What is the psychological effect of wearing black clothes?

What is the psychological effect of wearing black clothes?

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Background: I read that black is usually favored by people who are dominant. I read that the black color projects dominance, and also hides the person's feelings. Police, for example, adopt black as a color. However, I also read that black can demonstrate submissiveness. Priests wear black clothes to show submissiveness to God. In addition, sales people and business people who work with clients often wear black suits. Are they trying to appear dominant or submissive?

  • What is the psychology of wearing black?
  • Does wearing black communicate dominance or submissiveness?

This question is studied within the fields of color psychology and enclothed cognition (e.g., Adam and Galinsky, 2012), currently a hot/controversial topic in cognitive science. Without addressing the substantial questions surrounding the premises of these interpretations for situated/embodied cognition in my answer, it seems that wearing black is associated with aggressive behavior and the tendency to be perceived as more aggressive (Frank and Gilovich, 1988).

An analysis of the penalty records of the [U.S.] National Football League and the [U.S.] National Hockey League indicate that teams with black uniforms in both sports ranked near the top of their leagues in penalties throughout the period of study. On those occasions when a team switched from nonblack to black uniforms, the switch was accompanied by an immediate increase in penalties. The results of two laboratory experiments indicate that this finding can be attributed to both social perception and self-perception processes-that is, to the biased judgments of referees and to the increased aggressiveness of the players themselves.

As per Artem's comment to the question, we need to be skeptical of inferring a causal relation when so many confounding factors, such as culture, could potentially be in play. A 2014 review of color psychology in the Annual Review of Psychology journal concluded that while there is mounting evidence for the influence of color on behavior, it is ultimately too early to theorize strongly on specific color psychological questions such as this (Elliot and Maier, 2014).

The review clearly shows that color can carry important meaning and can have an important impact on people's affect, cognition, and behavior. The literature remains at a nascent stage of development, however, and we note that considerable work on boundary conditions, moderators, and real-world generalizability is needed before strong conceptual statements and recommendations for application are warranted.


  • Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 918-925.
  • Elliot, A. J., & Maier, M. A. (2014). Color psychology: Effects of perceiving color on psychological functioning in humans. Annual review of psychology, 65, 95-120.
  • Frank, M. G., & Gilovich, T. (1988). The Dark Side of Self-and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports. Journal of Pereonality and Social Psychology, 54(1), 74-85.

What Your Clothing Color Choice Says About You

You want your clothing colors to complement each other, but it's also important that they reflect your mood.

As you stare at the clothes in your closet, morning mug in hand, you may want to think beyond the weather and consider other elements of your upcoming day. What will you do? Who will you meet? Perhaps most important, what's your mood? Different clothing colors exude different feelings and meanings, and colors can affect — and reflect — your mood, says color consultant Mary Ellen Lapp, author of The Color of Success. That means the clothing colors you select are important not only to communicate your color personality but also in terms of your emotional health and the moods of those around you. Find out the meaning behind popular clothing colors to be sure you're sending the right message.

The Psychological Influence of the Police Uniform.

Most people can identify law enforcement officers by their official police uniform. When citizens on a busy street need help, they scan the crowd of pedestrians looking for the distinctive uniform of a police officer. Normally, drivers who arrive at an intersection and find a person in a police uniform directing traffic willingly submit to that person's hand directions. Criminals usually curb their unlawful behavior when they spot a uniformed police officer. Many parents teach their children to respect and trust a person in police attire. Police academy recruits relish the day when they finally wear their official uniforms.

The crisp uniform of the police officer conveys power and authority. When officers put on their uniforms, citizens believe that they embody stereotypes about all police officers. Research has suggested that clothing has a powerful impact on how people perceive each other. The police officer's uniform has a profound psychological impact on others, and even slight alterations to the style of the uniform may change how citizens perceive them.

The police uniform represents a tradition as old as the field of law enforcement. In 1829, the London Metropolitan Police, the first modem police force, developed standard police apparel. These first police officers, the famous "Bobbies" of London, wore a dark blue, paramilitary-style uniform. The color blue helped to distinguish the police from the British military, who wore red and white uniforms. In 1845, the city of New York established the first official police force in the United States. Based on the London police, the New York City Police Department adopted the dark blue uniform in 1853. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit, quickly followed by establishing police departments based on the London model and included the adoption of the dark blue, paramilitary-style uniform. [1]

Today, most U.S. law enforcement agencies continue to select police uniforms generally dark in color with a paramilitary appearance. Agencies may prefer dark colors for their ease in cleaning and their ability to help conceal the wearer m tactical situations. Dark colors help hide stains and keep officers hidden from criminals, especially at night. [2] However, why do most agencies insist that patrol officers dress in uniforms? Perhaps, the uniform actually psychologically influences the public's perception of officers.

