Dressing for Mental Health
How looking great keeps us feeling and thinking great
I have been working primarily from home for over ten years. During that time, I was on a lot of conference calls, but rarely ever a video conference. That meant that I was free to wear whatever I wanted, and the only person who would see me was my kid.
Since Covid-19 lockdowns started, many people found themselves working from home. Social media featured celebrities showing off their grown-out roots and at-home pajama wear.
I noticed that over time, I cared less about what I wore around the house. But then I started to notice that I didn’t feel quite as good. I realized that when I don’t feel quite as good, my overall vibration suffers.
I think that there’s an underlying idea that focusing on what we look like is shallow. It’s all about inner beauty, right?
Yes, finding our inner beauty (aka our connection to our true source) is the main goal of life, in my opinion. However, focusing on our external beauty as a reflection of our inner beauty is also helpful — it connects our outer experience with our inner experience. (For more on this discussion, you can refer to my article What is Beauty?)
I feel different when I style my hair, put on something I think is attractive, and wear lipstick. And it’s not about how others respond to me; I feel better because I know I am caring for myself.
I wondered about the connection between fashion and mental health, so I decided to do a little research to see if anyone had studied what I had experienced.
The Connection Between Fashion and Mental Health
I read a Huff Post article about the mental benefits of dressing for work. According to the article, a psychologist at Baptist Behavioral Health, De’Von Patterson, said that by getting ready for work, “you’re actually getting your brain ready for a better workday.”
“‘There’s something called stimulus control where your behaviors are determined by a certain set of cues,’ Patterson said. ‘Some people may have an easier time being productive if they recreate the cues associated with their productivity. If they’re getting dressed, that puts them in the mindset to work or study.’”
So this is about the effectiveness of the ritual of getting dressed and styling hair, but it doesn’t specifically address the type of clothes we choose.
For more information, I read the Harper’s Bazaar article Should we all be dopamine dressing? The article quotes Maria Costantino, a lecturer in cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion, who connects clothes we like and the neurotransmitter dopamine. Costantino says, “‘when dopamine is released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward which motivates us to repeat a specific behavior.’”
The Harper’s Bazaar article mentioned Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire, who has researched the connection between clothing and dopamine. Pine wrote a book called Mind What You Wear (affiliate link). The Amazon book description says,
“The most important decision you make every morning may be what to wear. Why do you choose the clothes you do; do they express your true personality and can they really determine the course your day will take? Or even your life?”
These are pretty strong words! But because I already recognized the connection between what I wear and my mood, I decided to keep researching and purchase her book.
The article, What You Wear Can Change Your Brain, talks about one of Pine’s experiments with some students. She had them wear a Superman t-shirt. The article says, “[Pine] found it boosted their impression of themselves and made them feel physically stronger.”
Her book mentions that psychology has paid little attention to the power of clothing to affect the mind, “even though William James, the grandfather of psychology and a man with a penchant for a polka-dot cravat, believed clothing to be the most important part of the self.” Pine says,
“Get your clothing right and everything else will fall into place.”
I think this statement is worth putting to the test, so I came up with a 2-week at-home experiment so you can determine whether or not this is true for yourself!
2-Week At Home Experiment
To try this for yourself and check your results, you can try the following exercises.
Week 1: Work from home for a week and wear your pajamas or loungewear daily. Do not style your hair or wear make-up. Write in a journal daily and note your mood, what’s going on in your life, how your work calls went, etc. The most important thing is to be honest. If you have amazing days in your PJs — that’s great!
Week 2: Work from home for a week and get up, shower, fix your hair, put on make-up, and dress as if you were going out somewhere like a social event with friends. You could choose “date night” wear or office wear, whichever you prefer. Journal daily as mentioned above.
At the end of two weeks, survey your journal entries as a whole and notice the feeling tone of your writing. This analysis should tell you clearly whether your look made any difference. (My guess is that you will know this answer long before the experiment is over!)
The fashion and beauty industries have gotten a lot of heat in recent years for promoting unrealistic beauty standards. High fashion brands sell clothing and accessories that very few people can afford to purchase, which can create feelings of lack depending on the individual’s mindset.
I propose that rather than focusing on the negative aspects, we choose to see the importance of the fashion choices we make. I absolutely believe that your “best top” can cost $20 and come from a thrift store and make you feel beautiful. It’s not about a trend or what anyone else thinks about the way you look — it is about how your clothes and style make you feel, which also affects your thoughts.
I think that the reason that Pine says, “get your clothing right and everything else will fall into place” is because when we feel good and confident, the energy of self-worth reflects in all that we do. And if we continue to stay in that “high vibe” space, over time, our reality does reflect what we feel.
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Thanks for reading!