Fashionable psychosomatics: how clothes affect career growth

If you dress like an intern, you will be perceived as an intern by others, and even by yourself. We tell you what solution fashion psychologists offer to make your clothes work for you.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Donald Trump’s golden rule “you should dress for the job you want to have, not for the one you have” is perhaps one of those statements where the former US president really knows what he is talking about. 

A lot of research has been done on how a well-chosen outfit can affect our mood, self-esteem and self-confidence. One of the latter, however, gives a caveat: the assessment of your image should come, first of all, from you. A good outfit can be considered really like that if you really feel good in it. “Everyone is different, and the measure of success for everyone is also different,” says Carolyn Mayer, professor of fashion psychology at the London College of Fashion. So it may well happen that a superbly tailored expensive outfit will simply begin to bind you, and there will be no question of any self-confidence.

Moreover, here another factor may work for or against you — the situation. For example, a three-piece suit — a kind of symbol of the success of a business person – can quite help you feel more confident if you have a business presentation in front of specialists above you in your position. Meanwhile, wear such an outfit to a meeting of the team launching a techno startup in some loft (where everyone around is wearing hoodies and jeans)— and the embarrassment is guaranteed.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Motivi trousers; Max Mara trench coat; Versace bag; DKNY watch; Ralf Ringer boots.


In psychology, this effect is called “enclosed cognition”. This term has not yet been translated into Russian, but its essence lies in the fact that our abilities (cognition) directly depend on what we are wearing (enclosed). Adam Galinsky, Professor of Management and Administrative Management at Columbia Business School, argues that in order for the effect of a particular image to have its positive effect, a person needs to give his clothes some symbolic meaning. 

It was Professor Galinsky and his colleagues who conducted the first testing of this hypothesis in 2012. The experiment consisted in the following: two groups of students were given the same tests to test their intellectual abilities. Scientists gave lab coats to one of them, while the other was simply allowed to solve problems in their usual clothes. The results showed that the group dressed in robes coped with the tasks much better than the second one.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Acne Studios dress; Stella McCartney jacket; Clarks loafers; Roberto Cavalli bag; Marks&Spencer cap.

But the experiment did not end there either. Then white coats were given to both groups. The first company was told that their clothes belonged to scientists, the second – explained that their robes belong to artists. And again, the results showed that the students in “scientific” robes completed the test faster and more efficiently.

The point of the experiment, Professor Galinsky summed up, was to show that clothes really affect how we think and how we function in society — but only on the condition that we correctly interpret its symbolic meaning. In the end, the students had a subconscious mindset that a scientist with an intelligence test would do better than an artist. Properly selected clothes in this case just helped to consolidate this pattern.

Translating the tracing paper of Galinsky’s experiment to our eternal question “what to wear?”, we get the following: no matter how fashionable and expensive your outfit is, the main thing is an inner feeling that your bow really suits you and the situation in which you find yourself at a particular moment.

How to apply it to yourself? To date, there are at least nine steps on this path:

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

1. Check with yourself

“In the morning, before you open the closet, think about what you have to do today,” suggests Donn Karen, a fashion psychologist at the New York Fashion Institute of Technology. What kind of mood are you in? How do you want to be perceived by others? If you feel tired and apathetic, then it may even be useful for you to dress up a little. On the other hand, in order to slightly ease the load of tension before the upcoming working day, you can go a little casual style. 

“It’s about striking a balance between our mood, clothes and how we want to look in front of others,” Mrs. Karen continues. We all sometimes have thoughts like “How I want to take off this suit as soon as possible,” but this can easily be avoided by giving myself a minute for introspection in the morning.

2. Think about comfort

And it’s not about leaving the house in your favorite stretched jacket and sweatpants.  Think about the fabric — it should be as pleasant to the skin as possible. Think about how much your outfit correlates with the situation in which you will find yourself today. “Feeling comfortable is very important. After all, in the end, your goal is to fulfill the plan for the day, and not to constantly think about what you are wearing today,” says Donn Karen. Pay attention to your favorite colors (provided that they really suit you), styles, brands and build your basic wardrobe on those things that you will definitely wear.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Paul Smith shirt; ralph Lauren jacket; Aquazzura shoes; Blumarine bag; Calvin Klein watch.