The Social Significance of Clothing

Individuals seek clues about others from their appearance. Clothing provides one powerful clue to an individual's background [3] and serves as a mental shortcut to identify a person's sex, status, group membership, legitimacy, authority, and occupation. Clothing and physical appearance are important in the initial development of social relationships. [4] Studies have revealed that physical appearance, including clothing, remains the factor used most often in developing a first impression of someone [5] and has an even greater effect than personality. [6]

In early social interactions, clothing has a significant psychological influence on people's perceptions. In one study, personnel administrators rated the competency of similar female job applicants. They consistently rated the women in conservative, slightly masculine attire as the most competent. [7] In another experiment, both high school students and teachers rated pictures of female athletes dressed either in uniforms or casual clothes. Participants perceived all of the athletes in uniform as being more professional, possessing higher ability, and having more team spirit. [8] Similarly, other research revealed that both students and teachers rated photos of students dressed in private school-type uniforms as having higher scholastic ability. [9]

Additionally, the uniform worn by a police officer elicits stereotypes about that person's status, authority, attitudes, and motivations. The police uniform identifies a person with powers to arrest and use force and establishes order and conformity within the ranks of those who wear it by suppressing individuality. [10] The police uniform can have extraordinary psychological and physical impact. Depending on the background of the citizen, the police uniform can elicit emotions ranging from pride and respect, to fear and anger.

The Power of the Police Uniform

Research has supported suggestions about the police uniform's power and authority. In one study, individuals ranked 25 different occupational uniforms by several categories of feelings. The test subjects consistently ranked the police uniform as the one most likely to induce feelings of safety. [11] In another experiment, participants consistently rated models as more competent, reliable, intelligent, and helpful when pictured in a police uniform, rather than in casual clothes. [12] When an individual wearing a police-style uniform stood on a sidewalk near a corner, drivers committed fewer turn violations at that intersection. This occurred even though the uniform did not represent a real police department in the area, and the individual did not display a badge or weapon. [13]

In one experiment to test the power of the police uniform, a research assistant randomly approached pedestrians on a city street and ordered them to either pick up a paper bag, give a dime to another person, or step back from a bus stop. [14] The research assistant alternately wore casual clothes, a milk delivery uniform, or a grey, police-style uniform bearing a badge but lacking weapons. Only the police-style uniform resulted in a high rate of cooperation from citizens. Moreover, obedience to the police-style uniform usually continued even after the research assistant quickly walked away and did not watch to ensure compliance. [15]

Changes in the Uniform Style

Although the police uniform in general suggests the authority of the wearer, details about a police officer's uniform, such as the style of hat or the tailoring, can influence the level of authority emanating from the officer. Study participants in one experiment evaluated photographs of uniformed male and female police officers wearing nine different styles of head gear, including no hat at all. Even though psychological tests showed that participants perceived the officers to have authority under all of the circumstances, the type of hat varied the level of authority attributed to the officer. The traditional "bus driver" garrison cap and the "smoky bear" campaign hat conveyed more authority than the baseball cap or no hat at all. [16]

Many studies have addressed the influence of eliminating the paramilitary style of the police uniform. In one experiment, students viewed black and white drawings of three styles of police uniforms. Two of the uniforms represented a traditional paramilitary style, but lacked a duty belt or weapons. The third, nontraditional uniform consisted of a sport coat, or blazer, over slacks and a shirt with a tie. Although students ranked all three uniforms similarly for objectivity and trustworthiness, the blazer-style uniform ranked slightly higher for professionalism. [17] However, a similar experiment using color photos found the traditional, paramilitary style uniforms ranked as more honest, good, helpful, and competent than the blazer uniform. [18]

In 1969, the Menlo Park, California, Police Department discontinued their traditional navy blue, paramilitary-style uniforms and adopted a nontraditional uniform hoping to improve police-community relations. The new, nontraditional uniform consisted of a forest green blazer worn over black slacks, a white shirt, and a black tie. Officers displayed their badges on the blazer and concealed their weapons under the coat. [19] When other agencies heard about Menlo Park's attempt, over 400 other police departments in the United States also experimented with a blazer-style uniform. [20]

