Unless you want to get arrested for being naked in public, you need to make a choice each day about the clothes you’re going to wear. Confident people will have a wardrobe full of stylish, fashionable outfits that declare to the world that they are successful and well-ordered, but for the less confident choosing clothes and deciding what to wear each day can be difficult and unsatisfying. Why do clothes matter, and can rethinking your wardrobe make a difference to the way you feel about yourself?
The way that clothing affects mood and confidence has been termed “enclothed cognition” by researchers. The way clothes feel when you put them on, combined with how you feel when wearing the clothing, influences the way others see you by reflecting the way you see yourself. In simple terms, if you want to relax on the couch and watch TV all day, you wear jogging pants and a sweatshirt rather than a three-piece suit. The casual clothes put you in the right frame of mind for relaxing because you associate them with not being at work, whereas the suit puts you into full work mode, which is not ideal for relaxation. If you turn up for a party or meeting wearing different clothes to everyone else, you immediately feel awkward and uncomfortable. What you are wearing makes no difference to your ability to function in these situations, but your perception that you stand out and are being noticed in a negative context makes you feel less able and less confident.
How Others See You
What you wear can influence the reactions of other people when they see you, and it’s your response to their reactions that can determine the dynamics of an encounter. People can’t help making judgments about you within seconds of meeting, and as one of the most obvious expressions of you as a person, your clothes play a big part in what judgments people form. In retail, one of the lessons new recruits were always taught was the story of the scruffy customer. A man wanders into your store wearing old ripped jeans, an ancient, faded T-shirt and dirty sneakers with no laces. His hair is unbrushed, and he has dirt under his fingernails. You size him up as being at the very least a time-waster, and possibly a potential shoplifter. He approaches the counter and asks to see your most expensive product. Whether you refuse outright, lie and say you don’t have it, or remain polite but discouraging, the effect is the same – the customer leaves unsatisfied. While you are busy congratulating yourself for getting rid of a nuisance, the scruffy man has gone to your competitor down the street, where he was treated with respect and courtesy. They don’t judge people by their appearance, and good for them, because the scruffy dude is a software millionaire and has just bought a $30,000 watch.
The Chicken And The Egg
If clothes make you feel a certain way, can you change the way you feel by changing your clothes? The answer is a definite maybe. If you normally wear sports pants and an oversize sweatshirt, are you trying to hide a body you feel ashamed of? Do you think it doesn’t matter what you wear because people will know you’re a loser whatever you’ve got on? Or is it a kind of statement that you don’t care about appearance and you don’t buy into the whole fashion thing? Whatever lies behind your choice of attire, if you feel miserable or low, or don’t want to see anyone, wearing your old faithfuls is unlikely to make you feel better. Now is the time to see if you can improve your mood by wearing something smarter and dressing yourself up before you go out. Studies have shown that simply changing into smart clothes can make you walk taller and feel more confident, so it’s worth giving it a go to see if it has any effect on you.
Overalls and Staff Uniforms
If you work in a factory or for a retail company, you’re likely to have a uniform or be required to wear appropriate work gear for your job. It’s hard to feel inspired by these clothes, and many are so deeply unflattering even the most confident person would feel dragged down by them! If you have no choice in the functionality of your workwear, there is still the possibility of improving the aesthetics. For example, if you are a healthcare worker and need to wear scrubs, don’t just get the cheapest sets you can find, go to a specialist surgical scrubs website and find out about more comfortable and flattering versions. If your workwear makes you feel low, remember everyone around you is similarly afflicted, and if you make an effort to change after work you needn’t go home feeling drab.
It’s All About You
If you’re confident, you may well dress smartly and pay great attention to your appearance. You may be one of those people whom the more sartorially challenged envy for their seemingly effortless composure and style. If you’re happy, that’s great. You could, on the other hand, be like the scruffy millionaire – not give two hoots about the way you dress or what people think about you, finding fulfillment in life from your work and interests rather than being a slave to other people’s opinions. The point is, you should be happy with who you are, and not try to mold yourself into what you think will win your approval. It’s perfectly possible that the smart person feels a little envious of the scruffy one and his don’t care outlook. It takes effort to put on your best face every day, and being meticulous about your appearance can be a sign you are hiding insecurities of your own – not letting anyone see you at anything less than your best, as you see it, because they will be disappointed and unimpressed.
If you can wear what you like when you like and feel happy and free from judgment, that is the holy grail – no matter whether you are dressed up to the nines or going to the shops in your Batman cape. To achieve this state, you need to look at why you feel the way you do about clothes, and try changing not just your outfit but your outlook as well.