Confident style starts with self-love

September 2, 2021
In 1826 French author Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Or – “You are what you eat”. In 2020 Esmari van Niekerk (that’s me) wrote: “Show me what you wear, and I will tell you who you are.” I remember the first time I wore my South African Army combat boots with my Camouflage uniform. I felt invincible and ready to kick down doors. Yet coming home, I would swop into floral dresses and open shoes and could run through fields like Anne of Green Gables. Research by senior marketing lecturer Dr Alastair Tombs, of the University of Queensland's business school, backs up the strong link between women's emotions and their clothes. Every morning when you wake up, you choose what to wear. If you work in an environment with a dress code or uniform such as the military or a hospital, then the decision on how you dress will be made for you. This will likely affect the way that others relate to you. A soldiers’ uniform reflects discipline and if he cannot even keep his uniform neat, I doubt he will lay down his life for his nation. A nurse dressed in a white coat will reflect hygiene and that makes patients feel safe. However, in professions where we have more flexibility with our work clothes and after hours where we have free rein to choose our fashions, the clothes that we wear will often speak volumes about our emotions. We may not realise quite how much what we choose to wear is dictated by our mood and, indeed, how much our choices have a subsequent effect on the behaviour and attitudes of both ourselves and others. We’ve all got a favourite outfit — one that makes us feel confident and like we can take on the world. Many of us also have an outfit that no longer fits but we can’t bear to throw it away because of the emotional attachment, such as saving the dress from our first date with a long-time love. The connection between our emotions and the way we dress is integral to the way we behave and to our identity.
In a study conducted by Professor Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and his colleague, Hajo Adam, it was revealed that emotions play such a significant role in our clothing choices, because often it is not the actual clothes that we wear that determine our feelings and attitudes, but the associations we have with them. The two groups of people who took part in the study were each given a white lab coat to wear — the first group were told it was a doctor’s coat, the second that it was a painter’s. The first group performed their tasks more sharply and with higher attention levels, as they unconsciously adopted the qualities typical of a doctor, such as a focused attitude. This process is called enclothed cognition and Galinsky describes it as “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.” WHAT EVEN?!
The Journal of Experimental Psychology says that the colour, comfort, fit and style of our clothes can directly affect our confidence levels. More than 96 per cent of people report a change in their emotional state with a change in their style of dressing. For example, a group of doctors were handed a 'white lab coat' and asked to perform a series of tests. Another group of equally qualified doctors were asked to perform the same tasks without the 'white lab coat'. The group that wore the lab coat performed flawlessly, while the ones in casual clothes made more mistakes. This was repeated with several large groups of people, and each time, the result was the same! The various colours have a major impact on mood and every colour has its own unique positive attribute. Eg. yellow brings happiness, red entices excitement and dark blue evokes dependability.
Simple clothing cues, such as a big smiley face on the t-shirt or sweatshirt, are proven to make one significantly happier and more relaxed. People who changed into workout clothes directly after waking up, feel more ‘charge up’ to exercise. Also, happier people were found to care about dressing well, while people in trauma, understandably, were found to under-play their clothing. For example, people under clinical depression were found to incline towards ill- fitting clothes almost all the time. While people diagnosed with anxiety were found to do the opposite – they were obsessed with their dress to unhealthy degrees. By switching their attire, the same people were able to improve their mental states for the day. When 42-year-old Danielle Armstrong, from Sydney, gets dressed in the morning, her outfit is cheerful and bright, even if she is not. Having suffered for years with depression, she made it her mission to start dressing in fun, colourful clothes each day and posting her outfits on fashion website “Fox in Flats”. She has a couple of staples to fall back on if she’s feeling low.
A 2012 study by Professor Karen Pine, from the psychology department at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain, found 57 per cent of women admitted to wearing a baggy top when depressed, compared to a 2 per cent wearing one when feeling happy. Similarly, 62 per cent would put on a favourite dress when happy, compared to 6 per cent when sad. Subsequent studies show our mood can be affected depending on what we wear, but also how your mood in the morning can affect your choice of outfit and subsequent mood. Armstrong started posting pictures with the hashtag #BeatTheBlackDogInStyle, because she realised that putting together an outfit made her feel good about herself. It became a very part of her recovery.
So, as much as confident dressing starts with self-love, it seems self-love can also be triggered and nurtured through strategic dressing, if you may. “Esmari, how does this work is practice?” you ask. Well, call us for a colour-, style- and wardrobe analysis, of course!
And for everyday until then, create a "happy" wardrobe in 5 easy steps: 1. Wear clothes that fit beautifully and feel good, such as cotton, wool, or silk blends. 2. Remove things from your wardrobe with negative associations. 3. Cull your wardrobe twice a year. Face all your hangers the wrong way at the beginning of the season, and only replace them the right way when you wear the item. Anything still facing the wrong way at the end of the season can go. 4. Donate clothes that no longer fit – let someone else enjoy them. 5. Avoid item shopping. Focus on coordinated outfit shopping. While there is not a definitive judgement on dressing and emotional state, evidence and experience make it an undeniable fact that what we wear regularly is linked to our minds. Our clothes intensify our emotional and mental energy. This is also sensed by people we meet. We need to become more aware about how clothes affect our mood, and vice versa – about how our mood is affected by what we wear!

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