After wearing the new uniforms for 18 months, the Menlo Park police officers displayed fewer authoritarian characteristics on psychological tests when compared to officers in the surrounding jurisdictions. [21] Also, after wearing the uniforms for over a year, assaults on the Menlo Park police decreased by 30 percent and injuries to civilians by the police dropped 50 percent. Originally, the department thought the uniform changes resulted in these decreased rates, but other variables factored in at the same time. The number of college-educated officers in the department increased dramatically and the agency abolished its traditional autocratic management style during this same time period. [22]

In 1977, after using the blazer-style uniform for 8 years, the Menlo Park Police Department determined that it did not command respect therefore, they returned to a traditional, paramilitary-style uniform. A final evaluation showed that, although assaults on officers had dropped during the first 18 months of the new uniform implementation, the number of assaults steadily began to rise again until it doubled the amount of the year before the uniform change occurred. During the 4 years after the Menlo Park police returned to a traditional uniform, the number of assaults on their officers dropped steadily. [23]

Experiments with hats and the style of the police uniform suggest that changes in the design of a police uniform can have an effect on the perceived authority, power, and ability to control. Does the color of the uniform psychologically influence the people who view it and have an effect on the officer wearing the uniform as well?

Many police departments in the United States use darker colors for their uniforms, such as black, blue, brown, green, or grey. Just as with the style of the police uniform, the color of the uniform also has meaning. Psychological tests have found that individuals associate colors with specific moods. For example, people generally associate red with excitement and stimulation, which explains why agencies often use it for flashing emergency vehicle lights. These tests also have found that individuals associate the color blue with feelings of security and comfort and the color black with power and strength. [24]

Studies of both U.S. high school and college students have found that students perceived light colors, such as white and yellow, as weak, but also as good and active. The same students perceived dark colors, such as black and brown, as strong and passive, but also as bad. Cultural influences did not affect these results, which did not vary with the race of the students. [25]

People in Europe, Western Asia, Central Africa, and the Middle East had similar perceptions of colors. Across all cultures studied, people consistently associated light colors with goodness and weakness and dark colors as strong, but evil. [26] On psychological inventories, test subjects rated lighter colors as more pleasant and less dominant. Dark colors, on the other hand, elicited emotions of anger, hostility, dominance, and aggression. [27]

Color has a considerable impact on clothing and perceptions of the wearer. When people rated pictures of models for attractiveness, clothing color appeared the most common determinant. [28] Individuals perceived job applicants wearing dark business suits as more powerful and competent than those who wore lighter colored suits. [29] Another interesting study found that referees who viewed several videotaped plays of a football game more likely assessed stiffer penalties against a football team wearing a black uniform than against a team wearing a brightly colored uniform. The referees consistently perceived the team in black as more aggressive. An analysis of all professional football and hockey teams in the United States, which found that teams in darker uniforms received far more penalties for roughness than teams in lighter uniforms, supported this experiment. Again, these results suggest that referees negatively perceive teams in darker uniforms. [30]

Moreover, experiments have suggested that athletes act more aggressively when dressed in dark colors. One researcher asked college students dressed in black jerseys and grouped into teams of five to rank which sports they would most like to play. The students consistently ranked the most aggressive sports, such as football and rugby, at the top of the list. A new group of students dressed in white jerseys repeated the experiment. This time, the students selected less aggressive sports, such as baseball or basketball. [31]

Applying the results of these studies in color to the police uniform suggests that darker police uniforms may send negative subconscious signals to citizens. A dark police uniform may subconsciously encourage citizens to perceive officers as aggressive, evil, or corrupt and send a negative message to the community. The experiment with the colored jerseys also suggests that police officers in dark uniforms subconsciously may act more aggressively therefore, departments should consider modifying police uniform colors.

In one experiment, researchers presented subjects with color photos of two traditional paramilitary-style uniforms. One of the uniforms consisted of the dark navy blue shirt and pants commonly worn by municipal police agencies today. The other traditional uniform resembled that of California sheriff's deputies, consisting of a khaki shirt and dark green pants. Although subjects ranked both uniforms similarly as good, honest, helpful, and competent, the lighter colored sheriff's uniform rated noticeably higher for warmth and friendliness. Because the sheriff's uniform only has a light colored shirt, with the pants still very dark, [32] a half dark uniform sends a better message than the all dark blue or black uniform.

