History of Psychology and Fashion
External behaviors, I believe, are driven by internal motivations. I use the outside to understand the inside, what might be going on. And we do this for all their behaviors. But for whatever reason, we don't do this with dress. When I was studying to become a psychologist, I actually wanted to examine this concept for my master's thesis and my doctoral dissertation. I had a meeting with the chair of my department and the head of my school. I threw this little idea out there and they both looked at me like I was completely out of my mind. (laughs) That I should not be even considering examining this because nobody would buy it. It wouldn't be anything that would carry psychological weight. But I felt that, again, like anything else, why wouldn't I study this? It's what we do every single day. It's a very important part of our consumer culture. It's a very important part of how others treat you. They look at you and they make an immediate assessment. It also is really interesting to see...
how you clothe yourself, not just what other people think. So that idea was banished. But eventually I got to it. You know, it's slowly starting to be something that we're looking at. So what were your thoughts and emotions when you were dressing this morning? Is anybody willing to share?
Well I'll start. I was joking before the class, because you were coming and I put on like four different outfits. It took me like a half an hour. But a lot was going through my head.
What was going through your head?
Oh, just, you know I always need to stay on brand for what we do here, so I was thinking about that. But I remember someone telling me once that you want to be, it's good to be like, you don't want to dress too differently from everybody else. You wanna be the best dressed person in the room, but only slightly. So that's what was going through my head. How 'bout you guys?
Well first off for me were all the technical parameters like no prints, you know all the things that you have to pay attention to for camera. But mostly, it was about wanting to look good because we're talking about clothing. But knowing it's, you know, sitting and a long day so being comfortable. Being dressed up, but not too dressed up. So a lot of emotions and wanting to wear color. I always wear black. So I'm trying to branch out.
That's interesting. From both of your responses, there seems to be a theme and that's there are these parameters. And kind of almost like the center of the bell shape curve. You don't wanna go too much on either way. You don't want to be too much of an outlier 'cause then we do feel uncomfortable. We're actually gonna address that later on when we look at research and trends in psychology of dress. But yeah, we are often bound by these parameters. The other thing we talked about, Jim you talked about representing a brand. And we'll examine that also later on where we're looking at how do we dress for work? That's one of the main questions that I get. We do have some kind of thought in what we wear. We have thought and again, the four dress behaviors. How we shop, how we assemble, how we store and organize our clothing, and how we remove our clothing from the closet. And so we're gonna examine this further. So I have a couple of theories that kind of guide the things that I do with my clients. The first theory I came up with is the billboard theory. And the billboard theory simply states, if you've ever driven cross-country or anywhere, you'll see billboards along the road. And there's some good billboards and there's some really bad billboards. But in order for a billboard to be effective, the billboard has to create in you the understanding of the message that it wants to send and ultimately tries to get you to buy the product, okay. So the product has to be attractive, but the person creating the billboard needs to let you know what they want you to know. And you have to understand that as such. So there needs to be nothing lost in translation. So are we not our own billboard? We can change what we wear. We can alter it any way we want. And again, we hate to think that we live in a society where people are always judging us, but they are. And the reason why they're judging us is for survival. If you didn't judge what you saw out in the planes, you might die. Or if you didn't judge what you may have seen back in the day with other tribes and things like that, you may encounter an enemy. So it serves a purpose for us to look at somebody and quickly make a judgment, a parsimonious judgment, an immediate easiest judgment that our brain can make to keep us safe and secure. Obviously times have changed from when we were you know, hunting wild boar and had warring tribes. It's not that way anymore here in the United States, but we still do this. This is still in us, this feeling of looking at somebody and being like, mm I know exactly what that is. And it's okay. You're allowed to have that. And those things can change as you get to know the person. But the reason why it's there is not to make you feel like a horrible person. The reason why it's there is to ultimately to help make an assessment of what you're seeing in front of you and to survive. So we do create our own billboard. The biggest, I think, issue that most people have is whatever they're trying to say to another, they may not be doing it effectively and the message, how somebody might read them, is not at all what they want it to be read. And again, you can't control other people too much, but you can make sure that your message is honed as it possibly can be so that you can get across what you wanna get across. So this is the billboard theory. And when I was doing this work, there's so many inappropriate billboards and horrible billboards. And they did not get across the message, but in your own billboard, what you wear, you wanna make sure that you're dressing and giving a