What if there is a quicker and more accessible way of helping your mental health that actually sits …in your cupboard? Take a look at what you are wearing today – what were your considerations when you made the choice?
The relationship between fashion and mental health is not widely discussed but is something I always wanted to explore. If you are looking for a quick fix for your mental health, what could be faster than wearing clothes?
I became passionate about clothes at a very early age, when I started designing outfits for my dolls. Later in my teenage years, I became more conscious about how much of an impact clothes can have on how I feel, but also on how I am perceived by others. As my family couldn’t afford much at that time, I would often end up being ashamed for not wearing the latest trends like most of my friends.
I creatively adapted to the situation by designing my own clothes, just as I used to do it for my dolls – I started to transform what I already had into unique items. This empowered me. Today I am a conscious dresser – I consciously use clothes to help me boost my self-confidence, to help me feel more energised, more feminine, or more relaxed depending on the occasion. I choose my daily outfit being aware of how I feel and how I would like to feel, what message I want to send to the outside world bearing in mind the events I attend or people that I know I will see that day.
A study by professors at Northwestern University argues that wearing certain items of clothing can affect your mood. The study suggests that what you wear can hold symbolic meaning, influencing your mindset through the power of suggestion.
They also come up with the term “Enclothed cognition”, which essentially means that we wear clothes so we can be perceived in a certain way. Clothes, when they are worn with meaning, have an impact on our psychological state. For example, a lab coat is associated with intelligence and scientific thinking. According to the researchers, wearing a lab coat and being cognisant of its symbolism, can have a positive impact on your performance.
Clothes are messages. Listen to them and look beyond the fabric, trends, superficiality, relate them to you and your choices.
Visual information is processed in a few seconds; the general appearance – clothing, hairstyle, make-up, personal hygiene – will outline an impression. This will affect your interactions with others, but especially the most important relationship: the one with yourself. With each outfit you, intentionally or unintentionally, communicate non-verbally to the outside world.
Here are a few examples of ways in which clothes can influence our mental health in a negative way:
- If you have a limited belief like “I am not worthy”, you will tend to overcompensate so you can raise up to the standards you believe others may have. You will dress in a conforming way so you can feel accepted by others, or you will desperately try to draw attention. This can lead to lack of authenticity and/or superficial friendships.
- You are wearing clothes that other choose for you – Are you surrounded by people (mother, partner, friends) who constantly criticise the way you look, the way you dress and present yourself, even insist on wearing clothes that don’t represent you, ignoring your opinion? It is normal to share common values related to the aesthetic aspect of life, including clothing. However, the one who loves you will tactfully and carefully express their opinion about the way you choose to represent yourself through your clothes and only if you ask for their opinion. The more you give in to other people demands, the more you will lose control over your own life and confidence in your own ability to decide.
- Clothes that gives you the message “I don’t care” -“I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough money for a rich wardrobe and I find concerning about the external appearance superficial. ” – If you are motivating your lack of care in your clothing choices with those mentioned above, then is a big chance that you do care about what others think, but you are intentionally doing the opposite playing the rebel. The effects of ‘I don’t care how I dress/look” can increase your stress levels as you may be avoided by your colleagues, gossiped about and even sabotaged. Here I am not referring to the creativity and originality of your outfit, but to the lack of personal hygiene, to the non-compliance with minimum professional etiquette.
- Uncomfortable clothes – Clothes are meant to make your body feel good, to give it freedom of movement, to protect and beautify it. Any clothes that harm your body are against it and this fact can only convey the message that you are always fighting against yourself just to look good. Is something too tight? Don’t wear it–it’s not worth it!
How you can support your mental health using clothes consciously:
- Develop your wardrobe as an expression of your personality and the impact you want to make. Go shopping alone – buy what makes you feel good.
- Be an inspiring leader in how you present yourself. Fast Fashion might be tempting and convenient, but does it align with your values? Maybe you can consider using apps like Vinted, where you can buy new quality items for less than half of the price.
- Look inside your cupboard – which clothes did you wear in a meeting and you nailed it? Which clothes don’t make you feel that good when you wear them? Build a wardrobe you love. In doing this, you can write down three words that describes how you want your clothes to make you feel. When you identify the feelings, it will be easier to choose your clothes.
- Align your style with your values and beliefs.
- Bright and colourful clothes are often associated with happiness, cheerfulness, and energy. Have fun and love life.
In the morning, the first person to whom you present the outfit with which you will go out into the world is you. What would be your first impression of yourself, if you could see yourself?
If you suffer from a serious mental health illness seeking for help like a counsellor or a GP is what you need, and fashion is unlikely to help. However, it can work in addition to the other treatment options.
I know that if I dress in the way that I perceive as appropriate for the event/task, I concentrate more easily. It puts me in a more positive state of mind. I am more productive, and I make better decisions. What is your experience?