, and feel, we’ve got to ask: What should we be wearing? Lovering said a good place to start is with your color palette. “There’s just something about the color red,” she said. “According to a landmark study, wearing red is correlated with a higher probability of winning in a wide range of sports. So, if you’re gearing up for a major presentation, interview, or just need to get a lot done that day, do yourself a favor and boost your energy by wearing something red!” If you don’t actually own anything in this hue, don’t worry. “Don’t forget about makeup — this can even be achieved with red lipstick,” Lovering advised.
While you are hunting around in your closet, go for the more structured items, Lovering said. “When you wear something that you think makes you look ‘put-together’ or more formal, it can make you feel more self-assured, powerful, and confident. Your clothes have a powerful effect on your confidence and self-worth,” she said. “So why not wear the dress or the high heels?”
Being comfortable is important, too
Why not wear the dress and the high heels…well, what if you don’t feel like “you” in a dress, and owwww, your feet hurt? Being comfortable indeed is extremely important, Lovering emphasized. “If you’re not comfortable in what you’re wearing, you’ll spend the day using up precious brain energy on fidgeting and adjusting, rather than focusing on the task at hand,” she explained. After all, it’s really difficult to nail that job interview or charm your first date if all you can think of is how much you absolutely hate Spanx.
We know what you’re thinking — phew! I can stay in my sweats after all! Not so fast, Lovering warned. “You can ‘dress up’ and be comfortable at the same time!” she said. The reason why you might think formal clothes are uncomfortable could be a fit issue, she added. “Well-fitting garments — a.k.a. clothes that aren’t too big and aren’t too small — are key for comfort,” Lovering said. “It’s not what you’re wearing, it’s how it fits.” Knock ’em dead!
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