Enclothed Cognition: The Psychology of Dressing For Success

Everyone has heard the phrase, “Dress for success.” Well, it turns out, that isn’t just some empty, feel-good aphorism – it’s science!
Studies suggest that what we wear not only affects the way we feel, but holds massive sway over our thoughts, perceptions and performance. The long and short of it is, we subconsciously try to BE the person that we are dressed as.
I find this whole topic extremely fascinating, because as I am rapidly losing the baby weight, I am looking at ditching my maternity wear and filling my closet with a whole new wardrobe. In my effort to surround myself with natural fabrics, quality clothing and designer wear thrift store finds, I can feel my self-esteem, self-perception and newly acquired identity as a natural crunchy momma with geeky chic ‘tude emerging in full force.
And no small wonder. As I sit here typing this, curled up in my 100% Organic Cotton shabby chic hoodie, coffee cup print PJs and fuzzy pink Angora Rabbit Wool socks, my brain is soaking in the textures, associating them with the positive feelings and pre-conceived ideals of natural mommy-hood, and affirming to me on a subconscious level, “You, right now, are what you want to be.”

The Psychology of Enclothed Cognition

“Enclothed Cognition” is a twist on the growing scientific field called “Embodied Cognition”. Enclothed cognition describes the mental changes that we undergo when we wear certain clothing.
The findings of studies on enclothed cognition, posted on the website of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests that we think not just with our brains but with our bodies, and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Recent studies affirm that those experiences include the clothes that we wear.
Dr. Galinsky and his colleague Hajo Adam conducted a series of experiments to prove this point. From The British Psychological Society:
The research focused on the power of white coats, synonymous with scientists and their attention to detail. In an initial study, 58 students took part in a test of their powers of selective attention known as the Stroop Test (on critical trials, the ink colour of a word must be named whilst ignoring the colour meaning of the word, e.g. RED written in blue ink). Half the students performed the task in a scientist’s white lab coat (they were told that this was to be consistent with previous participants who’d taken part during building work and worn the coat for protection). The other students just wore their own clothes. The key finding – students in the lab coats made half as many errors on the critical trials of the Stroop Test.
The researchers next wanted to test their proposal that enclothed cognition effects depend on the symbolic meaning of clothes and actually wearing them. For these studies, the participants completed sustained attention tests that involved spotting differences between two similar images. Participants who donned a lab coat performed significantly better than others who merely saw a lab coat on the desk (thus suggesting the enclothed effect is more powerful than mere priming) or others who wore the same kind of coat but were told it belonged to a painter.
The takeaway? According to Dr. Galinksky, it’s that, “Clothes can have profound and systematic psychological and behavioural consequences for their wearers. Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.
“Although the saying goes that clothes do not make the man,” the researchers concluded, “our results suggest they do hold a strange power over their wearers.”

Ways To Make Enclothed Cognition Work For You

So now we know that the clothing we wear affects our psychological processes and alters how we approach and interact with the world. Now it’s time for some self-assessment: Are you dressing for success?
It’s a super simple life hack that anyone can use. When we put on certain clothes, we more readily take on their role, and this, in turn, affects our basic abilities.
Knowing that your clothes represent your inner motivation and feelings is a great way to set yourself up for success. And once you get started, it’s like a feedback loop: I look good, so I feel good. I feel good, so I’m going to wear the things that make me look good. And so on and so on and so on.
When we think of “dressing for success” we usually picture clothing in a business or workplace realm. But this concept reaches every area of your clothed life. Here are three areas you might consider (or reconsider) your wardrobe:

Lounging Around The House

When you think of a lazy, slovenly housewife, what do you picture her wearing? When you picture an active, productive housewife, what do you picture her wearing? Where do you and your wardrobe stack up in the mental imagery? Consider investing in some cute casual outfits, a luxury bathrobe, or some nice slippers if you feel your daily wear around the house needs a moral and mental boost.

Bedtime Clothes

When you think of someone having deep, restful sleep, what do you picture? When you picture a happily married husband and wife curling up with the kids for some snuggles in bed, what do you picture them wearing? How closely does your nightwear resemble these notions of blissfully rested and happy bedtime wear? Consider investing in some cute and comfy pajamas, some luxury bedsheets / pillows, or even some sexy fun time lingerie to enhance your – er – bedtime activities.

Workout Clothing

When you picture someone who is a veteran at the gym, versus someone who just got a membership that they are going to ditch in a week or two, what are the two wardrobe images that you dream up? In all areas of “dressing for success”, perhaps none are as potent as working out wear. When you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out. Don’t wait to get nice clothes. Feel and look good now, and that will help you lose the weight and get fit.