With today's focus on community-oriented policing and efforts to present a friendlier image to the public, the color of the police officer's uniform might make the task more difficult than necessary. Because of citizens' negative psychological perception of dark colors, they may perceive a police officer in a negative manner partly because of the officer's uniform color. If referees believe athletes wearing black exhibit more aggressive behavior, citizens might perceive officers in black uniforms as more aggressive than those wearing lighter colored uniforms.

The police uniform also may influence the safety level of the officer who wears it. Dark colored uniforms may elicit subconscious negative feelings from citizens, who may perceive the officer as aggressive, and subsequently, encourage them to consider violent action when confronted by the police.

In addition to the color, the condition of a police officer's uniform and equipment also can have an impact on the officer's safety. Interviews with prison inmates who have murdered police officers indicate that the killers often visually "sized up" the officer before deciding to use violence. If the officer looked or acted "unprofessional" in the assailant's eyes, then the assailant felt capable of successfully resisting the officer. A dirty or wrinkled uniform or a badly worn duty belt may convey to suspects that officers have complacent attitudes about their job. This complacency can invite violence. [33]

In many situations involving the use of force, the fact that a police officer has a distinguishable uniform can help prevent the officer's injury or death. An officer in plainclothes risks harm by citizens and other officers as a result of misidentification. In certain scenarios, almost all police officers immediately would draw their weapon on people wearing jeans and a T-shirt and carrying a gun in their hand. A plainclothes officer chasing a burglary suspect through backyards at night risks being shot by a home owner who believes the officer is a criminal. The uniform helps both citizens and fellow police officers identify the wearer as having a legitimate purpose for trespassing, using force, or carrying a weapon. [34]

The uniform of a police officer conveys the power and authority of the person wearing it. Research has shown that clothing, including the police uniform, has a powerful psychological impact. When individuals come into contact with each other, they subconsciously search for clues about the other person to understand the context of the encounter. The police uniform represents a powerful clue to the wearer's authority, capability, and status.

Additionally, research has revealed that the uniform has a subconscious psychological influence on people, based on the person's preconceived feelings about police officers. Citizens in the presence of a person in a police uniform cooperate more and curb their illegal or deviant behaviors.

Alterations to the traditional, paramilitary police uniform can result in changes in public perceptions. The style of the clothes, the type of hat worn, the color of the material, and even the condition of the clothes and equipment have an influence on how citizens perceive officers. For these reasons, police administrators seriously should consider their uniform policies. Selecting a uniform style, following regulations on properly wearing the uniform, maintaining uniforms, and designing policies to address when officers may wear plainclothes should command serious attention from department managers. After all, the uniform stands as one of the most important visual representations of the law enforcement profession.

Mr. Johnson, formerly an Indiana State Trooper and a military police officer, is an investigator with the Kane County, Illinois, State's Attorney Office and a criminal justice professor at Waubonsee Community College, Sugar Grove, Illinois.

(1.) L. M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993) and C. D. Uchida "The Development of the American Police: An Historical Overview," in Critical Issues in Policing, 2d ed., eds. R. Dunham and G. Alpert (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1993).

(2.) E. W. Grosskopf, "The Role of Police Uniforms," Law and Order, August 1982, 27-29.

(3.) D. G. Myers, Social Psychology, 4th Edition (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1993), 186-217.

(4.) N. Joseph and N. Alex, "The Uniform: A Sociological Perspective," American Journal of Sociology 77 (1972): 719-730 S. B. Kaiser The Social Psychology of Clothing (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1985) L. Shaw, "The Role of Clothing in the Criminal Justice System," Journal of Police Science and Administration 1 (1973): 414-420.

(5.) S. J. Lennon and L. L. Davis, "Categorization in First Impressions," The Journal of Psychology 123 (1989): 439-446.

(6.) B. Connor, K. Peters, and R. Nagasawa, "Person and Costume: Effects on the Formation of First Impressions," Home Economics Research Journal 4 (1975): 32-41.

(7.) S. Forsythe, M. Drake, and C. Cox, "Influence of Applicant's Dress on Interviewer's Selection Decisions," Journal of Applied Psychology 70 (1985): 374-378.

(8.) M. Harris, S. Ramsey, D. Sims, and M. Stevenson, "Effects of Uniforms on Perceptions of Pictures of Athletes," Perceptual and Motor Skills 39 (1974): 59-62.

(9.) D. Behling, "School Uniforms and Personal Perception," Perceptual and Motor Skills 79 (1994): 723-729.

(10.) Supra notes 2 and 4 (Joseph and Alex Shaw).