message. Some of the exercises I do with clients is I might have them walk in a mall. I might have random people observe them. I ask the client, what do you wanna say with your outfit? And they say, well I'm saying I'm a good hardworking person. And then I go around and I ask everybody who's observed the person, what did the outfit say to you? What do you think this person is saying to you? And a lot of times, what the person thinks they're saying and what is actually being said are very different things. And that's when we know we need to make changes, when the client is not happy with that. But we can alter this. We can change this. The next theory I talk about is called the iceberg theory. It's very Freudian. So we're gonna be looking at, when you think of an iceberg, there's the tip of the iceberg, what's above the water. And usually that is literally just the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot of other stuff below it. So when you look at the tip of the iceberg, the stuff, this is I believe, what we see. So these are our behaviors, how we dress specifically for this class. But underneath the water is all this other gunk. The cultural factors, the socioeconomic factors, the way you were raised, the history of how you were raised, where you learned how to dress, what you learned to present to other people. So that's the stuff that's below the water. And that's the stuff that I'm trying to get to, all right. So again, like Freud we talk about Freudian theory, you know, for Freud, above the water is the conscious, that which you are aware. In the middle of the water is the subconscious. And these are areas of dreams and daydreams when you're sleeping. You're still conscious, but it's kinda in and out. And then underneath the water is the unconscious, the things that you're not aware of. And that's what we try to crack open when we work with somebody therapeutically when we're doing psychodynamic or psychoanalytic theory and therapy. So when I do it here for this business inside out, I talk about, okay let's examine what's above the water, what you look like, how you shop, how you do all those things. And then what's below the water, what you really are motivated by, what is triggering you? The next piece I wanna talk about is projective assessments, ah my favorite card of the Rorschach. (laughs) So projective assessments. So I am a clinical psychologist. I do therapeutic treatment, but I also provide assessments. That's part of the specialty of a psychologist is to give assessments. One of the assessments I give is called a projective assessment. Now a projective assessment simply means that you are projecting your stuff onto a neutral object. So projective assessments we use in psychology, that I've used a lot, Rorschach is the most famous. Also known as the ink blot test. We also look at the HTP, or the House Tree Person. I use that a lot with children when I'm assessing them. I have them draw a house. I have them draw a tree. I have them draw a person. I ask them questions about each of those things. And the understanding is they're putting their own gunk on something that has no real meaning. I also use the TAT, the Thematic Apperception Test. This is a test that often looks at relationships. So usually they're cards and they have people doing different things with each other. And again, they're neutral. But we put our own stuff on there. So in projective assessments, the idea is that whatever you're putting on there's the gunk that I need to talk about. That these things have no meaning and we can dig and say, why did you come up with this? What was going on here? With the Rorschach test, we examine many populations and we figure out how certain people might answer certain things. So somebody who is depressed would normally answer in this way. And then when I give a client an assessment, do they fit in to that kind of statistical piece that says, yes there is some depression there? So that's how we do it with those kinds of tests. So our clothing is similar. When we walk into a store, our clothing shouldn't really have any meaning. It's just fabric. It's buttons. It's zippers. It's seams. It has no inherent meaning. But when we decide to pick something out, we decide how we wear it or how we don't wear it, whether it sits in our closet, whether we throw it in the floor or keep it wrapped in its original packaging. You are doing something with that. You are putting your own stuff onto these clothes. So that's how I look at how you dress, like a projective assessment. And I try to figure out, what are you putting onto these clothes? So if I were to think, if you all were to think about a projective assessment and look at your clothing or any outfit you might have, do you see how you may have projected something onto your outfit today and how did you do that?
Well one of the things I was trying to do was, knowing coming to a class with this theme, is that not to put any extra effort in doing what I normally do. I wanted to wear what I do. So just wanted to be clean, kind of coordinated, not matching. And just be myself and wear it the way I normally do. But beyond that, clean kinda pressed, not smelly is about all I was going for.
And it can be as simple as that, that this was kind of what you wear and this speaks to you and it doesn't have to be that complicated. But I would follow up with the question, why is this you? How does that relate to your internal stuff that might be going on? Is is parallel to your life or is it against it?
I'm not a loud person, so I don't wear anything very loud, but I don't mind a bit of color. But nothing that, here I am. I'm not putting myself on display or anything. As long as it's everybody, some of you call it normal or accepted. Not too much or not too little, something right about the middle. Maybe there's something on the bottom of the iceberg that I'm not paying too much attention to.
