THE BLOG
02/05/2016 11:52 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2017

How Clothing Choices Affect and Reflect Your Self-Image

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Your style and the clothes you choose reflect and affect your mood, health, and overall confidence. Scientists call this phenomenon "enclothed cognition", and Adam Hajo and Adam D. Galinsky, both professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, write in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, write that enclothed cognition "involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors -- the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them." The researchers had subjects perform tests while wearing a lab coat like medical doctors wear, a coat like painters wear, and while not wearing either coat. They found that subjects' sustained attention increased while wearing the doctors' coats in a way that their attention did not increase while wearing the painters' coats or no coats.

Similarly, Professor Karen J. Pine, of the University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) writes in her very short book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion "When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it." In the studies Pine conducted, as related in her book, one participant admitted, "If I'm in casual clothes I relax and am tomboyish, but if I dress up for a meeting or a special occasion, it can alter the way I walk and hold myself."

That is what Lisa Stariha, The Body Empowerment Coach, tries to instill her in clients. She says it is so important to "Get up, get dressed, and never give up each day." Stariha, who often works from her home office, knows how comfortable it can be to work in yoga pants and a cozy shirt. But, she says, "to feel more beautiful, confident, and strong, you must change out of the yoga pants and put on clothes that give you power," just as Wonder Woman went from her Diana Prince uniform to her kick-butt Wonder Woman costume.

How important and empowering the right clothes, and even the right under garments, can be is one of the things my co-authors, Jean Otte and Rosina L. Racioppi and I mentioned in our book WOMEN Are Changing the Corporate Landscape: Rules for Cultivating Leadership Excellence. And Business Insider says that clothes don't just affect your confidence levels, they can affect your success, as "clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond to you."

In 2014, car manufacturer Kia took a survey of what makes people feel confident, a few of the things included in the top 10 list for women included: high heels, a little black dress, and designer perfume. For men, the list included: a freshly shaved face, a new suit, and a nice smelling aftershave.

Understanding the psychological dynamics of why the right-for-us clothing can contribute to our confidence, raise our self esteem, and help propel us in the workplace has become big business. Image, style, and branding consultants are hired by everyone from celebrities to the average Joe, with, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics more than 56,000 people claiming that as their occupation in 2014. Kim Peterson, of Uniquely Savvy, helps people champion themselves through personal brand and style analysis, body and color analysis, wardrobe analysis, personal shopping, and virtual style consulting for individuals, and more progressive businesses bring Kim in to do workshops for their employees on these self-empowerment topics.

So the next time you reach for those yoga pants or for that fiery red dress, ask yourself how will that clothing item make you feel and what is it saying to the world around you today?