We are what we wear: the impact of clothes on the judgement of others and on our thinking

The clothes we wear have the power to influence the judgement of others and change our thinking.

The clothes we wear have always been a symbol of social status and are considered something of a "calling card" for a person, capable of influencing the opinions of others and their attitude towards us. Various social psychology research studies have shown the significant symbolic value of clothing and its impact on social relationships. 

One study(1) published in 2011 revealed, through a number of experiments, that people who wear designer clothes generally gain support from others more easily, are treated with more respect and tend to have higher salaries than those who dress more plainly. Another study(2) revealed how choosing tailor-made clothing positively affects others' judgement. The researchers showed more than 300 male and female participants photos of men wearing tailor-made suits and photos of men wearing store-bought clothing of the same colour and style. The subjects' faces were concealed to prevent other variables from influencing the respondents' judgement. After viewing the images for 3 seconds, the participants judged the men wearing the tailored-made suits to be more reliable, confident and higher earners than those wearing the store-bought equivalent.

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(1) Rob M.A. Nelissen, R. M. A. & Meijers, M. H. C. (2010). Social benefits of luxury brands as costly signals of wealth and status. Evolution and Human Behaviour.

(2) Howlett, N., Pine, K. L., Orakçıoğlu, I., & Fletcher, B. (2013). The influence of clothing on first impressions: Rapid and positive responses to minor changes in male attire. Journal of Fashion Marketing & Management, 17.

Women too are affected by the influence that clothing has on the judgement of others, as shown by a survey(3) carried out on a sample of 129 females. The group was shown some photos of women (with the subjects' faces pixelated) wearing rather plain clothing, but with certain details varying slightly (such as the length of a skirt or an extra unfastened button on a shirt). Each photograph was linked with a different professional role. The participants were tasked with viewing the images and evaluating each one based on certain criteria, including intelligence, reliability, responsibility and authority.

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(3) Howlett, N., Pine, K. L., Cahill, J., Orakçıoğlu, I., & Fletcher, B. (2015). Small changes in clothing equal big changes in perception: The interaction between provocativeness and occupational status. (In press) Sex Roles: Journal of Research.

The sample group was less positive about the photos of women in managerial roles and wearing slightly more provocative clothing, while the same clothing variations had no impact whatsoever on how those with less managerial roles were perceived. This finding reveals that the job position held generates an expectation in people regarding the most appropriate style for the role in question, and that deviations from this "standard" may negatively affect someone's judgement.

Less well known, however, is the effect of clothing on our cognitive abilities and self-confidence. Two very interesting studies reveal how the clothes we wear, along with the social stereotypes typical of the culture to which we belong, have a significant impact on our thinking and behaviour.

The first(4) revealed, through a series of experiments, that the physical experience of wearing a certain type of clothing can change how attentive we are. In the first test, simply wearing a lab coat significantly increased the selective attention of the participants when performing the tasks put to them. In the other two experiments, the use of a lab coat—described as a doctor's coat—improved the participants' attention levels. The latter, in fact, performed better than the group wearing a coat described as a painter's coat and than those who were only able to see a doctor's coat hanging from a wall. The results of this study brought about the theory of "Enclothed cognition", which asserts that clothes and the act of wearing them can change a person's psychological processes.

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(4) Adam, H., Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4).

During the second experiment(5), a group of students were asked to wear a Superman t-shirt in order to gauge their self-perception and confidence in their own abilities. The results revealed how those who wore the superhero t-shirt felt more attractive and generally better than their other peers. Furthermore, when asked to estimate how much weight they were able to lift, these students said they felt stronger than others. The increased confidence in their own abilities also seems to have positively affected the group's cognitive skills: when subjected to a number of tests, the subjects wearing the superhero t-shirt scored higher on average than the others. According to the researcher, these results can be attributed to the so-called  "priming" effect: the exposure to a stimulus (in this case, the Superman t-shirt) and the symbolic meaning attributed to it influenced the subjects' response to subsequent stimuli.

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(5) Pine, K. (2014). Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion.

The results of these interesting studies inspire us to reflect on the importance of clothing both socially and psychologically, and on how our daily experiences can be altered by the clothes we choose. If clothing has the power to influence not only our mood but also our self-esteem and cognitive abilities, surely it would be wise to be more careful when choosing what to put in our wardrobe?

Since the very beginning, we've been convinced that less but better is key to healthy living: pieces carefully designed and crafted to last over time and make us feel good and at ease in our day-to-day lives. For this reason, our shoes offer that "trademark" minimalist style that Löwenweiss has become known for: minimalist-yet-functional designs made to promote comfort and well-being.

Thanks to the care we put into selecting materials of the highest quality and striving for the perfect combination of age-old craftsmanship and modern technology, we're able to continue offering stylish, comfortable and durable footwear. Shoes perfect for feeling free and at ease, connecting with your emotions and showing others what you can do.

Written by: Roberto

We are what we wear: the impact of clothes on the judgement of others and on our thinking

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