Well I think you spoke to it. And I think what you spoke to, you know, above the iceberg is gonna be that the clothes are simple. They don't call attention to the self. And then when you go below, it's really you don't want anybody to attend to you too much. So that would feel uncomfortable for you. And something we might do, let's say if you were to work with me, is we'd say, well why is that? Where did you learn that? Did you have a traumatic experience? Was it just part of your personality? Does if feel uncomfortable for you to be called, kinda forward? Does it mean that somebody might require or ask something of you? And do you find that in other parts of your life, like your work life, your relationship? So we can look at all of those pieces and you know, we think, oh we're just looking at their wardrobe. But what you speak to is really that you're putting your understanding of the self, that you're quiet, you kinda wanna remain in the mix on your clothing.
Well there are two sides to that. I mean my father always used to say, you know, stay on this side. Don't draw too much attention. But on the other hand, I do competitive ballroom dancing. So you're right up front or you do shows. So there is a dichotomy there.
Right, so there's maybe this piece of you that wants to feel like you're out there and you're a showman, but you can do it in that way. But if it's a normal life, right. It's almost like you created this other persona, the dancer, the performer. And then there's the other part of you, the everyday. And that part of you wants to remain relatively anonymous. So you kinda channel it out there. But then in dress, you know in the regular life, it's no longer you the performer, it's a different persona. And that person wants to remain quiet. And that was something that you were taught. And a lot of us, and we'll go into this a little more, that we are taught how to use our clothing. We don't even realize it. And then we are also taught what is the meaning underneath it. Thank you. All right, so there's another concept, the feedback loop. Psychologists, we love feedback loops. Now I'm a cognitive behavioral therapist. And that means that I look at your cognitions, your thoughts. I look at your behaviors, how you act. And then your feelings, your emotions. And I believe that they're all interconnected. And that if we can shift the cognitions, we can shift the emotions. If we can shift the behaviors, we can also shift emotions. But all three of them improve if I'm doing my job correctly and my patient is following the homework that they need to do. So in cognitive behavioral therapy, we are gonna look at a behavioralist who came up with the feedback loop. And I will talk about that in a bit. But my feedback loop is really the self, the internal, the piece below the water, the piece above the water, the external self, specifically your dress behaviors, and the other, how other people are responding to you. And I believe that all of these things are always in constant communication with the other. It's often silent. It can be very subconscious. But that's what I believe. So that's my feedback loop when I'm looking at clients. I'm seeing kinda why things are done the way they're done. Now this is based on Albert Bandura. He was a behavioralist. And he looked at a feedback loop in a little bit of a different way. He believed in reciprocal determinism. And that's simply that your behavior is influenced by what's going on, your personal factors, and your social environment. He came up with a feedback loop called The Triadic Reciprocal Causation. And in his feedback loop he, again, believed that there was the personal stuff, your cognitions, your affect and biological events. Your environment, how others are responding to you and your behaviors. And they were all working together. Now we're gonna talk about the response to this concept of fashion psychology. We know, as I said, we know that there's something more in the way you dress than just, I'm just dressing this way. There's something more there. Is there times when you just pick out whatever? Yeah, sure, of course. But what happened when those clothes came into your closet? How did you even buy them? What made you buy them? What prompted the purchase? What were you taught by your family? So I believe there's always something involved in the way you dress. There's usually an internal component. And there is a increased interest now in the way we dress. Maybe if I'd gone to grad school now, I might have somebody actually excited about me writing a dissertation on this very topic. But not so when I was, 11 years ago when I was doing this. We know that image is important, our external is important. And anything that we show, our non-verbal stuff, which includes, you know, our body cues, our eye contact, the way we dress, the way we carry ourselves. We know that this has some importance in the way we respond to ourselves and the way others respond to us. Because of that, we are able to look at responses to this topic because before, there wasn't a response. It was just a negative response. So let's talk a little bit about the negative response to this concept. It's anything that involves clothing is deemed as shallow. We believe that if we are to look at the external that we're gonna somehow increase depression. We're gonna increase anxiety. We're gonna increase any disordered eating. But examination does not lead to a diagnosis. So we have to make sure we're doing it in an appropriate way and the way that I do it is looking at what more can I learn about myself? What more can I learn about others? And how can I make the life improved by examining this? I was applying for a job and the room was kinda split. Half of the room liked that I did this side gig. The