Clothing: A Powerful Aspect of Our Identity

in StemSociallast year (edited)

Three Women in 'Walking Habits', 1923
Walking clothes Three_Women_in_Walking_Habits_Marvin_D_Boland_Collection_1923 copyright free.jpg
Image credit: Marvin D. Boland (1873-1950). Public domain. Studies show that if your clothes are appropriate to a task, you are more likely to perform that task well. That is, if you wear exercise garb, you are likely to get more out of your exercise session.

Dress the part. Most of us think that means dress the way you want other people to see you. Research suggests, however, that dressing the part doesn't just affect other people. It affects us, as we go about our day.

An influential study published in 2012, Enclothed Cognition, concluded that the way we dress affects "our behavior, attitudes, personality, mood, confidence, and even the way we interact with others". The authors of the study, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, research scientists from the University of Bath and Columbia University, state: "We introduce the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes."

Working From Home During COVID-19
Working from home, the new normal_caused_by_COVID-19 Jayjay Dasho 4.0.jpg
Image credit: Jayjay Dasho. Used under CC 4.0 license.

COVID-19 and the Clothes We Wear
While this research would seem relevant at any time in our lives, at this particular juncture, when many people spent a year adapting to virtual business, virtual school, virtual friends and even virtual family, the way we dressed underwent a dramatic change for most people. Did this add to the psychological impact of the pandemic?

I discovered a few articles
The Mental Health Benefits Of Getting Dressed For Work
Dress-Code Policies Reconsidered in the Pandemic
The Science Behind WFH Dressing for Zoom
that addressed this, but they were mostly speculative and extrapolated from other research, so I didn't find the articles helpful. But we can extrapolate from research and make our own guesses about the pandemic and clothing.

'Business Attire', (As Listed by Wikimedia Commons)
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Image credit: Alexblueground. Used under a CC 4.0 license.

The Suit

A 2015 Article, The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing, concludes that "Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world...” The authors (Michael L. Slepian, Simon N. Ferber, Joshua M. Gold,and Abraham M. Rutchick) conclude that wearing formal clothing leads to a broader, more inclusive perspective. Incorporated into this article were the results of five studies that sought to determine the effects of wearing formal vs informal clothing.

In each study, the results were consistent. Wearing formal clothing was associated with enhanced abstract processing. It's interesting that the effect also carried over to using formal speech. According to the authors, formal dress increases social/psychological distance between people, and it is this distance which increases abstract thinking. If we are near to something, or someone, we think in more concrete terms.

Lab Coat or Painter's Coat?
Lab coat_and_scrubs Samir from wikipedia 1.2.jpg
Image credit: Samir, transferred from Wikipedia. Used under CC 1.2 license. In the groundbreaking study by Galinsky and Adams, participants were told to wear a lab coat. When they believed the coat was a doctor's coat, it helped them to conceptualize in a more focused way. When they were told the coat was a painter's coat, they conceptualized in a less focused way.

Another study, Sartorial symbols of social class elicit class-consistent behavioral and physiological responses: A dyadic approach, published in 2016, reported that dominance behavior increased in (male) participants who wore clothing that was perceived as 'upper class'. The physiological effect of power dressing was actually evident in testosterone levels.

Hospital Gowns

Patient Wearing a Hospital Gown
hospital gown 4.0 wellcome.jpg
Image credit: This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive). Used under CC 4.0 license.

Most of us have been there, haven't we? Or we have visited someone who was asked to wear one of those scant, backless hospital gowns. An article in the British Journal of Health Psychology, Baring all: The impact of the Hospital Gown on Patient Well-being, reports that the hospital gown symbolically represents dehumanizing aspects of healthcare. The gown fosters the subjective sense of 'being sick', of being vulnerable and of relinquishing control. The gowns are used often even though there is no medical necessity. Patients, especially women and patients living in long-term care situations, feel "exposed,... self-conscious, vulnerable, uncomfortable, cold, embarrassed, and disempowered". In sum, the authors of the Journal article conclude that hospital gowns are not appropriate for their intended purpose (to advance health). On the contrary, they impact "negatively on patient well-being."

Prison Uniforms

Wood Engraving: Lines of Prisoners Waiting to Go in a Building
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Image credit:Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-03-31): CC-BY-4.0. CC 4.0

It was hard to find a peer-reviewed study on the effects of prison clothing on inmates. There are extrapolations from other studies (some mentioned already in this blog) and also some observational/retrospective studies. These sources seem somewhat reliable though not "scientific" in the usual sense of the term.

