Home Society & Culture The Psychology of Fashion – How Our Choice of Clothing Reflects and Shapes Our Identity

The Psychology of Fashion – How Our Choice of Clothing Reflects and Shapes Our Identity

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It’s morning; we open the wardrobe and choose the dress we’re going to wear today. It’s a normal gesture, of course, but it’s not meaningless. With this gesture, we have just confessed to ourselves and to others who we are or who we would like to be.

Have you ever thought about that? The psychology of fashion was born for this reason: to explain how our relationship with fashion is closely linked to our personalities.

The function of clothing

The desire to cover and adorn the body is documented across all cultures, even the most primitive.

Through the way we dress, we more or less unconsciously transmit to others a huge set of data: gender, age, racial and cultural belonging, our social role (let’s think about uniforms), belonging to social groups or ideological aspects, our economic position, the type of event we attend (formal, informal, joyful, or sad), and the type of behaviour we want to maintain (open or reserved). These data that we transmit induce in others a certain type of behavior towards us, essentially generated by cultural influences.

Imagine seeing a man dressed elegantly commit a crime, and another man, dirty and neglected, do the same. We will probably tend to react more politely to the first and more aggressively to the second.

Our identity is locked in the closet

The clothes in our closet say a lot about us. When we buy a dress, we do it to communicate our identity, or perhaps to emphasise a change in a particular stage of our life. The choices we make are a way to express our mood, our feelings, and our personalities, but also to hide and simulate another, in case the truth does not fully satisfy us.

An example? Let’s think of a very shy person who decides to wear aggressive, punk-style clothes. In this case, the dress will assume the function of armour in order to protect and defend us from the outside and from the judgements of those around us.

Every garment and every accessory are clues: the fabric, the pattern, the colour, but also the height of the heel, or the size of a hat.

The history of fashion: a new discipline

The history of fashion studies the origin, causes, and evolution of clothes over the centuries.

The way people dress becomes a symbol of historical eras, social changes, the birth of new classes, and protest movements.

In the past, the way of dressing, the quality of fabrics, and their manufacture indicated the class difference and the distance between rich and poor. Today, with industrialization and the mass production of clothing, there is greater uniformity, both socially and culturally, but there remains a need to differentiate and use dress as a form of non-verbal communication.

Recent research on men of power has highlighted how these individuals tend to choose and consistently maintain a way of dressing that becomes their characteristic, and distinguishes them – a kind of uniform that shows their identity and consistency with themselves.

Choosing clothes to communicate with others

The choice of what we wear allows us to communicate something about ourselves to others without speaking and allows us to manipulate our image to bring it closer to our ideal. It is a way to fill a sense of inadequacy, compensate for our fears, and facilitate our integration into a group.

Any practical examples?

  • Choosing an excessive look, mixing different colours and styles, can be a sign of insecurity, a desire to hide a sad side of us that we do not want to make known.
  • Choosing a simple and comfortable look can be a sign of reliability and authenticity of character
  • Keeping old clothes is a way to stay linked to the past, especially to the periods we remember as positive and happy.
  • Preferring new materials and natural fibres indicates that we are modern and independent people.
  • Using clothes to hide us shows a desire to conceal our weaknesses and defects, real or presumed, from the eyes (and judgements) of others.
  • Dressing in a neglected way indicates we have little respect for ourselves.

The choice of colours

The origin of the sense of colour dates back to day and night: blue is the night sky, suggesting calm and passivity; yellow is the light of day, symbolising hope and activity. If red symbolises attack and conquest, its complement, green, represents defence.

Behind the choice of a colour to wear are not only the influences exerted by the fashion of the moment but also the traits of our personality. Moods can also affect the preference for a certain colour or rejection for another, not to mention that a colour can represent different emotions and moods: think of red, the colour of love, fire, blood, communicating vitality, power, energy, intense feelings, and warmth. But it also has a negative meaning; it is also the colour of the devil, anger, and aggression.

The choice of strong colors such as red, yellow, orange, or white indicates a strong personality and great self-esteem. Green, brown, and blue are preferred by individuals who do not like to stand out.

The choice of purple indicates a sensitive soul, while black communicates a great variety of messages: elegance but also confidentiality and, worn by many on many occasions, can also express a certain degree of conformity.

A dress as therapy and to stop the passage of time

Devoting time and attention to self-care can be an excellent therapy to improve mood and increase self-esteem. When the mirror gives us a pleasant image of ourselves, relating to others becomes easier and more pleasant. Especially if clothes are not used to hide something from us, but to emphasize what are the strengths that we all have.

And not only that, clothes are able to slow down the race of time. Today more than ever, perceived age tends not to correspond to real age. We feel, and above all, we want to appear, always young. Therefore, we can choose a fashionable and casual look for all ages, bright colors, and accessories always trendy, to please us and please others!

Annalisa Balestrieri holds a master’s degree in modern literature with a psycho-pedagogical specialisation from the State University of Milan.


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