(11.) S. Balkin and P. Houlden, "Reducing Fear of Crime Through Occupational Presence," Criminal Justice and Behavior 10 (1983):13-33.

(12.) M. Singer and A. Singer, "The Effect of Police Uniforms on Interpersonal Perception," The Journal of Psychology 119 (1985):157-161.

(13.) C. Sigelman and L. Sigelman, "Authority and Conformity: Violation of a Traffic Regulation," Journal of Social Psychology 100 (1976): 35-43.

(14.) This experiment was conducted by psychologist Dr. Leonard Bickman.

(15.) L. Bickman, "The Social Power of the Uniform," Journal of Applied Social Psychology 4(1974): 47-61.

(16.) J. Volpp and S. Lennon, "Perceived Police Authority as a Function of Uniform Hat and Sex," Perceptual and Motor Skills 67 (1988): 815-824.

(17.) D. F. Gundersen, "Credibility and the Police Uniform," Journal of Police Science and Administration 15 (1987): 192-195.

(18.) R. Mauro, "The Constable's New Clothes: Effects of Uniforms on Perceptions and Problems of Police Officers," Journal of Applied Psychology 14(1984): 42-56.

(19.) J. Tenzel and V. Cizanckas, "The Uniform Experiment," Journal of Police Science andAdministration 1(1973): 421-424.

(20.) J. Tenzel, L. Storms, and H. Sweetwood, "Symbols and Behavior: An Experiment in Altering the Police Role," Journal of Police Science and Administration 4 (1976): 21-27.

(22.) Supra notes 18, 19, and 20.

(24.) M. Luscher and I. Scott, The Luscher Color Test (New York, NY: Washington Square Press, 1969) L. B. Wexner, "The Degrees to Which Colors Are Associated with Mood-tones," Journal of Applied Psychology 38 (1954): 432-435.

(25.) J. Williams, "Connotations of Color Names Among Negroes and Caucasians," Perceptual and Motor Skills 18(1964): 721-731 J. Williams and C. McMurty, "Color Connotations among Caucasian Seventh Graders and College Students," Perceptual and Motor Skills 30(1970): 707-713.

(26.) Supra note 24 (Luscher and Scott) F. Adams and C. Osgood, "A Cross-cultural Study of the Affective Meanings of Color," Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology 4 (1973): 135-156 J. Williams, J. Moreland, and W. Underwood, "Connotations of Color Names in the U.S., Europe, and Asia," Journal of Social Psychology 82 (1970): 3-14.

(27.) P. Valdez and A. Mehrabian, "Effects of Color on Emotion," Journal of Experimental Psychology. General 123 (1994): 394-409

(28.) D. J. Radeloff, "Role of Color in Perception of Attractiveness," Perceptual and Motor Skills 70(1990): 151-160.

(29.) M. Damhorst and J. Reed, "Clothing Color Value and Facial Expression: Effects on Evaluations of Female Job Applicants," Social Behavior and Personality 14(1986): 89-98.

(30.) M. Frank and T. Gilovich, "The Darker Side of Self- and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 54 (1988): 74-85.

(33.) R. Adams, T. McTernan, and C. Remsberg, Street Survival: Tactics for Armed Encounters (Northbrook, IL: Calibre Press, 1980) A. Pinizzotto & E. Davis, "Cop Killers and Their Victims." FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (December, 1992): 9-11 C. Remsberg, The Tactical Edge: Surviving High-Risk Patrol (Northbrook, IL: Calibre Press, 1986).

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The researchers arrived at their finding after a series of experiments. The first two had student participants show up without any sartorial instructions, rate the formality of the outfit they happened to be wearing, and then take some tried-and-true cognitive tests to determine their processing styles. In these tests, self-rated formality correlated with the favoring of abstract processing. But since, in the words of the researchers, “the students on this campus tend to dress casually,” explicit instructions to come to the lab with formalwear were required to get students to not show up with sweatpants alone. When subjects who changed into “clothing you would wear in a job interview” took similar cognitive tests, they demonstrated more abstract processing than the group that sported “clothing you would wear to class.” That was a result that allowed the researchers to arrive at a causal link.

Does the effect Rutchick, Slepian, and their colleagues found matter just as much for everyday suit-wearers as more sporadic ones? “No matter how often you wear formal clothing, if you are wearing formal clothing, then you are likely in a context that's not the intimate, comfortable, and more socially close setting with no dress code,” says Slepian. “Thus, whether you wear formal clothing every workday, or only every wedding, my prediction is that we would find a similar influence because the clothing still feels formal in both situations.”

