Fashion

Can clothes really make you happy?

Positive associations, symbolic shields and colours that spark joy – Georgina Lucas explores the hidden power that lies in what we wear…

When I was 13, I tried to persuade my dad to buy me a lurid purple velvet slip dress.

I still remember how I felt wearing it - I walked taller, I felt grown up, I was convinced that dress was the key to my everlasting happiness.

I’m not sure the slip ever made it out of the changing room, but the lesson has stayed with me – that wearing something you love can alter your mindset.

When I worked in retail in my teens, I recognised the feeling in the women walking out of the changing rooms - that little bounce in their step, that beaming smile I saw reflected in the mirror.

But does what we wear really have the power to boost confidence? Increase wellbeing? Positively impact our mental health? 

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The answer is a resounding yes, at least according to Prof. Carolyn Mair PhD, a behavioural psychologist and author of The Psychology of Fashion.

“When we feel good in what we are wearing, we tend to be more confident,” says Mair.

“When we are confident, we are able to exert influence through our confidence alone. When we feel good, we are likely to be perceived as looking good too, as our posture, voice and other nonverbal aspects will be more positive.”

Mair should know - through her consultancy business, psychology.fashion, she has advised numerous businesses on how to maximise their potential.

According to Mair, our clothes are our second skin, and it’s not purely how we feel when we’re wearing them that makes a difference.

“What we wear is how we show ourselves to those we interact with - we are influenced by their reaction to it. If we are well received, it boosts our confidence and can ultimately affect our wellbeing.” 

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Sarah, 27, an advertising exec from Newcastle agrees. ‘My favourite dress is one I recently bought from Tu clothing,” she says. 

“Their stuff feels really inclusive in terms of shape and sizing options, and every time I’ve worn it, I’ve had compliments - I feel more confident the minute I put it on’

Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and founder of Fashion is Psychology goes a little deeper into what’s happening there.

“People experience changes in their emotional state with a change in their style of dress,’ she explains.

“When you wear clothes that make you feel confident, happy and empowered, they can act as armour, shielding you from negative feelings and experiences.”

“Some studies have even found that clothes carry a tension release dimension, providing wearers with a dose of escapism that positively impacts their mental wellbeing during particularly trying times.”

So our clothes can ease anxiety, too, which is why the term ‘dopamine dressing’ is making its way into the style lexicon.

“The power of clothing to boost your mood lies in the associations you have with your clothes,” says Forbes-Bell,

“Try to wear your favourite items as much as possible - these pieces are often associated with good times which can trigger nostalgia.”

Mair agrees. “If we have a garment that we wore when we completed a successful negotiation, or wore to an interview and then got the job, we can create a symbolic meaning around that garment that gives it ‘power’. 

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Twenty years after my velvet dress moment, I write about clothes for a living.

More often than not, I do it from home, and in the early days of my self-employed career, I remember pulling a jumper on over my pyjamas, padding to the sofa, and curling up with my laptop - the perfect working set-up.

A few months in, a feature by writer and influencer Katherine Ormerod, stopped me in my tracks. Get dressed for work, she said, even if you’re only going to your kitchen table.

“In a work sense, your opinion of yourself is everything,’ says Katherine. ‘It’s how much you quote for a job, or how much confidence to bring to a pitch meeting.”

“For me, how I dress is an expression of that value, to both the outside world and myself, so it makes business sense to put the effort in - a quietly polished look is immeasurable in terms of your mood and attitude to yourself.”

It’s sage advice and a philosophy that London-based charity SmartWorks is built on - they provide a dressing and coaching service for unemployed women with confirmed job interviews.

The premise is simple - to style women in an outfit which will boost their confidence, ultimately helping them to secure the job.

Once they’re employed, they may return for five further items - perfect for making a good impression in their new role.

Feedback is phenomenal - 94% of clients reporting that SmartWorks boosted their confidence.

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And what about colour?

“Choosing a colour is very closely connected to our mood so wearing a certain hue can spark a feeling of happiness and joy.” says Jenny Clark, head of colour at WGSN.

‘If we want to feel uplifted, strong and positive, colours with more chroma will give us a boost.”

It’s something that Emily Brooks, an award-winning designer and illustrator from London, embodies. 

Her passion for colour, and the joy it brings, runs through her collection of stationary and cards, her home, and, of course, her wardrobe.

‘Clothing is a powerful tool when it comes to transforming mood, confidence and outlook,’ she says.

‘I will consciously fight low self esteem or lack of motivation by wearing something bold and colourful to bring out my inner sass and positivity.”

The point being that a vital part of dressing happy is being true to ourselves.

“When I wear one of my favourite outfits I feel great and I feel like me,’ says Helen, a solicitor from Nottingham,

“What we wear is our identity,” agrees Mair. “Social media has allowed for a celebration of uniqueness - more support for being our true selves rather than fitting into a very narrow stereotype of what a fashionable person should look like.”

“Ultimately”, she says, “dressing for your true self means knowing what clothes makes you feel good, caring less about what others may think, and having the confidence to carry it off.”

It’s a powerful philosophy.

Dress well, feel good with Tu clothing. No matter your shape, size, style or budget, you’ll find an outfit to boost your mood and leave you feeling good in the clothes you wear. Shop the collection here.