3. Wear clothes that fit you well

The point is obvious, but still no less important. An impeccable suit, which, however, does not fit you in size, is no longer an impeccable suit. A high-quality cut and a good size are what will help you feel confident in yourself

4. Stand out properly

A little black dress is always a good choice when you go to a cocktail party, but still the risk of merging with the crowd increases significantly in it. Sometimes you need to stand out — in a good sense of the word. For example, if you are going through a job interview, it is very important that you are remembered. So don’t be afraid to wear a bright thing or an interesting style — of course, provided that you feel confident in this particular color or style.

Here’s another experiment for inspiration. To date, scientists have established that people wearing red always feel more confident than others. During one of the tests, for example, one group of people was asked to formulate their impressions about another group. As you might guess, some members of the latter were dressed in red. Meanwhile, the whole point of the experiment was that the first group did not see what kind of clothes the second was wearing, assessing only their face and demeanor. So the people in whose image there were things of red color were rated as more confident and attractive. 

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Burberry poncho; Geox ankle boots; MSGM trousers; Oysho underwear; Fendi bag.

5. Don’t be afraid to change

Advertising campaigns of various brands often use phrases such as “timeless classics”, “eternal style”, “always fashionable shade”. “But this is not true,” Adam Galinsky believes, “times are changing, styles are changing too. And you need to be able to perceive it correctly. For example, a sweatshirt used to be considered the clothes of idlers and morons, and now it is a real uniform of fashionable freaks and young scientists.” So always evaluate each item of your wardrobe in terms of relevance and compliance with the era in which you now exist.

6. Dress up for the occasion

The feeling of confidence that comes from a particular outfit depends on many variables: your mood, the situation, the norms prevailing in your society, and even the role that you play at this or that event. Always draw parallels with the wedding — after all, there is no universal outfit here. The bride will dress in one, her girlfriend – in another, the groom’s mother – in the third, and the presenter – in the fourth.

“In any situation, no matter what you find yourself in, you need to be able to play by the rules. This applies to everything – from your behavior to your image,” Carolyn Mayer is sure— “the slightest feeling that you did not get into the dress code – and a sense of discomfort is provided for you.”

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Li-Lu trousers; Malone Souliers shoes; Comme Des Garcons chemise; Michael Kors Collection bag; Raymond Weil watch.

7. Do not dress according to age

Exactly. In fact, this is not even the installation of anti-age adherents, but psychologists who advise dressing “as it feels”, and not “as age requires”.

Most likely, you yourself will not feel comfortable in the same outfit in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. But if you still want to wear a mini at 50, do not deny yourself this. If you really like everything about yourself, others will notice it too. Take the example of Brigitte Macron.

8. Find clothes that will work for you

“Clothes should help you feel confident and yourself,” says Adam Galinsky. So if, for example, you associate a business suit with dishonest people, it will never help you feel stronger and, to put it mildly, “above the rest.”

Clothes will work for you only if you correctly correlate your choice with your personality, mood, personal preferences, and so on. Some, for example, can work productively without getting out of bed, with a laptop on their knees and in their favorite pajamas. And some, on the contrary, can also work from home, but before that they will definitely take a shower, clean themselves up, dress strictly and then get down to business. Both have a place to be – the main thing is to understand what suits you.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

9. Try to design a uniform for yourself

At least as an experiment. This approach helps, for example, Mark Zuckerberg (he wears a gray T-shirt) and Barack Obama (only gray or blue suits). The point of this practice is that wearing the same clothes will save you from the morning dilemmas of “what to wear” and free your brain from unnecessary tasks in favor of more significant ones. “I always try to reduce the number of decisions I need to make—” the former US president told Vanity Fair magazine in 2012, for example, “I never decide what to have breakfast or what to wear. I have enough worries as it is.”

To some, such a strategy will seem quite useful, because, having finally worked out your ideal outfit, you exclude the possibility of error. On the other hand, we already anticipate “fi” from avid fashionistas. Well, in this case, you can at least think of a few basic templates for yourself in advance, in which fashionable variations are quite allowed.

Модная психосоматика: как одежда влияет на карьерный рост

Patrizia Pepe jacket; H&M Studio shirt; Salvatore Ferragamo pendant; Michael Kors Collection shoes; Marks&Spencer bag.

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