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14 Unexpected Ways Your Clothes Can Boost Your Mood

Updated: Feb. 02, 2023

Use fashion psychology to get into the right mindset and shift your mood

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A genius way to use fashion psychology

When your clothes look good, you feel good. You probably already knew that, but learning a little fashion psychology can help you pick out just the right outfit. Whether you’re looking to feel energized, confident, attractive, relaxed, happier at home, powerful or calm, the right item of clothing can give you a little extra boost, says Oliver Timsit, a fashion designer, stylist and founder of Oliver Logan denim.

Clothing is one of the most basic forms of personal expression and one of the first ways we convey our personality to others, says Timsit. Everything from the fit, style and color to the pattern and fabric shares a little bit about you—and on the flip side, each contributes to how you feel in your clothes. For instance, wearing a bright T-shirt with a happy saying printed on it can both convey happiness and help you have a more positive attitude.

“I don’t think you need neon colors or funky patterns to evoke happiness from clothing,” Timsit says. “It seems simple, but the key is finding clothing that fits and makes you feel comfortable in your skin.” To help you do that, we consulted the latest research in fashion psychology and a few pros who know what to wear for every mood. Read on for the surprising ways your clothes can help you be happier, more focused, smarter and more.

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They can make you feel more self-confident

Women who wore “special” undies reported feeling more confident and attractive—even if no one else ever saw the underwear—according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Culture. The trick, according to the researchers, was choosing underwear based on personal taste, not purchasing them based on a generalized ideal of what others will find sexy or attractive. In other words, wearing special underwear will make you feel more confident, but what constitutes an ideal pair of undies differs for each person. If you’re trying to be happy and confident, this is a fun and easy place to start.

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They can help you feel calmer

Smell is one of the most underrated aspects of fashion psychology, but how your clothes smell can play a big part in how you feel while wearing them. One surprising finding: Wearing a romantic partner’s sweat-soaked T-shirt can instantly calm anxiety, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors,” says Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.” Next time you’re feeling stressed beyond belief, use this knowledge to ease your anxiety and capture a quick moment of joy.

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They can help you feel less depressed

People who are feeling sad or depressed tend to dress more casually, wearing baggy items, sweatpants, leggings or worn-in jeans, according to a study published by the University of Hertfordshire. Wearing an outfit that fits poorly, is unflattering or dirty, or makes you feel bad about your body can make you feel bad mentally, creating a vicious cycle of depression and dressing down. This is why one of the top tips for managing depression in your daily life is to ditch the pajama pants and put on a clean, well-fitting outfit that you like. Consider updated duds a thank-you gift to yourself for taking a step in the right direction.

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They can make you feel more powerful

Want to show your strength at work? Inspirational books can help boost your confidence and give you tips for asserting yourself, but there’s an even easier way to change your professional attitude: Dress up. The “power tie” is a real thing, according to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Researchers found that participants who wore formal business attire while completing a series of cognitive tests felt significantly more powerful and in control of the situation than their underdressed peers. So before a big presentation or when asking for a raise, don your best business attire.

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They can make you feel inspired and creative

Working from home comes with some perks (no commute! PJs 24-7!), but you may want to rethink your attire. Even if you can wear pajamas or loungewear all the time, you may not want to. Setting boundaries between home and work by dressing up during office hours could be a boon to your career.

The Social Psychological and Personality Science study found that participants who dressed in business-formal clothing could think faster on their feet and had more creative ideas. The researchers speculate that how you dress can change your perception of the objects, people and events around you, sparking fresh ideas and a new point of view.

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They can shift how you view exercise

Athletes in red clothing won more events in the 2004 Olympic Games than their competitors in blue, which inspired researchers to investigate whether that was a coincidence or whether there was something special about their outfit color. The study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that exercisers who wore red could lift heavier weights and had higher average heart rates than those who wore blue, indicating they were working harder.

Here’s where it gets really interesting: Both groups reported similar rates of exertion. So athletes in red had more-intense exercise sessions, but they didn’t feel like they were working harder. But before you toss all your blue workout gear, know that the researchers did not find that the red-clad sportsmen won more often.

