Dressing up can take extra effort, but it also feels good, especially if you receive extra compliments. A new study suggests what many women have experienced: dressing in nicer clothes makes you feel better.
According to a recent news release, one study has shown that women who are depressed or sad are more likely to wear baggy tops, jeans, and a sweatshirt or jumper. Women who are happy or positive are more likely to wear a favorite dress, jewelry, and jeans. These clothing choices seem to mean that women who are feeling down put less effort into what they’re wearing, and women who are in a good mood tend to try and look nicer to match their mood.
There were 100 women interviewed for the study, and their ages ranged from 21 to 64 years, according to the news release. The researchers also found that 73% of women in the study “shopped for clothes at least every few months.” The majority of women, or 96%, “believed that what they wear affects how confident they feel,” according to the news release.
Researchers determined from the results that there is a possibility that wearing certain clothes can affect emotional states. “The strong link between clothing and mood state suggests we should put on clothes that we associate with happiness, even when feeling low,” according to the news release. The author of the study, Karen Pine, who is the coauthor of Flex: Do Something Different and a professor in the School of Psychology at University of Hertfordshire, added in the news release that jeans are more associated with a depressed mood state and that women should consider abandoning them for a different clothing choice in order to feel better.
“Jeans don’t look great on everyone. They are often poorly cut and badly fitting,” Pine said in the news release. “Jeans can signal that the wearer hasn’t bothered with their appearance. People who are depressed often lose interest in how they look and don’t wish to stand out, so the correlation between depression and wearing jeans is understandable. Most importantly, this research suggests that we can dress for happiness, but that might mean ditching the jeans.”
In the study, 51% of women would wear jeans when they felt sad or depressed, and only 33% of women would wear jeans when they felt happy or positive, according to the news release. So if people still wear jeans when they are happy, just to a lesser degree, why are they such a bad choice? Why are baggy clothes associated with a sad or depressed emotional state and dresses and jewelry associated with a happy or positive emotional state? Pine addressed these issues in an email.
“All the findings apply, but because jeans are so ubiquitous (everyone seems to have a pair, women on average have eight pairs each) we chose to ‘lead’ on this finding. It is interesting that many women wear them a lot but there’s still a variation according to mood. I think the finding that women will only wear their favourite dress when happy or will likely wear a baggy top when depressed is just as compelling.”
She said that the research didn’t go into certain details, like the fact that some women are more into a “jeans and T-shirt” type of fashion, and other women wear skirts and dresses every day as part of their style. It’s also uncertain whether results would’ve changed if researchers took into consideration the emphasis some women put on fashion and beauty and if women who shopped less were interviewed. “Of course there will always be individual differences, but nonetheless recent research into enclothed cognition … confirms there is a strong association between what we wear and our psychological processes,” Pine said.
Results would also possibly look different if men were included in the study. “A lot of my research concerns women’s issues .. and I think the emotional link is probably stronger for women than for men, although there is research that shows men’s clothes affect how they behave (e.g. sports teams that wear all black act more aggressively),” Pine said.
Overall, Pine believes the research provides a look into how we can improve our moods. “It shows that clothes impact strongly on how we feel and may also influence how we think (as the above research also suggests), which we’ll be exploring further in our research,” Pine said. “It suggests we should give more thought to what we wear and even dress for happiness, irrespective of how we are feeling. If we knew more about which clothes could lift a person’s mood perhaps there’d be less need for anti-depressant medication.”
Shauna Mackenzie Heathman, a certified image consultant and owner of Mackenzie Image Consulting in South Carolina, said in an email that the results of the study are expected. “When we are feeling depressed or unhappy, looking our best is not on our minds,” Pine said. “In fact, it becomes a hassle and waste of time. Mental energy is turned inwards towards emotional thoughts. Dressing simply becomes function versus adornment or fun.”
She said that people shouldn’t necessarily make assumptions about the feelings and emotions of another person based on their clothing though. “We have the power to wear items that represent our personalities and feelings,” Heathman said. “With that being said, who knows how other people will interpret it. We make [judgments]/assumptions based on our own experiences. Bottom line: I would be careful to assume one’s feelings based on what they wear. To a certain extent, you can read whether someone is feeling insecure based on their clothing, but body language and nonverbal communication is much more representative of one’s feelings.”
She thinks there could also be a separate study on men that explores their clothing choices and emotional states. “I think it was okay for this study to be focused around women,” Heathman said. “A separate study on men should be considered. However, first you would need to discover the underlying differences between men and women and how they interpret clothes. Men are much more focused on functionality in their wardrobe than women, regardless of emotional state. So I do think there may be some general similarities, but overall women’s results would probably be more dramatic.”
One of the main parts of the study Pine focused on was jeans and their association with a depressed or sad mood state, and Heathman thinks this could be because jeans are an easy choice that doesn’t require a lot of thought. “I don’t think it’s the fact of wearing jeans that suggests sadness or depression as it is just wanting effortlessness and functionality,” Heathman said. “As I mentioned before, when we are depressed or sad, we’re not focused on how we look. We stop caring. We turn to what’s easy and comfortable. Prolonged long enough, you then fall in ‘the rut.’ Often, altering one’s mood by enhancing wardrobe can be done. However, it generally only has short-term results if working on one’s emotional and mental state is not at play as well.”
