Have you ever wondered why we wear the clothes we wear? Here are a few reasons;
Conformity and Uniqueness
As humans, we need a sense of belonging. It is in our nature. To feel safe, we need to have somewhere, someone, something that we feel like we belong to. To some people, fashion is a way to satisfy this need for belonging.
Following the trends and a particular style gives us that sense of belonging to a group. Carolyn Mair discusses in her book that we choose to identify with those who we perceive as like-minded, who look similar to us and have a similar level of attractiveness. This is why you may often see friendship groups with similar styles.
As much as we want to belong, we want to feel unique too. Changing things up with accessories or in other ways to create our own style while following basic fashion trends gives us that sense of uniqueness alongside conformity.
Self and Identity
The clothes we wear our identities, they are how we present ourselves to the world. They can tell a lot about us from how much money we have, where we shop from, our body shape and any social or cultural norms that we follow.
When we wear clothes that follow social norms, show status and then we get positive feedback, this can positively influence our self-concept and self-esteem. Study showed that women use clothing as a status symbol and to enhance personal appearance, which then increases women’s self-esteem.
Clothes can also increase self-esteem through comparison. In a study, peoples’ level of self-esteem before a job interview changed depending on the clothing of the person sitting next to them. People were sat next to an applicant dressed formally in a suit, carrying a brief suitcase, or an applicant dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans, reading a sex novel. Level of self-esteem in applications who sat next to the formally dressed person decreased, while applicants seated next to the casually dressed candidate increased. The similarity of the clothing style of the person sitting next to participant played a role in increasing self-esteem as well.
In this study, the symbolic meaning of the clothing led to behavioural and cognitive change in self-concept. The researchers Adam and Galinksy described this as ‘enclothed cognition‘. They showed that people who wore lab coats had enhanced performance on tasks that require close attention. When they were told the coat was a painter’s coat rather than a doctors, the performance level decreased..
From an evolutionary perspective, there seems to be a role of clothing in mate selection. The signalling theory argues that a male peacock will display his vibrant fan of feathers in ritual to attract a female with whom to mate. Clothing is used by humans in the same way, to distinguish themselves from a crown to find a mate.
Indeed, fashion trends change as the interest in erogenous zones changes in society. For example, in Renaissance-are, women draped their abdomen in fabrics to give a swollen appearance; as successful childbearing was a priority in the disease-ridden 14th and 15th centuries. Women used fabrics to create more attractive looks within what was considered feminine within their society.
Fashion is a way to alter the appearance, express identity and enhance positive aspects of the body while concealing the ones we want to hide which subsequently will increase sexual attraction. A study showed that men gave higher tips for waitresses who wore red tee shirts compared to waitresses who wore other colours! This effect was not observed for female customers.
Difference in Treatment
The waitress study brings us to another argument; the way you dress determines the way you get treated.
This is why we would wear a formal piece of clothing when going to a setting where we want to be respected and seen as a professional. When going to a social event, putting your party clothes on will present you to the world as someone who is fun and ready to party!
Carolyn Mair discusses physical attractiveness and personal appearance can influence organisations’ decisions regarding hiring or promotion. In retail, entertainment and hospitality industries, physically attractive employees receive more positive evaluations than unattractive counterparts in multiple areas including hiring, promotion and salary.
I mentioned before that humans tend to identify with who they perceive as like-minded, who look similar to themselves, have a similar level of attractiveness and dress similarly. This means the way you dress affects the impression you leave on people and whether they may or may not approach you.
Dress like you are going somewhere better later.
There are various reasons why we wear what we wear. Our individual differences about self-identity, self-esteem, level of conformity are some of these. No matter whether you dress up or pick the first thing that comes to your hand in your wardrobe, it is certain that it leaves an impression of you to the world and affect the treatment you get. For this reason, it may work in our favour to show up to the world as our best-dressed self.