Does the outfit define the person?

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The psychology of fashion fluency.

Josh Brown

Staff Writer

Josh Brown

Behavioral scientists interested in the psychology of fashion analyze what clothing, accessories, and hairstyles say about people on an individual level and look to answer why we dress the way we do.  Whether we like it or not, our outfits say a lot.

Every person has a self-identity, which is composed of certain roles that a person fulfills in life, such as a son, student, researcher, actor, friend, etc.  According to fashion fluency, what we choose to wear is partly due to specific roles and self-identity.

For members of sports teams, wearing a uniform symbolizes the team a person plays for, like the green and white jerseys of the UVU basketball team.  The players wear these particular clothing items to signify a shared purpose and to separate themselves from their opponents.

The social, political, or secular groups that people belong to also have shared purposes, and fashion can be used to distinguish one group from another, like red and blue states during presidential elections. Because of this, sometimes groups decide or influence what types of clothing we hang in our closets. This is why friends tend to dress the same, and why an American tourist is easy to spot in a foreign crowd.

Styles of clothing can lead to people making judgments about who we are as a person.  Fashion can make certain statements without words, which is purposefully used as an expression, and sometimes it happens because we wore what was most comfortable.

Statements are important, and the most common are spoken statements, like “I love you”, or “It is hot outside”.  Visual statements are sometimes under appreciated, but they can have a lasting effect.

Sometimes appearances are given external values and meaning.  How society interprets, or how an individual thinks society interprets their outfits, can dictate the meaning attributed to fashion.

“Apparently minor clothing manipulations gave rise to significantly different first impressions of the man, with a more positive impression being created by the bespoke than the off-the-peg suit,” wrote professor Karen Pine in an article titled, The Effect of Appearance on First Impressions.

For example, the context of a suit is different than the context of workout clothes.  Imagine the strange looks a woman would receive if she wore a lavish wedding dress to a pool during the summer.  It would be more of a social norm for her to wear a white sundress.

If a picture were worth a thousand words then what we wear could be worth a million, a kind of fashion currency.  It may seem shallow, but human beings make deep, long-lasting assumptions based on the first few seconds of initial contact, according to a study published in the academic journal Fashion Theory.

What we wear can make a big statement about who we are and what we believe to the people around us. It is important to recognize this.  Maybe take a look at your wardrobe and identify what statements your outfits are making. You may find yourself wanting some new ‘statement pieces. You might be happy with what your outfit says, or you might not care at all.