other half, they were concerned. They were concerned that me examining this stuff would somehow muddy the waters of psychology, that it was not scientific, even though it was and I had been featured in the APA newsletter that week. So it's interesting to see how other people examine, how other people assess what this stuff means. I've had lots of different responses from different people. So some people are very against it. Others think it's great. And usually I don't see an in between. But it's not all negative. I always like to add in a positive note. So there is some positivity to this, which is good. We realize that, yes there is some scientific validity to how you dress, how you behave in this way. That yes, we can examine what you wear and why you wear it and figure out some really interesting things about your past, your present, and your future. So that's what I hope to do. But much of the research is not done by psychologists. There are a few out there. But most of the research is actually done with consumer, anybody who's marketing, advertising things like that. They're well ahead of psychologists in terms of looking at what we wear and why we wear it. And that's where you can get a lot of your information from because they wanna know why people are buying what they're buying. And this is how they do it, by examining why they're dressing the way they are. And psychologists will benefit from that. And again, also the research is telling us that we can tweak our external to help our internal. So we'll talk about a specific study, really a landmark study that was done by Karen Pine, Dr. Karen Pine as to showing that there is indeed a connection. So what do you think of the psychology of dress? Do you think it's quackery? Do you think it's science? Do you think it's a little of both? Yes.
I think there is definitely something there 'cause it's like, if I have an important meeting or if I really, sometimes you wake up, you're kinda tired, but you know, oh wait, if I dress with this like skirt and a nice shirt, somehow it makes you more awake. It makes you ready to go to work instead of maybe putting on some slacks, you're like, oh okay I'm relaxed. I may fall asleep. I think there is something there. I'm excited to learn more.
I think some of those social things that you said, for example when you talked about when you go home, you associate that with something more comfortable or when you go out you want to be more presentable, like I shaved this morning, for instance. Is it that similar thing that the meanings that you've given to those things?
Absolutely. That it is our clothes that makes us or we are the ones that makes clothes. And just kind of that cyclical thing between the two.
Yes. So there are a couple of things. Number one, you know, why does an actor wear a costume if dress is not important? Well the actor wears the costume because he or she needs to believe that they're inhabiting the role. And they also need to convince the audience that they are the role. So that's number one. The second piece, and we'll talk a little bit more about this and research trends, there's a study called enclothed cognition. And it looks at the physical feeling of wearing the clothing as well as the associations that we have with the clothing. You talked about kind of transitional dress and a lot of times when I'm actually working with patients and I'm trying to show them the difference between the work life and the regular life, I have them change their outfit because it's a physical representation of a transition. So yes, absolutely.
And that's beyond the practical. For example, you don't go with a suit and tie to gym.
Right, it's deeper than that. If anybody thinks that there is no inherent meaning to what we wear I say, well why don't you wear your robe to your business interview. (laughs) Of course they're not gonna do it because it's more than just practical. It's also the physical experience of putting on the item ad well as the associations we have. And the enclothed cognition study will really show you that.
When you were talking about the actor and wearing and kind of what they're projecting, is that that feedback loop that you were talking about?
Yeah because other people will respond to them in a way that they're trying to present. And then they respond to themselves. So it's the physical change creates the internal change and creates the shift in how theirs responds. And they all work together, yeah.
I also think that depending on my mood, what the colors I choose are definitely different. I usually have a very, you know, colorful outfit together. So it definitely depends on my mood. But when I go for the interview, I make sure that I wear something muted simply for impression management. I don't want anyone to kind of judge me based on you know, oh this person is super colorful or what it means. So it's definitely muted when I try to kind of make a neutral presence.
So then I just am curious, once let's say you land the job, do you feel like you're free to be me at that point?
Then the colors come out.
Yeah great. And I think that's very true. So there are two points you brought up. Number one, that mood and clothing are interrelated. And they are and we'll talk more about that. The second piece you brought out was just, you know, letting yourself shine. So initially we are under the restrictions, as we talked about earlier today, of what is expected of us. But once we, you know, kind of are free to be us, then as I always like to say to people, let the freak flag fly. So you can be you and that's fine. So we certainly, this is becoming more acceptable, that we are allowed to find an interest in fashion without it being deemed as shallow and frivolous. And there is some scientific weight in this behavior.