Have you ever wondered why and how clothes and personality are linked? What’s the connection between the two? Tune in.
As anyone who has taken a course in basic human behavior can attest, the field of psychology is replete with theories – many of them conflicting – about how and why people think, act, feel and relate to each other and their environment in the ways that they do. From Freud and Jung’s psychoanalytic theories to the behavioral interpretations of Skinner and Rodgers, the different schools of psychological thought strive to explain the perplexing and all too often contradictory motives behind human behavior – unfortunately, often with negligible concrete results. Despite the amazing preponderance of readily available, rigorously collected, tantalizingly detailed data on the subject, even the most respected ‘experts’ cannot explain with any degree of certainty how or why each of us develops the specific set of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual characteristics that – taken in their entirety – define who we are and how we express our ‘self-hood’ to the rest of the world.
How to explain this relationship
Yet while modern psychology does not yet and may never have a complete and detailed explanation to our behavior, it is an accepted tenet in virtually every school of psychological thought that the physical aspect of how we present ourselves to the world is a clear and often remarkably forthright reflection of who we are (or who we want to be.) While our cave dwelling ancestors began wearing clothing for purely utilitarian reasons, one need only take a short journey through history to uncover how quickly the human race began to view clothing and other accoutrements of style as a means of creating a unique identity, aligning oneself with a group or class, projecting social status, attracting the opposite sex or myriad other reflections of personal values, choices and status. In fact, in the world of psychology, where so much of what goes on inside each individual’s psyche is carefully hidden behind ego defenses, habitual behaviors, and socially dictated norms, how we dress – from the clothes we wear to the way we style our hair and decorate our bodies – is one of only a very few clear indicators of an individual’s personality, self-image and at times, even his or her world view. In every sense of the word, we ‘dress to impress’, to make a statement to the world about who we are and how we want the world to see us.
But what are we saying with what we wear? How does power dressing work, for instance? Not everyone is an expert on style, certainly. We all know what we like, and our personalities will permeate our individual choices, but how can we predict with any degree of certainty how our style of dress will affect others, or, conversely, how other’s appearance may impact our opinions without our knowledge or conscious participation in the process?
Surprisingly, the answers to these questions are not all that difficult to come by. The same research that provides us with so much information (albeit with very few conclusions) about personality development also helps us to recognize how our clothes and personality are reflected to others. Here are just a few examples of some styles of dress that are popular today and the kinds of information they can convey about those who wear them.
Clothes and personality interpretation
The Conventional Dresser: The conventional dresser dresses for her or his environment rather than from a sense of personal style. In the business world, the conventional dresser is the man or woman wearing a simple, traditionally styled suit in blue, gray or black with a white or pale pastel shirt, conservative tie and sensible shoes. On college campuses, he or she is usually in a pair of chinos and a button down shirt, topped off by perhaps a V neck sweater and a pair of loafers. Conventional dressers tend to be ‘conventional’ people – drab and sometimes boring, risk averse and lacking in confidence, they tend to be introverts who like to blend in with the crowd.
The Sloppy Dresser (AKA The Grunge Look): Sloppy dressers generally look as if they slept in the clothes they are wearing. Their wrinkled, soiled, mismatched outfits, often including torn, frayed blue jeans and deliberately ripped T- shirts are usually topped off by unwashed, uncombed hair, unshaven faces and – on women – heavy, sloppily applied makeup. The ‘Grunge’ look is the uniform of the ‘Anti-establishment’, and while those who sport this style tend to view themselves as free-thinkers who reject conventional norms, the look also screams of a poor self-image, immaturity, lack of motivation, and an ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude that others will assume – often correctly – carries over into every aspect of a person’s life-from job performance, to work ethic and personal relationships.
The Casual Chic Dresser: At first easily confused for a ‘conventional’ sort, the ‘Casual chic’ personality is someone who tends to dress appropriately for every occasion and always looks stylish and well-put together. The difference between this person and the conventional dresser, however, is that a ‘chic’ dresser adds small but important personal touches to his or her wardrobe – an elegant piece of jewelry, a silk scarf or designer tie – that speak volumes about his desire to fit in without disappearing into the crowd. The Casual Chic person is confident, successful, and perceived as attractive by others.
The Designer Dresser: We all know at least one person who will wear nothing but ‘designer’ clothing – everything from his undergarments to his overcoat must sport an easily recognized label from a well-known clothing designer. His or her hair is done only by the most expensive, high-end salon in town and she shops for everything from makeup to mouthwash in only the most exclusive stores. While this style usually gives one an air of affluence and success, it is all too often also a sign of a person who is insecure, uncertain about his personal identity, shallow and overly materialistic.
The ‘Goth Dresser’: Not unlike ‘Grunge’, the ‘Goth’ (short for ‘gothic’) look is generally worn by those who reject conventional society. Sported mostly by teens and ‘twenty-something’s’, the look is characterized by black clothing, black (usually dyed hair, heavy, dark makeup and jewelry that looks more threatening than fun or inviting. Those who are drawn to this look often have a number of body piercings and tattoos which they display by wearing as little clothing as possible. (Think Jesse James former fiancé Kat VonD) While some people who dress in ‘Goth’ clothing see themselves as artistic and sensitive, for the most part, their underlying personalities tend to be angry, immature, thrill-seeking, hostile towards authority and depressed.
The Athletic Dresser: Strange as it seems, most people who dress in ‘athletic attire’ like running suits, sweats and so-called ‘work-out wear’ in public are not athletes, but simply people who want to be perceived as such. Those who wear athletic attire while engaged in athletic pursuits rarely want to be seen (or smelled) in public wearing the same clothes they wore while working out, for obvious reasons. Those who do wear these kinds of outfits in public are generally wearing them in order to identify themselves with a sub-culture that they find appealing but which they cannot join due to physical constraints or a simple lack of time or motivation. These people tend to be sedentary, insecure and envious of those with the ambition and drive to achieve athleticism in the real world
Of course, these descriptions of clothes and personality are stereotypical representations of many different types of dressers; most of us wear a mixture of one or more of these style types on a regular basis and our personalities are a mix of those described as well. Every conventional dresser is not boring, nor is everyone who wears sweat pants to the grocery store a frustrated athlete. Nevertheless, it is a good idea to occasionally step back and look at our clothes and personality and how others see us through those; hopefully, we can learn something about ourselves in the process of as well.