As casual attire becomes the norm in a growing number of workplaces, it would seem that the symbolic power of the suit will erode in coming years. Slepian thinks the opposite. “You could even predict the effect could get stronger if formal clothing is only reserved for the most formal of situations,” he says. “It takes a long time for symbols and our agreed interpretations of those symbols to change, and I wouldn't expect the suit as a symbol of power to be leaving us anytime soon.” Meanwhile, no formal research exists—just anecdotal observations—on how the world appears different when wearing a black turtleneck and jeans.

Wear The Rainbow: Color Psychology Cheat Sheet

As we attempt to break down why we wear what we wear, and codify the qualities of different garments, it's worth starting with color. An already well-established notion, color psychology looks at the moods, qualities and emotions associated with each shade. Below, we've broken down the key characteristics in regards to fashion - and a strategy.

Qualities and themes: Playful, youthful, fun, exciting, feminine.
Wear: For a party or social event to tap into a more playful and laid-back energy.

Photo: Vogue China March 2017

Qualities and themes: Relaxation, reassurance, safety, new beginnings, renewal.
Wear: For a calming, feel-good effect during or after a stressful period.

Photo: Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam November 2017

Qualities and themes: Friendliness, happiness, innovation, energy, fun.
Wear: For an approachable, welcoming and friendly energy during networking or hosting.

Photo: Vogue China May 2015

Qualities and themes:
Optimism, creativity, positivity, hope, motivation, energy.
Wear: To boost optimism ahead of an important event, to improve concentration, or to inspire a workout.

Photo: Vogue Paris May 2015 (Gilles Bensimon)

Qualities and themes: Mystery, regality, luxury, exoticism, sophistication, spirituality.
Wear: To profoundly tap into your sense of personal power during an event that calls for poise and strength.

Photo: Harper's Bazaar Spain October 2012

Qualities and themes: Strength, tranquility, calm, dependability, patience, intelligence.
Wear: To put yourself and others at ease, for a job interview, important meeting or presentation.

Photo: Porter Magazine Fall 2015

Qualities and themes:
Power, passion, danger, boldness, romance.
Wear: To heighten senses, inspire a visceral response, grab attention, or to employ an aggressive or confident stance in a situation.

Qualities and themes:
Calm, mystery, responsibility, accountability, intelligence.
Wear: To soothe anxiety, when working, carrying out tasks and to-do lists.

Photo: WSJ Magazine (Lachlan Bailey)

Qualities and themes: Prestige, value, offers emotional protection.
Wear: During any vulnerable period or event to provide a sense of mental armour.

Photo: Vogue China April 2017

Qualities and themes: Purity, Innocence, nobility, cleanliness.
Wear: If you're feeling guilty about something, or to encourage forgiveness.

The Psychology of Fashion

As the seasons change they bring with them hosts of new choices about what to wear.

How to manage to look chic and stay warm? And, as life gets busier, how not to over-heat physically or emotionally.

On a minute-by-minute basis, we are assailed by a range of emotions. And every morning we make a decision about what to wear. The two are closely connected. The selection of something to put on is not just an aesthetic or practical decision. It's also about what feels right and what suits our mood. And whether we are conscious of it or not, we all choose clothes that reflect, manage or regulate our emotions. This is what I explore in my latest book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion.

Intuitively we all know that certain clothes can transform how we feel. The wrong outfit can make us want to hide, the right one makes us feel like a million dollars. “If I'm well turned out, I walk, talk and act more confidently" said one of my research participants. But can we use this as a force for positive change? I believe we can. And my research is beginning to show how clothing can have real therapeutic properties. A loss of interest in the basics like clothes, personal care and food can herald the onset of a depressive illness.

In the 1980s, Johnson and colleagues spotlighted the relationship between depression and unkempt clothing. Then research by Kwon in 1991 found mood was a significant determiner of clothing choices, especially for women.

I conducted a study in which 9 out of 10 women told me the clothes they wore affected their mood. The women in the study were more likely to wear jeans when they felt low or depressed. More than half of the women also said they would wear a baggy top when depressed, yet hardly any of them said they'd put on a baggy top if they were feeling happy. This risks creating a pattern of negativity whereby dressing down reinforces negative mood.