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They can make you feel smarter

Dressing in clothing that is associated with intelligence, like a doctor’s coat or a pilot’s uniform, doesn’t just make you look smarter; it may make you act smarter too. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Researchers gave lab coats to one group of participants (none of whom were doctors) and told another to stick with their street clothes. All of them performed a series of complex tasks, but those in white coats made significantly fewer mistakes.

The scientists repeated the experiment, but this time, they gave lab coats to all participants. In a twist, they told half the people they were doctor’s coats and the other half they were paint smocks. Again, the people in the “doctor’s coats” performed better on the tests, which shows that it’s not just what you wear but also what you think of what you wear that matters. Does that mean you need to start showing up to the office in scrubs fit for a surgeon? Not quite. But try something new: Wear a power suit fit for a CEO.

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They can make you feel focused

Being able to focus on a task, particularly when it’s boring, is half the battle when it comes to many jobs. The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology study found that the people wearing the “smarter” doctor’s coats were able to focus harder and longer than those who thought they were wearing painter’s smocks. The authors theorize that this is because we know physicians “tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.” So when we act like a physician, we embody some of those qualities—almost as if we’re trying to live up to the expectations of the outfit. If focus is non-negotiable for your job, consider workwear that will help you channel someone in a stereotypically focused profession, like a lawyer.

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They can help you be more persuasive

This one’s for those who hate haggling over a car price or negotiating a house contract. (And isn’t that everyone?) According to research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, your clothing can give you an edge in an argument. Subjects were divided into three groups: One dressed in a suit, another in sweats and a third in their own clothing. They were then placed in a situation in which they had to negotiate. The well-dressed participants routinely trumped those who were dressed down. Even more interesting, the men in sweats showed lower testosterone levels, which further reduced their aggression. Next time you want a confidence boost that’ll help you get your own way, be sure to dress up.

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They can affect your honesty

There may be a sneaky side effect of wearing knock-offs, according to a Harvard study published in Psychological Science. Researchers gave participants fancy new sunglasses, telling half the group they were designer frames and the other half they were counterfeits. Those wearing the knock-offs were more likely to cheat during a subsequent game. Wearing fake clothing, it turns out, may make you feel like a fake and, therefore, act like one. On the flip side, you can be thankful for all those genuine articles in your closet—they’ll keep you honest.

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They can make you more trusting of others

Wearing knock-off or fake designer clothing doesn’t just increase your likelihood of dishonesty. The Harvard researchers also found that it can make you more cynical about other people’s behavior. Participants wearing the fakes rated others as being less honest, less truthful and less ethical overall—even though they had no information about what others were wearing. Instead, the study subjects based their assessment of others on what they themselves were wearing, one of the habits untrustworthy people have in common.

On the flip side, being honest in your dress and mannerisms may make you more likely to trust others. That’s because you assume they are doing the same.

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They can motivate you to exercise

So, you want to exercise but can’t quite muster the motivation? Try dressing for the part, say researchers. Wearing workout shorts and sneakers first thing in the morning is more than a comfy way to run errands; seeing yourself in athletic duds could motivate you to hit the gym on your way home from the store.

“It’s all about the symbolic meaning that you associate with a particular item of clothing,” says Hajo Adam, PhD, researcher and author of the lab coat study. “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.”

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They can cheer you up

Do you wear clothing that reflects your mood, or do you wear clothing to change your mood? Researchers from the University of Queensland interviewed people and observed their clothing choices to find out.

The answer? More often than not, we dress how we’d like to feel or how we’d like others to think we’re feeling. In other words, we put on a happy sweater along with a happy smile, even if we’re feeling down. And it works! That’s especially true if we wear clothing that has gotten us compliments in the past or that brings back good memories.

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They can curb emotional eating

Wearing a snug-fitting pair of pants, tightening your belt a notch or even tying a ribbon around your waist underneath your clothing can give you a subconscious signal to stop eating as soon as you’re full. Many people eat unconsciously as a way to soothe an uncomfortable emotion, and having a physical clothing reminder can cue you to check in with your feelings before you OD on dessert.

“A number of French women wear a ribbon around their waist and underneath their clothes when they go out for dinner,” explains Valerie Orsoni, fitness expert and author of LeBootcamp Diet. “It keeps them conscious of the tummy—particularly if the ribbon starts to feel tighter as the evening goes on!”


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Originally Published in Reader's Digest