Do you dress for success? Are you feeling inspired to use this life hack to reach your goals and boost esteem? If so, share!

Also, if your workout gear needs a boost, be sure to stop by and enter to win this Silk Athlete 100% Organic Silk Workout Tank Top! Raffle ends February 7, 2014.


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Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman
Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls.

Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

Gingi Freeman

Gingi is a photographer, cosplayer, amateur chef, crazy cat lady, anime otaku, bookworm, generic geek, world traveler, conservative Christian, homeschooler, devoted military wife and stay at home new mother of two little girls. Gingi blogs about anything and everything that is relevant to being a supermom, stay at home wife, homeschooler and geek girl! You can contact her at gingifreeman@gmail.com or via the contact form on her website at www.domesticgeekgirl.com

15 thoughts on “Enclothed Cognition: The Psychology of Dressing For Success

  • 4 February, 2014 at 12:24 am

    That’s totally awesome! I also think it goes beyond just the clothes you wear. When most cases people put on nice clothes, it’s a concentrated effort to look nice. That includes doing your hair, putting on makeup, and maybe brushing your teeth again? I think that when people go out of their way to look nice, they naturally feel more confidant.

    • 4 February, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      Yeah, I think it’s a kind of domino effect… although I don’t think wearing make-up is essential to feeling nice. (Or shouldn’t be anyway!) 😉

  • 4 February, 2014 at 9:39 am

    Ask any actor and they’ll tell you. There is a noticeable difference in mindset once you get into costume. You can be rehearsing the scene with all the set dressing and lighting but when you come back on set in your costume it is so much easier to become this person.

    • 4 February, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Yeah, I thought of applying this to cosplay and acting (the main researcher on this study actually cited how “dressing up as a pimp for Halloween made me feel like a pimp”) but I’d already recently done a blog post about power posing having the same effect, lol

      • 5 February, 2014 at 2:17 am

        Lol, it’s true though! I played a druggy gang member and the ease of slipping into that mindset after getting dressed was almost alarming!

        • 5 February, 2014 at 2:29 am

          I just want to read in the research papers, “Subjects that donned the pimptress robes and fuzzy boa hats then began to “smack dem hoes” for a double dose of pimping.”

          • 5 February, 2014 at 11:10 am

            Subject repeatedly used the term “upside your head”

  • 10 February, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    Thanks for visiting my blog and for the sweet comment about my DIY wall art. I was drawn to this post about Enclothed Cognition because I feel strongly about people, esp women, trying to be the best of themselves, and sometimes this means putting a little more energy in the way you look. I do not believe you have to wear Ralph Lauren to look good, but instead just putting some effort into picking out your attire and putting yourself together makes all the world of a difference in how a person feels. Don’t get me wrong, I still love jeans day at work but even with jeans, a person can do it right and rock the look while still looking nice and professional too. I also have taken some interest in an organization called Dress for Success that provides professional attire to women who are struggling to enter the workforce. Anywho…..nice article, thanks for sharing!

    Jennifer @ Decorated Chaos

    • 11 February, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Have you blogged about this topic before? If you haven’t you should! I like your writing style and would be more than happy to link to your article if you had one / threw one together! I completely agree 100% with your views on this topic. I am just getting used to the whole stay at home mom gig, and I want to get started on the right foot… feeling clean, refreshed, presentable and ready for the day. Too many only in pajamas days could get draining REAL fast and I want to guard against premature stay at home mommy burn out. Anyway! Keep in touch girl!

  • 15 February, 2014 at 12:09 am

    I had always read & heard this when I was younger & interviewing that even if you have a phone interview, dress like you were going t the interview in person. The whole thing makes sense about how we feel about ourselves by what we have on for sure. I have lived it!

    • 15 February, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      Jody, I love seeing your comments.. do you blog somewhere? If not, you should!

  • 18 February, 2014 at 5:43 am

    When I am out in the professional world I dress in a way that I feel empowered. It works. I have more confidence and I am more productive. I have yet to apply this same type of thinking to my home life. When I am home I just want to sit and relax. I tend to dress in outfits that support relaxing and not productivity which is probably why there is a stack of laundry waiting to be done and some dirty dishes in the sink. Need to find a way to translate professional thinking to home life.

    • 18 February, 2014 at 3:14 pm

      Yeah, I am EXACTLY where you are. I love to relax at home, so my go to wear is yoga pants, PJs or something similar. I’m still in the process of getting my wardrobe where I want it to be, but one small change I’m making, is that when it’s time to clean house, I change into cut “work clothes”. It works wonders!

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