“The study mentions that happy clothes include well-cut, figure-enhancing items made from bright and beautiful fabrics,” Heathman said. “To this, I ponder, isn’t this obvious? If something makes our figure look poor, we generally don’t like this and thus are unhappy about it. When we don’t like what we wear, we focus on it throughout the day. It takes away the focus from the daily tasks that are important—work, relationships, family. A woman should walk out of the door and not have to think about what she’s wearing for the rest of the day. You’d be amazed at how much mental energy is exhausted pondering about how we look.”
Overall she thinks the study could have gone more in-depth to provide more useful information. “I think the study lacks depth. What is revealed seems fairly obvious,” Heathman said. “I would be curious to hear why women choose to wear a hat more often when they are happy. Is it because it’s fun? Is it because it draws attention towards them? Also, the psychology of color comes into play much more than the study presents. I think it’s informative more than it is useful.”
Donna Stellhorn, a Feng Shui expert and author of 2012 Year of the Water Dragon, interprets the study from a unique perspective involving her experience with Feng Shui. For those who are unfamiliar with Feng Shui, it is “the study of how the environment affects those who dwell in it,” according to the American Feng Shui Institute website. The “science” of Feng Shui suggests that there are “different energies” in our planet, and learning how to balance these energies can help improve various aspects of life.
“In Feng Shui we understand how you dress is associated with the five elements. Each element has an energy, and we’ll gravitate to the energy that’s in harmony with how we feel at the moment,” Stellhorn said. “The study says when we’re feeling down we’re more likely to reach for jeans and loose-fitting tops. These boxy shapes relate to the Earth element, a desire for stillness and stability. There are five elements (Earth, Wood, Fire, Water, and Metal), each with an energy, feeling, and a related style. Besides the shape of clothes, also the color and material indicates the element. For instance, animal prints are associated with the Fire element and a desire to be noticed and feel alive.”
She said for men, color would probably be more of an indicator of emotional states. “Because men tend to stick to a limited wardrobe, emotional states can be read in the choices of colors and the slight changes in what they normally wear,” Stellhorn said. “Men who usually sport a T-Shirt and suddenly start wearing a button-down shirt in greens or browns has moved from the Earth element to Wood, showing a desire to grow, to add to their life financially and socially, they’ve become curious about the world.”
She agrees that jeans are less effort when people are already preoccupied with other areas of life. “It’s not that jeans specifically suggest sadness, but that the desire to throw on a pair of jeans can indicate that life’s been too chaotic, there are too many choices and we want some quiet stillness to contemplate what’s ahead,” Stellhorn said. “When we reach for jeans we want something familiar because things around us are stressful.”
Accessories can also affect mood, like the study suggests. “Women’s hats bring attention (from others and our own) to our heads and indicate a person with power,” Stellhorn said. “A man in a ball cap might be covering thinning hair, but by wearing the hat he feels more powerful and better able to interact in the world. Jewelry and handbags also bring an energy, and therefore an emotion, to the person.”
Linda Froiland, an image consultant and personal shopper, said in an email that jeans don’t need to always be associated with depression, although sometimes it can be difficult to find the perfect fit. “Jeans are not just for tennis shoes. If you have a great fitting pair in a dark wash they can be quite sexy with an elevated heel, high heel, or wedge shoes,” Froiland said. “I wear mine out dancing, dinners at friends or restaurants, shopping, everywhere really, but they fit like a glove and have attitude. I can honestly say I am not depressed when wearing jeans, nor are my clients once they know how they should fit, what they should look like, and what to pair them with.”
Rosa Mae Neel, a stylist for professionals and the founder of Prune, agrees with Froiland that jeans don’t necessarily mean depression. “In a place like New York, where women commonly spend up to $300 for a pair of jeans and wear them with heels and a sexy top to go out at night, jeans do not necessarily equal depressive state,” Neel said. “Perhaps in other parts of the country or for older generations, jeans that are not designer jeans and that are more comfortable than flattering are a go-to for depressive states. Again, blousy tops can be trendy and hip if expensive or worn with gusto, or they can be a medium through which to hide extra pounds or negative feelings.”
Froiland said that clothing can be important in not only affecting mood but also in making impressions on other people. “Whenever I talk to a group, large or small, I always start out my presentation with telling everyone that ‘It’s in less than 3 minutes someone has already decided who and what you are. First by your appearance (87%), second your body language (8%), and then your verbal communication (5%). It takes another 20 times meeting that person to change that original perception,’” Froiland said. “So the value in our clothing is profound.”
Caroline Adams Miller, a professional coach, author of “Creating Your Best Life” and a graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology program, said in an email that baggy clothes in general can indicate more of a lackluster mood. “Baggy jeans that could be perceived as asexual probably don’t correlate with happiness unless paired with more individualistic shirts or accessories,” Miller said. “The baggy tops reference doesn’t surprise me because they would ‘hide’ someone, and unhappy people don’t want to interact with people—they want to ruminate and be alone, and these clothing choices are perfect indicators of not feeling worthy of being ‘seen.’”
She believes that men could be affected by clothing choices as well, although they might put more effort into choosing a car to express their personality and mood. “I do believe that many men use clothing to express and change their moods, though, so I think a future study would find similar results,” Miller said.
Overall she believes the study makes sense and that there is a real connection between clothing and mood. “The science of happiness has found that we have ‘positive interventions’ that can change our mood, and when we deliberately intervene on our happiness by wearing things that evoke positive feelings, positive reactions from others, or that remind you of positive experiences, you will be happier,” Miller said.
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