The Science Behind Fashion!


Teaching Assistant Rachel had some great blog-idea suggestions in class a while back, and I could not resist the urge to research her mention of the psychology of fashion. Not to be completely cliché, but as an eighteen-year-old girl, I presumably love to shop and maintain the latest trends in my wardrobe. After doing moderate research based on Rachel's suggestion, I was completely fascinated to learn of the complex psychological processes that my brain is undergoing during a typical trip to the mall. So much science is involved in shopping and trendsetting! Ladies - and you fashion forward boys - pay attention to this intriguing information!


Something all fashion lovers have in common is a love for trends: specific styles being promoted during a certain period of time According to Jennifer Baumbgartner in her article "The Psychology of Fashion", the short life span of trends are what makes them so desirable to us. It actually has to do with the grey matter in our brain!


Baumbgartner reports that the grey matter (the regions of the brain consisting mainly of cell bodies) reacts fondly to new things. Simply put: our brain undergoes a process that makes us feel rewarded when we see a new thing for the first time, including new trends on the runway. A study mentioned in her article done by Drs. Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Duzel more complexly explain this, reporting that the region of our brain associated with reward circuitry, the negra/ventral tegmental area, is activated when we discover and see new things. It is to say that we undergo a form of neural relief and enjoyment when we first lay eyes on the most current thing considered "in style".


As is the case with almost all psychological findings, Baumbgartner also reported that our tendency to fall into the "trend trap" may actually be an evolutionary adaptation. Naturally, when humans and living species alike are presented with an unknown stimulus in their environments, they intuitively assess whether the new stimulus is harmful or beneficial. Baumgartner did not expand on this finding, but I would assume that in the case of unfamiliar fashions as unfamiliar stimuli, our brains instinctively give attention to the new trend as we try to decipher whether we like or dislike it for ourselves (i.e. will it be beneficial to our wardrobe?)

The article also delineates that our desire for new fashion gives us a pleasing sense of self-reinvention. While not a drastic form of self-reinvention, wearing a new style can still give us the benefits any type of reinvention is associated with. In my opinion, it is satisfying to make a positive change in our lives as it gives us a sense of personal evolvement and accomplishment.

At the end of her article Baumbgartner presented a completely different but equally engaging aspect of psychology in fashion. She got more specific by listing why our brains like the specific look of current trends (granted this article was written in February of last year during Fashion Week, some of the trends remain current). There were actually scientific suggestions (by personal stylist Jill Marinelli) behind why women fell in love with last spring's trends of femininity and bold colors. I compiled a list of these examples:

1.       Femininity: The peplum skirt/dress trend is one we see all over stores today (pictured below). Marinelli suggests that this design portrays the ideal hip-to-waist ratio for women that the brain is naturally attracted to. The ratio represents "fertility and health" in the human brain.

peplumreal.jpg                                    Picture above is the "peplum" styled skirt.

2.       Bold Colors: The explanation for the popularity of these strong hues may actually have to do with daily internal struggles. Between going through economic crisis and the increasingly colder, shorter winter days approaching. Marinelli suggests that warm colors psychologically bring us feelings of warmth and comfort.

Another article on titled "Confidence Dressing: How Clothing Affects the  Mind" reported on another fashion psychology study that was published on the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology's website. Contrary to the previous findings I reported on, this study focused on something called enclothed cognition. Enclothed cognition refers to the "strong cultural association[s]" we have with certain clothing garments. The theory behind enclothed cognition is that these associations we make with garments are likely to affect the attitude we take on while wearing them.

The article gives the example from the study of test-takers wearing white doctor coats producing better test results than those who wore regular clothes. From these results, the study is suggesting that wearing the white coats may have made the test-takers feel smarter and more confident.

I'd say that the results of this study seem accurate. I'd assume most would agree that we feel more confident when we take time to put on a "nice" outfit, or more flirtatious when we feel what we're wearing is sexy. To me, it seems like a no-brainer. But do you agree? Does what you clothe yourself in in the morning affect not only how you act, but how you think for the entire day?

And as for the previous study I mentioned on trends: do you believe our fondness and obsession with trends can actually be linked to an evolutionary adaptation?


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