An article in Newsweek sums up the informed judgement of several sources. Cited by Newsweek is a study carried out at Cornell University in which participants were asked to play a virtual reality game. Different avatars were assigned to the players: "dark robes, Ku Klux Klan-like robes, physician uniforms or transparent suits". Those participants who were assigned KKK outfits or dark robes, treated their opponents with greater cruelty, were more likely to be disloyal to teammates and were more competitive as they played the game.

Even after the game, when asked to reflect on their characters and experience, the players who donned KKK-like outfits and dark robes wrote essays that were 'meaner'.

The conclusion the authors draw from this study: "If we wear clothing that conveys a particular role with a meaning, we'll take on that role to some degree." What are the implications of this study for prison garb? By muting individuality with prison uniforms, institutions are attempting to exert control "over behaviors people engage in" and induce them all to behave in the same way.

My question: Is that a good thing in prison, and does it seem to advance the cause of rehabilitation? As a long-term goal,do we want all prisoners to behave in the same way? Do we want prisoners to see themselves like others in the institution, or do we want them to fashion individual, positive ambitions?

A 2017 article in Index on Censorship asks,
...does stripping individuality make rehabilitation more difficult? In recognition of the powerful effect clothing as on the psyche, the author of this article cites a U.N. standard known as the Mandela Rule: “Every prisoner who is not allowed to wear his own clothing shall be provided with an outfit of clothing suitable for the climate and adequate to keep him in good health. Such clothing shall in no manner be degrading or humiliating." The article emphasizes that at one point most prisoners will be returned to society. Depersonalizing them, dehumanizing them (through clothing) does not prepare them for that ultimate goal.

Gerontology and Clothing

'Oldest Man in Chile' (2011), Celino Villanueva, 115
aged Don Celino Villanueva tu Foto con el Presidente 2.0.jpg

Image credit: tu Foto con el Presidente. CC 2.0 license.

One of the conditions of life that often leads to a loss of identity and control is aging. This is especially true when aging is accompanied by dementia. Clothing is one part of an aging person's daily routine that may be overlooked. This is a mistake. Julia Twigg, from the University of Kent, explains that, "Clothes are central to how we perform our identities."

When so much else is falling away from an individual, particularly in the case of dementia, the way we dress, "offers a means of maintaining continuity of self at a material, embodied level," according to Dr. Twigg. This assertion is based on a body of literature, including a report by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) entitled, "Dementia and Dress".

In another article,"Clothing, Age and the Body: a Critical Review", Dr. Twigg explains that, "dress forms a significant, though neglected, element in the constitution and experience of old age." Clothing is one way individuals may assert control over their bodies and may resist culturally imposed assumptions about what is appropriate to aging.

Research by Dr. Pat Armstrong, Professor of Sociology from York University in Canada, looks at how clothing affects aged residents in a communal setting. Clothes, Dr. Armstrong explains, "...are central to our personal identity and our dignity". This is particularly true in a nursing home, where other aspects of our identity are challenged.

Dr. Armstrong's research team surveyed nursing homes in Norway, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada in order to come up with ideas for improving the quality of life for residents. Clothing, it is suggested, was one of several material improvements that might be managed in a communal setting.

Dr. Armstrong concludes her article:

when designing, managing and choosing nursing homes, we need to pay attention to clothes. This means attending to how residents are helped to dress and how clothes are worn, cleaned and stored.

Researching this post was instructive for me. I have never paid much attention to clothing. Even when I was a child, pictures reveal, I was casual. Of all my siblings, I would be the one with one sock down. Today,when I go out, I stop and think what clothing means to other people, when they see me. But maybe I should think about the effect clothing has on my own psyche, even when I don't go out.

Note the lack of attention to dress (turned up collar) in this picture of me, taken more than sixty years ago.

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I hope you found the material in this blog interesting. Thank you for reading.

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Selected Sources



A well-researched article, as usual. I agree that clothing affects a lot of things about us. I just love to dress comfortably. That is all that matters to me. I also do not like to be told what to wear, to be honest. This is perhaps one of the reasons I refused to join the navy/airforce even when the opportunity presented itself. It is also one of the reasons I dislike 'corporate' jobs where you are dictated what to wear.

I have been silently hoping to see #science on the trends at POB. I love STEM. There's a certain level of professionalism that's refreshing about it.

