It takes four seconds for most people to form an impression of a stranger – based mainly on body language and clothing. The psychology of dress allows scientists to pigeonhole people from their clothing and provides reliable information about employment, spending habits and even emotional states.
What you wear can inform passersby of your type of employment, as well as your ambitions, emotions and spending habits.
In the Western world we lack simple systems of identification – we don’t wear uniforms or have a caste system that allows us to comfortably judge other people’s wealth, preferences and mood, but clothing increasingly takes the place of those social structures.
We can use clothing as a weapon against others by wearing designer labels or as a camouflage by dressing exactly as everybody else does.
1. If you’ve ever seen a group of young men in jeans and polo-shirts, out for a night on the town, it will usually be evident if one of them is not a usual part of the group because his polo shirt won’t harmonise with the others in colour and his jeans may be darker or lighter. It’s an unconscious process but we often tend to choose our clothing to blend with that of people with whom we spend a lot of time.
2. Clothing also indicates our mental or emotional condition – women who have been told they dress too sexily for every day events may be seeking a kind of attention that allows them to feel powerful – they can adjust this neediness by dressing to achieve a different goal, for example choosing outfits that demonstrate an international perspective or dressing to achieve a job promotion.
3. People who dress entirely in neutral colours are avoiding any attention and seeking to blend into the background – this fearful behaviour keeps them trapped and they can break out by, for example trying one new thing: a bright T-shirt , a pair of shorts to a barbecue instead of classic jeans, and getting used to it before adding another. This frees them to learn to be comfortable in new situations.