One research participant, Linda, described this cycle and the coping strategy she uses, “When I feel low or depressed I take less time over my appearance and it gets to a catch 22. To pick myself up sometimes I force myself to get dressed properly and get the makeup on". Psychiatric disorders have been shown to manifest in odd clothing practices. Sufferers of schizophrenia often wear too many or too few clothes, and wearing redundant clothing has been shown to be a readily observable marker for schizophrenia in a psychiatric emergency room. A 1988 American Journal of Psychiatry paper also noted that, before being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, 41% of schizophrenic patients had drastically altered their hairstyle.

More importantly, these changes were made before any other overt sign of psychiatric breakdown manifested. A research team from the Netherlands also discovered that changes in physical appearance accompanied very early indicators of mild psychosis in young adults. This desire to alter one's outer appearance in advance of a psychotic episode shows how clothing is used for mood management. Faced with psychiatric vulnerability associated with the disintegration of the self, appearance manipulations can be an attempt to manage an identity crisis or loss of reality in psychotic disorder.

This link between clothing and emotions - the psychology of fashion - is common to all. People report buying clothes to cheer themselves up ('retail therapy') and many of the women I have surveyed say how they dress can have a massive impact on their confidence. This inevitably plays out in their behaviour, as this respondent described: “If I'm wearing something that makes me less confident, I won't speak up, sometimes I just want to go home!".

For many people a wardrobe crisis can be indicative of a life that's become too humdrum, too narrow and lacking in vitality. This is particularly true of people who are suffering from stress. My research found a strong relationship between feeling stressed, anxious or depressed and restrictive wardrobe habits. In the study most people said they wore on average between a quarter and half of their wardrobe regularly. However, for in women who were unhappy or stressed, they neglected over 90% of their wardrobe, resorting to wearing less than 10% of it. When a person is stressed their outlook becomes narrower, the range of things they enjoy shrinks and their interests become more limited. It's hardly surprising then to discover that their wardrobe options also narrow down markedly.

My research has shown that helping people to introduce clothing variations and to wear more of their clothes in new creative combinations, can significantly impact upon their sense of wellbeing and reduce episodes of negative mood. This led me to create Wear Something Different, an online programme that sends the person regular prompts to alter, restyle or refresh what they wear. It also profiles their personality and their mood to monitor before and after changes. Who knows, one day we may hear of a doctor or therapist prescribing an outfit rather than a pill to combat feelings of depression.

Click here to buy a book on the Psychology of Fashion Mind What You Wear

While You Are Ringing In The Summer, Don't Forget To Remember The Importance Of What We Have Off For.

Home of the free because of the brave.

"The American flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies from the last breath of each solider who died protecting it."

On this present day in America, we currently have over 1.4 million brave men and women actively listed in the armed forces to protect and serve our country.

Currently there is an increased rate of 2.4 million retiree's from the US military

Approximately, there has been over 3.4 million deaths of soldiers fighting in wars.

Every single year, everyone look's forward to Memorial Day Weekend, a weekend where beaches become overcrowded, people fire up them grills for a fun sunny BBQ, simply an increase of summer activities, as a "pre-game" before summer begins.

Many American's have forgot the true definition of why we have the privilege to celebrate Memorial Day.

In simple terms, Memorial Day is a day to pause, remember, reflect and honor the fallen who died protecting and serving for everything we are free to do today.

Thank you for stepping forward, when most would have stepped backwards.

Thank you for the times you missed with your families, in order to protect mine.

Thank you for involving yourself, knowing that you had to rely on faith and the prayers of others for your own protection.

Thank you for being so selfless, and putting your life on the line to protect others, even though you didn't know them at all.

Thank you for toughing it out, and being a volunteer to represent us.

Thank you for your dedication and diligence.

Without you, we wouldn't have the freedom we are granted now.

I pray you never get handed that folded flag. The flag is folded to represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. Each fold carries its own meaning. According to the description, some folds symbolize freedom, life, or pay tribute to mothers, fathers, and children of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

As long as you live, continuously pray for those families who get handed that flag as someone just lost a mother, husband, daughter, son, father, wife, or a friend. Every person means something to someone.

Most Americans have never fought in a war. They've never laced up their boots and went into combat. They didn't have to worry about surviving until the next day as gunfire went off around them. Most Americans don't know what that experience is like.

However, some Americans do as they fight for our country every day. We need to thank and remember these Americans because they fight for our country while the rest of us stay safe back home and away from the war zone.

Never take for granted that you are here because someone fought for you to be here and never forget the people who died because they gave that right to you.

So, as you are out celebrating this weekend, drink to those who aren't with us today and don't forget the true definition of why we celebrate Memorial Day every year.