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Core sciences do not have a lot fans on the chain, just as it is even everywhere. Unless one tries as much as possible to write in a language laymen can understand and relate with

I think many people believe 'science' is something apart from them. For me, 'science' is not a separate discipline. It's everything around us. It answers questions that arise about daily living. I think we make a mistake in school when we separate science from other subjects. Especially history cannot really be explained without an understanding of science. Try talking about WWII intelligently without explaining the development of the atomic bomb. Or try talking about fossil fuels/environment without addressing nuclear energy. Or the development of the canal system without talking about mosquitoes. For me, this approach to integrated education should begin in the earliest grades. If we did that, the language of science wouldn't be so alien to people.

There I go, on my soapbox :))

Have a great day, @gentleshaid.

Hello @sholaris.pob! I love STEM. My formal education is in history, literature and languages, but my whole life I've been a science tourist. It's all connected. Thanks for the gentle suggestion. I've never posted in the Proof of Brain community (although I did join it), but now that I know my rather long, well-researched articles may be welcome, I will.

Thanks so much for stopping by and supporting my blog. Hope the week ahead is great one for you.

Trust me, it's welcome. I'm happy to curate well-researched articles. Especially from StemGeeks and StemSocial. I think the trick to this community would also be to associate the topic with something that's important to you or Hive in general. However, that can't always be done.

Hi @gentleshaid,
Thanks for that nice assessment of my blog. As I explained in the blog, clothes never meant much to me. I guess in a way I went against gender stereotype. When I was headed for college, my mother and sister realized they had a problem so my sister took me shopping so I would have the right clothes for the right place :) I can follow orders about clothing if they are simple, but I really can't invest any of my emotional or intellectual energy on them. However, when I dressed today, I thought about the blog and decided to switch things up. Did it make a difference? I don't know.
I still think it's not worth my time :))

Hope you and your family are well.

What an extraordinary interesting article about such everyday things. Moreover, the content of your article confirms what I have believed for a very long time.

Because I think that we live in a world where everyone tries to enchant everyone every day. Some are better in it than others, some are worse. But the best ones participate in an efficient system.
It is the great enchantment system, in which words are spells to guide and control others. "Appropriate" clothing obviously falls into the role of symbolic sorceries.
An truly spellbound World!

Perhaps I've expressed it a little too fantastically, but in a basic principle it seems to me the reality. Or maybe in other words, Social Control! We all do it with each other, against each other and very often also for ourselves.

The aspect of clothing you described in your post might just be a consequence of that.

Thank you very much for this great piece of reading material.

Thank you so much for reading my blog, friend @quantumg.

I think you hit the clothing issue (for me) on the head. I resent control and clothing (appropriate clothing) is definitely a method of control. Plus, spending time and energy on clothing seems like such a waste (to me).

But, clothes are important to other people. It's like shorthand. People 'read' us through our clothes, among other things.

It was interesting writing this. My daughter vigorously rejects the premise that what she wears at home (with no one around) will have an effect on the way she thinks. None of the studies I read addressed specifically creativity--'free' thinking. My daughter is creative (professional dancer) so she may be correct.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

I know the day is over for you. So, have a good night's sleep and a wonderful Monday :)

I think I started caring about my clothes when I became a teenager. I remember my mom needed a group photo of her 8 kids for her job and I refused to take the picture because I didn't have nice clothes and I didn't want to go out with the old clothes I had. Silly me, now I see the picture of all my siblings when they were kids and the part where I should be is empty. Now I also care how I dress but I wouldn't miss anything just because I didn't have something suitable for the occasion. I really believe that clothes go according to our mood. Since the pandemic started, I don't care how to dress anymore! 😁

Very interesting article and very well researched. Have a nice evening. 🤗

Thank you my friend @mballesteros for reading my long blog.

I refused to take the picture because I didn't have nice clothes and I didn't want to go out with the old clothes I had

At that age, kids are getting all their signals from outside the home. An awareness of how others see us is acute. I'm sorry you are missing from the pictures :(

It's interesting how we are all different. My sister has an exquisite sense of style, and yet she is patient with me. The nice thing about having siblings is it teaches us to be tolerant of different sorts of people.

Since the pandemic started, I don't care how to dress anymore!

