“Clothes are only there to cover the body”, “it’s not the clothes that make the man”, “it’s not the cassock that makes the monk”, and so on and so forth. How true are these statements? What do the clothes that we choose really mean – both for ourselves and for others? Let’s find out together with the experts.
“We all know that in one way or another our appearance, its appropriateness and relevance to the situation can help us achieve our goals. It’s true that this is usually assumed to be due to the impression we have managed to make on those around us. But some researchers have rightly questioned whether clothes influence the behaviour of the person who chooses them,” writes Italian psychotherapist Gennaro Romagnoli.
An experiment conducted in 2012 by Northwestern University is proof of this. All participants were given exactly the same task and exactly the same white coats and divided into two groups: the first was told that they were medical uniforms and the second that they were artists’ work clothes. Those who were convinced they were wearing doctor’s coats approached the task more cautiously and carefully.
This means that our clothes matter and that it’s not how you feel, but how you would like to feel.
What do you feel attractive in? Seductive? And persuasive? The clothes you choose are not only a message to the people around you, but also to yourself. And you need to use it.
In the same year, clinical psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner published her book “You are what you wear: What your clothes say about you”, where she writes, for example, that the common friendly advice to go shopping or just dress up in response to our complaints about a bad day, a failed job interview or a break-up with a partner is not without meaning: “When you dress a certain way, it also contributes to inner change. We all notice something similar, for example, when we put on makeup, and even actors recognise the extent to which a character costume helps them get into character. It’s all there in everyday life.
When it comes to the impact of clothing on children and adolescents, most research has focused on the issue of school and college uniforms. There is a lot of debate about this topic: are identical clothes good or bad? Do they help to create a kind of equality among students? Or does it prevent them from expressing themselves? And is it true that uniforms promote academic success? I have to say, scientists have not yet reached a consensus.
For example, David Brunsma and Kerry Rockemore, studying data from 5,000 American sophomores, saw no direct link between mandatory uniforms and students’ attendance, grades and behaviour.
What’s more, according to their research, students who were not required to wear uniforms performed better on standardized tests.
But Virginia Draa of Youngstown State University holds a different view: after analysing data from 64 schools in Ohio from 1994 to 2002 and talking to school administrators, she concluded that school uniforms had a positive impact on discipline and grades.
Adults, too, do think about the assessment by others. Because clothing is one indicator of economic and social status. Dr Baumgartner cites the American television series Real Housewives as an example: “Just look at how obsessed they are with money, with designers, with labels… Clothes and accessories are a way of defining a place in the frame of reference and a weapon against others. It’s an opportunity to prove superiority over others.
And for those who, for whatever reason, do not chase after clothes of famous couturiers, but want to look decent, Jennifer Baumgartner recommends turning to a win-win option – the classics. A pair of pumps, a blazer and, yes, a little black dress.
“This is where history has already done all the work for you. Over the years, this kind of clothing has already proven its worth. It serves many functions and suits people of all ages and body types. It has become a classic precisely because it’s a time-honoured style that ‘works’ no matter who you are,” she concludes.