"…And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice."

Psychology Of Fashion & Psychology Of Clothing:

If you think that the inception of Fashion Psychology was in 20th century – I can see how you came to that conclusion – but, you can't be more wrong. Henry James, an American psychologist was the first person to introduce the notion of Psychology in Fashion during 19th century.

It might surprise you to know that there are some people who would go as far as to say that “Fashion is Psychology". May be because of the fact that both the fields deal primarily with people, their perception, social interactions and more. They kind of cross paths in some way or the other. That’s not it, Fashion Psychology and Psychology of marketing also interject each other at various instances.

Studies suggest that what people wear has an effect on their attitude, mood, confidence and their overall behavior. In a way, you as a fashion designer would help someone gain confidence.

In one of the Psychological paper published by Duje KODZOMAN He mentions that people purchase and wear clothes according to the meaning they believe those clothes to have or the messages they believe the clothes send out. He further goes on to talk about Clothing being an extended dimension of one’s bodily self.

You can use the science of Psychology to manipulate how people react to certain designs and to modify their purchase patterns so that customers would lean towards the brand you are working for. This is where Psychology of Fashion & Psychology of Marketing intersect.

Taking a scientific/psychological approach to Fashion will enable you to understand human behavior in the context of Fashion. Even though Fashion is a creative, glamorous & dynamic field it's not the one without any problems. Psychology can help you understand and solve those problems in the field.

The Psychology of Stripes

“Shakaila you really should wear vertical instead of horizontal stripes, you already have large breasts”.

I’ve received many a criticism in my 24 years of life but this one stuck with me ever since I heard it from a well-meaning colleague about 4 years ago. At the time, I never really realised the true extent of my love of stripes. Half of my wardrobe consisted of some sort of striped pattern – strangely most of them horizontal. Would I have to part with my penchant for the simple and elegant pattern because it made me look disproportionally large? I finally ended this rather nonessential period of contemplation upon discovering that the demonization of horizontal stripes is nothing but an old wife’s tale.

It’s a commonly held belief that when it comes to clothing, horizontal stripes have a widening effect. If you have a larger bottom half, stylists such as TV Personality Gok Wan recommend that a horizontal striped top will help to “balance you out” by broadening your chest to match.

Pear shape girls. Horizontal stripes upstairs will help balance you out.

However, research suggests that horizontal stripes have the complete opposite effect. In 1925, Hermann von Helmholtz created the Helmholtz illusion. He composed an image with two squares containing equally spaced stripes – one with vertical stripes and the other, horizontal. As shown in the image below, the square containing horizontal lines appears taller and narrower than the identical square made up of vertical lines. This illusion occurs because horizontal stripes have more “filled space” from top to bottom thus making it look taller and thinner than the same-sized square.

Moreover, research has found that the illusion holds when applied to the body. A 2011 study found that when participants observed pictures of identical mannequins wearing horizontal and vertical striped clothing, the mannequin wearing horizontal stripes “needed to be 10.7% broader to be perceived as identical to the one in vertical stripes” (Thompson & Mikellidou).

Given the near century old history of the Helmholtz illusion it’s unclear how the ‘Horizontal lines make you look fat’ trope has managed to gain such a reputation.

Styling is as much of an art form as it is a science so before you cast out a portion of your wardrobe – check the data.


“Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing, and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.”

Vivienne Westwood

At the end of the day, what we wear says a lot more about us than what we might have thought. It affects how we feel, how we view ourselves, and even how others view us.

If we want to feel better about ourselves… if we want to have more confidence and command more respect… then it behoves us to put a little more thought into this whole “dressing well” thing. Because dressing well, as we have learned, is a hallmark of self-respect. It creates opportunities to be noticed in a more positive light. It opens up doors that we may have once thought were closed.

Don’t forget that dressing well goes hand in hand with success. So, if you are looking to become a more rounded, successful, put-together individual, it just might be that your first step is to take a little look in that closet of yours. What have you been wearing and what can you change?

All it takes is one little step to change your life.

About The Author

R.H. Elias is a freelance writer, aspiring author, and freelance transcriptionist. She is a homebody all the way and loves curling up on a cold, rainy day with a good book and a warm cup of tea. Her favourite pastimes include reading, writing, and watching period films. She currently lives in Puerto Rico.

One Response

One mistake a lot of us make is not getting ready properly when we are in hurry.

But this is not acceptable at all. We should organize our wardrobe such a way that we could easily grab dresses when we are running out of time.


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