One blogger and acclaimed American writer Leah Wilson wrote: “like it or not, what we dress in is a direct reflection of who we are personally socially, and historically.”
Was she right?
Women around the world dress to leave a lasting impression. In fact, female dressing has been encrypted in history, directly leading into what is known today as fashion business. In her book “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You,” Clinical psychologist Dr Jennifer Baumgartner transcribes the topic ‘psychology of dress’, strongly suggesting that a person’s wardrobe has direct effect and meaning to psychological issues that are likely correlated with them.
Dr Baumgartner told Forbeswoman, an online publication, that any human behaviour — way and style of dressing included — is rooted in something deeper.
“The deeper meaning is in choices. Shopping and spending behaviours often come from internal motivations… even putting together outfits. Our clothes help place us where we think we want to be,” she added.
Kenyan clinical psychologist Dr Lincoln Khasakhala of African Medical Foundation agrees with Dr Baumgartner, admonishing that before a person leaves the house for work or a meeting, they should critically consider what they adorn themselves in.
While also addressing other aspects of human dressing, Dr Khasakhala cites the work environment for instance: “When you are going to work, you need to dress the part. It is important because dressing is a way you communicate to your boss and peers at work. It is coded language, therefore, you risk being misunderstood or looked at differently because of your dressing.”
According to Khasakhala, while transacting any type of business, “the person you are engaging with will be able to tell whether or not you are serious with what you do. The way you present outwardly determines how much they would trust you with the job.”
A study published in July last year in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology introduces the concept of “enclothed cognition”. The study done by Northwestern University researchers describes the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.
Essentially, the researchers try to prove that the clothes you choose send a message to everyone in your environment. In other words, a person has the power to control how they feel by the simple act of dressing in a particular way.
Eunice Kibati, a confessed tomboy, partially agrees with the idea that what you wear defines the innate person. She says: “If that phrase was to be left the way it is, then many of us ladies would be misconstrued for many things. I am a tomboy, but it’s only because I feel comfortable wearing what I wear. I feel fine in my trousers and shirts.”
However, she also admits that clothes can communicate in particular scenarios: “For example, prostitutes dress the way they dress because they want to attract clients. There are also professions that adhere to certain strict dress code ethics, and it’s only because it builds their client-customer relationships.”
Findings by another study titled ‘The influence of clothing on first impressions’ in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management infer that even small changes (details) in clothing choices can communicate different information to a perceiver.
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It’s a notion that many agree with. Connecting the relationship between dress code and impression, Susan Wachira, a counselling psychologist at psychosocial support centre in Westlands, Nairobi, says: “Dress code communicates the personality of a person. At every instance, how you wear — in relation to the environment and occasion — can prompt comments from people. From the way a person walks, talks and dresses, you can tell their personalities.”
Colour and Mood
Susan further argues that dress code and colours, to some extent, blend with particular moods. Black dresses and apparels, according to Susan, depict gloom. A jovial mood, on the other hand, is bright right from the outfit also. But even so, unconsciously or otherwise, people commit fashion faux pas when they dress inappropriately for an occasion.
“Today, girls are fond of wearing revealing clothing. When they wear such outfits to work, they come across as inappropriate or even offending to the people around them. It would prompt many to wonder whether the subject lost her way enroute to a night entertainment joint,” adds Susan.
A wrong dress code can be costly. Susan says bosses may, at times, determine the suitability of a person for appraisal or to hold a particular office by the kind of outfit they are fond of.
Harriet Quimby, an employee at a corporate company in Nairobi, agrees with the notion that “you are what you wear”. She says that the way a person dresses corroborates an agenda or a particular theme. Her take is that it matters to many people (even unconsciously) that you wear the right clothing for an occasion.
“When you are on a date, you dress differently compared to when you are going to work. It would also be different for a casual meeting, a party or a church service. Human beings are visual and they will draw conclusions from what you display yourself in,” she says.
“There are ladies who dress provocatively and wish not to be judged from it. Well, the truth is, we human beings have discerning eyes — it is subconscious. That is why people will subtly say ‘She is not my type’ or ‘He looks friendly’,” says Susan.
She adds that men are, especially visual and tend to judge fast based on that basis. What’s undisputable though, adds Susan, is that people tend to be reactionary to visual characteristics. Just like Dr Khasakhala, Susan advises that it would pay to put thought into what you wear as you leave to work, for a meeting or on personal business.
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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Evewoman.co.ke