Enclothed Cognition || How What You Wear Affects Your Psyche
Enclothed Cognition isn’t the sexiest of terms, especially when used in the fabulous world of fashion. But that’s what you get when science is brought into the mix. The term, “enclothed cognition” was created in 2012 by Haj Adam and Adam D. Galinsky in an experiment related to the effects of clothing on mental processes. The way we think, feel, and function in areas related to attention, perception, confidence and even abstract thought!
We are stating the obvious when we say that clothing portrays a lot about you; how you want to be perceived? how you want to show-up in the world? and how you are feeling on the inside? Traditionally people used clothing as a mask, either to hide behind or to reflect a specific persona they wanted to be, found attractive or wanted to be associated with. Hence it is safe to say that the choice of clothing is a very effective portrayal of how you are feeling on the inside.
It is the first time, however, that apparel has been associated with our mental state as a means that influences our inner feelings. This is a powerful revelation because it implies that you can help yourself psychologically by wearing specific clothing. The catch here lies in the fact that your choice of attire needs to be aligned with your mental state for it to work, which can be a little tricky to understand.
There are three elements to enclothed cognition; how you are feeling in the moment? (your present state of mind) how you want to be feeling in the future? and what you consciously and subconsciously associate with the clothing that you choose to wear? We’ve often seen, subconscious enclothed cognition in action, for instance, when a woman or a man is going through a painful breakup, the feelings of sadness, anger and vulnerability are not reflected in their manner of dressing. On the contrary, in order to abate these feelings they choose to dress in clothing that they believe will raise their spirits; tight-fitted, bright colors and out the door they go partying the night away. The effect of this emotional boosting attire is short-lived. They may look in the mirror and say, ‘Yeah I rock’, but shortly thereafter this initial ego boost wanes, and they find themselves just as miserable as they were before they got dressed, with the added feeling of ridiculousness in their choice of clothing relative to their genuine feelings.
Enclothed cognition takes it a step further and dives deeper into our psyche by tapping into our belief systems aligning them with feelings over time. Let’s take the above example again, but this time using the process suggested by Haj Adam and Adam D. Galinsky. According to their theory, at this time in life, when we are experiencing the miserable break-up, you must tap into items of clothing that have had a positive impact on your psyche. It’s like a positive affirmation via clothing. A fantastic sweater that obtained many compliments, a “good luck” white shirt, perhaps an item of clothing that was recently purchased that you really felt was a departure from your old way of dressing, or even an old pair of jeans that make you feel fabulous. When you do go out wearing these items, even though you may not be feeling your greatest internally, the positive emotional association you have with the chosen outfit will allow its upbeat link within your mindset raise your spirits.
In this case, you are acknowledging your sad feelings, validating their presence but are choosing an attire that will evoke positive vibes on you personally. Thus establishing a correlation between the clothing you choose to wear and your personality. It is an alignment that allows enclothed cognition to work in a positive way.
One of the experiments conducted by the founding duo involved a white coat. This white coat was given to three different candidates. In each instance it was associated with a specific profession. One was told the white coat was for a painter, the second candidate was told it was a doctor’s coat and the third was told it was a science lab coat. After putting the coats on, the three candidates adopted the preconceived demeanor of each profession and proceeded to behave in different manners. Cognitively the artist’s coat inspires creativity and a more relaxed presence. The doctor’s coat, invoked a serious and compassionate demeanor and the science lab coat candidate exhibited stronger cognitive skills related to precision, and focus.
The crux of this article is the following: dressing to affect your psyche and mood is dependent on your personal association with specific pieces of clothing, not general assumptions. Therefore, we each have very personal styles; it stems from the same reasoning, that I dress in accordance with my emotional state and visa-versa. Certain colors, shapes and styles are connected to personal experiences, and we need to consider these factors and use them to our advantage to affect the internal change we need.