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Fashion & Psychology: Why Clothes Matter

What is fashion psychology?

Fashion psychology is commonly defined as the study of the impact of clothing choices on the way in which we perceive and judge each other. Understanding fashion psychology is crucial to brands in the industry as it identifies whether a product will be adopted by its target market but also, how long that product will stay on trend.

Fashion psychology identifies the emotional reason why, we as consumers, buy into certain fashion trends and buying habits. Psychologists explain that there are subconscious decisions we all personally make when buying clothes that a lot of us are unaware of.

Therefore, understanding why we indulge in the fashion industry could help break harmful habits.

The power of influence

Despite the freedom the fashion industry contributes to expressing our own identity, many of our clothing choices are heavily influenced by those around us. Media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are often targeted by clothing companies to expose their brand through the impact of popular influencers wearing them. Seeing those we admire wearing certain trends and labels can increase its popularity and like a domino-effect, others follow.

Psychologically, not fitting in is a big fear for a lot of people and fashion plays a big part in this as our clothes and our appearance are sometimes judged before we’ve even spoken. A French YouTuber, known as Norni, decided to put this pre-judgment to the test.

Norni conducted a social experiment of himself dressing as a homeless man collapsing on the street and then later on doing the same incident, however, this time he was wearing a suit. When dressed as a homeless man, Norni received no help from passers by despite calling out “Help me” for several minutes and people walked around him to avoid him.

However, this flipped when Norni changed into a suit and in the video, as soon as he begins to fall numerous people run to his aid. Norni’s social experiment is a clear example of how as humans, we are sometimes quick to judge a person from their clothing and ultimately this changes our reactions.

Arguably, this pressure to dress a certain way is exemplified by the media surrounding us. Many fashion magazines and newspapers often highlight ‘fashion disasters’ or pinpoint which celebrity is the ‘worst-dressed’ at the latest event.

Recently, Labour MP, Tracey Brabin was a hot topic of conversation on TV and in newspapers, not for her points she made in the House of Commons, but rather, her decision to wear an off-the-shoulder dress which was branded as “distasteful”. Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a growing pressure to dress a certain way to fit in when there is so much criticism when others get it “wrong”. But what actually makes something fashionable?

There are a variety of ways in which something becomes a popular fashion trend. From runways to street style, icons and bloggers there is a lot we can draw our inspiration from. The common theme with our inspirations is exposure. I’m sure we are all guilty of criticising a fashion trend in the past and then buying into the same trend when it comes back around. The mere exposure effect works on the basis that, the more you see something, and the more you are exposed to something, the more likely you are to act with a positive reaction without knowing why you did it.

While the exposure effect is a great tool for big fashion companies to advertise their products, this may not be so great for our mental health. In today’s world, with the influence of fast fashion, we are unveiled to the constant and ever-changing trends showcased on our mobile and TV screens. For young people who may feel pressure to fit in this may cause them to feel stress with keeping up with the latest trends.

In particular, if they are unable to afford to buy into the newest craze. Fast fashion companies such as Boohoo, Pretty Little Thing, Missguided and Nasty Gal, utilise this target market by offering the newest trends but with a low-price tag. Doing this, encourages people to buy more and enables them to be up to date with the fast shifting looks.

Although offering cheap garments may appear to have its benefits on the surface, there are many downfalls to fast fashion. Psychologically, fast fashion adds pressure to consumers to buy more and this could have a negatively impact how satisfied we are as it encourages us to always be looking for the next best thing.

While this may not seem detrimental, over time this could affect our happiness if we never feel satisfied with how we look. Furthermore, for some, not being able to afford the latest trends that their icons and peers are wearing could negatively impact their self-worth. For people who feel so much pressure to fit in from the stresses of social media, not being able to look like those around them could affect how their self-esteem.

Secondly, constant purchasing of cheap materials from fast fashion companies adds to the landfill problems affecting our Earth. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. Encouraging consumers to buy more, especially cheap and non-recyclable materials will only worsen this problem. Lastly, fast fashion can contribute to an addiction to overconsumption.


Touched on by Dr. Carolyn Mair in her book “Psychology of Fashion”, she explains that overconsumption is a real problem as it has become a part of our identity that is negatively impacting the environment. To break these habits, Mair explains that fulfilling the demanding consumer through an excellent customer journey is a way in which psychologists can contribute to tackling this problem.

Mair states that psychologists understand how people think, perceive and understand, therefore, they are able to change people’s buying habits which could seriously help the fashion industry on its journey to sustainability.

Mair explains we can change our unhealthy habits with fashion through structured behaviour change programmes. Encouraging people to look inwards and understand why they buy so much along with the consequences, can help consumers buy less and be more mindful. Ultimately, being mindful in numbers will force factory owners and retail companies to change accordingly as it will add pressure.

To end, I think it’s important we all take time, especially during lockdown, to ask ourselves why we buy the clothes we do and where our influences lie. Are there better clothing alternatives we could choose that are mindful of those they affect? And do our buying habits impact our mental health? All of these questions will help us clarify the decisions behind our choices that we may not be aware of, and potentially help us all become better consumers.

Works Cited

Macarthur, E., 2017. A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Nightingale, K., 2020. Style Psychology. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Norni, 2014. YouTube – The Importance Of Appearances Social Experiment. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Solomon, M., 2020. You really are what you wear. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].


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