Well, the pandemic did one good thing😅

I hope you evening is peaceful and your Monday is even better🌹🌹

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Thank you very much for your support. I love the vote. More than that, I love the endorsement of my effort here :)

Great article. Clothing has also been used as a weapon of the state. The most notorious was Nazi Germany. They hired Hugo Boss to make uniforms for the army. These uniforms were rather stylish, had a great fit, and were decked out with all sorts of runes to make them even more impressive. This is likely the reason why Nazi chic (e.g., leather jackets) is popular to this day. The rationale behind it was that the Master Race should dress the part. You can't dominate people in a frumpy outfit. It is also likely they were imitating the Italian fascists, whose Roman roots include careful attention to one's own grooming.

Right now, I'm sporting a nicely-pressed white shirt plastered with pineapples all over. What does that tell you?

Hello @litguru,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yeah. Those leather jackets. Seem to suggest tough guy whether it's the chosen wear of a fascist or a member of a street gang. I really do think it has something to do with killing and displaying the skin of the conquered on your back. It's a subliminal thing. Maybe I'm overthinking that 😁

Nicely pressed and pineapples? I guess it means you're neat and you like fruit.😂

I'm actually allergic to pineapples but the shirt is very tropical. 🍍

Such a nice post actually dressing code plays a great role in our society today just as the saying goes: the way you dress is the way you are been addressed which is actually true, someone can't dress like a lawyer I want to be addressed as a doctor no it doesn't happen, just take a look at every interview the dressing code to be expected is normally corporate unless there is a special dress code for the interview, when someone goes for an interview without wearing a proper dressing or the dressing code which is usually corporate the person has already started filling the interview why? Because of inappropriate dressing code this also applies in other different areas and Paris top is to how we dress is usually how we are addressed just like in the hospitals doctors dress in there an attire while scientist also dress in their own lab coats same thing goes to the lawyers they also dress in their own suits also pastors and reverend fathers, just to mention but a few in conclusion dressing code has a lot to do with how we are being addressed.

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Thank you for reading my blog and for giving such a thoughtful response. It is true that when I go out I think about how my outfit will affect people I meet. Even if I am not interested in clothing, other people are :) We have to be aware of how our appearance impresses people, because that will affect how they receive us. That is a fact of life.

Thanks again for your interesting observations.
I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Dress really does play a role in how we feel about ourselves. Over the years I've observed that on days when I put on something snappy, I feel snappy. If I put baggy clothes or sit around in sweats on a lazy day, it affects my mood, outlook and self-image quite profoundly. I fear someone will come to the door and find me in that sloppy state.

I've never been one to dress up or spend money on nice clothes, but at times when I have gone to lengths to put on something really nice, I've felt transformed by it. I was not at all surprised to read about the affect for men on their testosterone if they are dressed to impress!

Because of my collected empirical knowledge from over the years, when the pandemic hit and I began working from home, I decided to get up and shower and dress for work anyway. I've done this without fail. By the time I sit at my desk for work, I'm showered, I've got coffee and I feel ready to tackle the challenges of the day!

I think what people are forced to wear under various circumstances is very humbling and disempowering, as you shared. Hospital gowns are awful. Prison jumpsuits too. And of course the gray, tattered rags the inmates of prison camps had to wear in World War II were absolutely horrendous.

Great article, @agmoore. I found all of this absolutely fascinating!

Hi @jayna,
Thank you very much for reading my blog and for the kind words. I'm not surprised to hear that you followed a dress regimen during lockdown. You seem to be a disciplined person. It's a fortunate mix: discipline and creativity. You get a lot done😇.

Some of the findings here were sort of common sense and some were surprising (to me). The business with the lab coats was just amazing.

Hope you have the best weekend possible.

Excellent blog which got me thinking I have to upgrade my wardrobe. I always enjoy reading your articles.

Thank you very much for reading the blog and commenting @pokerm. I also will be looking at my wardrobe. I guess we should dress for ourselves, and not others.

Have a great weekend!

Couldn't agree more! Even though I look good in my lab coat, I am much more respected as a human being when I am in a martial arts uniform especially one with a black belt. It had an instant uplifting transcendental effect on my image! 😂


It had an instant uplifting transcendental effect on my image!


Thanks for reading and commenting. I think I'm more likely to pay attention to clothing if it's interesting--like your 'lab' coat--than if it's just routine.

I'm writing this as I drink morning coffee. There is so much I want to do today. The clothes I wear seem to be the least interesting of those things. But, I'll rethink that :)

Have a great weekend.

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