THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CLOTHING: Meaning of Colors, Body Image and Gender Expression in Fashion

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CLOTHING: Meaning of Colors, Body Image and Gender Expression in Fashion

We select clothes that we’re purchasing and wearing according to the meaning we believe them to have, or the messages we believe them to send. But what are psychological consequences of clothing, and how does clothing express something about the user? To assess the state of knowledge about the communicative nature of fashion, the aim of this review was to provide a concise and succinct literature overview of over twenty empirical studies of the above-mentioned concept. The psychology behind clothing is classified into 3 thematic categories in this paper: a) the meaning of colors in clothing psychology; b) the socio-psycological impact of clothing; and c) gender (in)equality regarding clothing. Finally the last chapter brings a concise study of a few recent fashion shows, brands and trends. It is doubtless that both clothing and appearance serve as an important socializing influence and a form of communication.

The Socio-psycological Impact of ClothingA

n individual’s body image play an important role in clothing preferences and attitudes [29]. Clothing is an extended dimension of one’s bodily self [30] and is used to change the appearance of the body [31]. Reed [32] found that an individual’s clothing style is influenced by aspects of selfconcept such as identity, value, attitude, and mood. Sontag and Lee [33] recognized the importance of body image in relation to clothing and included a body image dimension in the Proximity of Clothing to Self scale. They stated that body image may affect clothing behavior and clothing may affect body image and self-feelings. Thus, how we perceive our bodies can affect how we use clothing.

Research using clothing as a variable has indicated that discordance between attire and verbal message [34] or between attire and role/stereotype [35,36,37] can result in less positive judgments by a perceiver. Thus from a cognitive approach, clothing or other appearance cues are viewed as stimuli that may be selected by a perceiver in order to undertstand an observed person. Formal clothing is often worn to follow norms [38]. Wearing formal clothing is associated with perceptions of more professionalism but also less approachability [39,40]. Wearing formal clothing is related to psycho-logical formality and social distance, whereas casual clothing is related to intimacy and familiarity. People who wear formal clothes describe themselves as more competent and rational [38]. As formal clothing is associated with enhanced social distance, Slepian proposes that wearing formal clothing will enhance abstract cognitive processing.Gurney et al. [41] confirmed that competency ratings of individuals vary by their posture [42,43,44] and their attire [45,46]. In their study they also confirmed an interaction effect of posture and clothing by showing that perceptions of people in different attire can be altered by the posture they adopt while wearing it. They report that both men and women benefit from dressing smartly and adopting a neutral posture when doing so.Howlett et al. [47] coducted a study by photographing models in realistic settings and by manipulating an additional independent variable — a camisole. In their study of subtle clothing changes, participants rated women as less competent when their blouses were unbuttoned as compared to buttoned. Women who appear „sexy” are judged as less competent, less intelligent, and less moral than those who dress „appro-priately” [48,49]. Their research shows that women in provocative clothing are rated as less competent. Whereas it is clear that dressing provocatively can indeed have negative consequences, these findings suggest that the right combination of clothing can also project power.Women’s use of high-heeled shoes is a prevalent phenomenon in both developing and modernized soci-eties [50,51]. In the United States alone, over $8,000,000,000 is spent annually on high-fashion footwear [52]. However, despite the widespread prevalence of high heels, the reasons why women wear high heels are not well understood. Lewis et al. [53] study provides evidence of high-heeled shoes’ concurrent effects on women’s lumbar curvature and attractiveness, and reveal a precise, lumbar curvature-dependent effect of high heels on women’s attractiveness. This study along with some other studies that employed distinct methods shows that when women wear high heels, their lumbar curvature increased and they were perceived as more attractive.One very visible component of police identity is the police uniform. Previous studies have shown that police uniforms can induce feelings of safety in those around the uniformed person [54]. Other research show that uniforms are associated with the perception of increased competence, reliability, intelligence, helpful-ness, status, and authority [55,56,57,58]. Civile & Obhi [59] investigated the question of whether the police uniform itself might induce a bias in social attention. Their results demonstrate that wearing a police-style uniform may induce a kind of „status-profiling” in which individuals from low-status groups become salient and capture attention.Individuals have been found to be more aggressive when wearing a black sports kit [24] or a hood and cap [60], while women are less aggressive when wearing a nurse’s uniform [61]. These observations can be explained through the concept of enclothed cognition, a term proposed by Adam & Galinsky [62]. Enclothed cognition is the phenomenon of people adopting the traits and properties they associate with the clothes they wear. Forsythe [63] found that participants judged women to be more forceful in job interviews and were more likely to recommend them for hiring when they were dressed in a more masculine style (a navy suit) compared with a more feminine style (a beige dress).

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