Where is She? Clothing Matters As In Grey Matter

So we get it, grey is the color this fall.  We are exhorted to wear shades of grey, grey on grey, and even more grey. We are told take ownership of that grey. Wear grey on your nails. Young people are taking this so seriously they are dying their hair grey (BTW I have been the trendsetter on that look for years). The fashion critics and bloggers are telling us there is no other way you could look more NOW this autumn than when you wear grey. However the real challenge we are presented with is how the hell can you put together a head to toe look in a muted (potentially boring) color that is stylishly and carelessly understated without being invisible and unimaginative? One potential solution is to make yourself stand out by using your most valuable accessory…your GREY MATTER (I am trying to hold on to mine below).

If You Are Curious…Your Brain on Clothes

Interestingly, fashion and clothing as objects of study, for years marginalized in academia as frivolous and not worthy of serious attention, is increasingly becoming a subject for scientific exploration. Thanks to cognitive scientists and the advent of the field of “embodied cognition” (the simple meaning is that we think with our bodies as well as our minds), the effect that clothing has on the wearer’s brain (grey matter) is now being studied.  Researchers Adam Hajo and Adam Galinsky from Northwestern University found that the clothing we wear affects our psychological states; our thoughts, perceptions and actual performance. Coining the term, “enclothed cognition” to describe their findings, Hajo and Galinsky, define the term as “the systematic effect of clothing on the wearer’s psychological processes and behavioral tendencies”. So tell all those folks who think you are silly to care so much about the clothes you wear that you are actually changing your brain and becoming smarter and more effective at what you do.

Earlier studies have shown that clothing can effect how we feel as well as how we are perceived by others. The important difference in Hajo & Galinsky’s work is that although clothing may hold symbolic meaning they found that this meaning is not activated for the person unless the person actually WEARS the clothes. It is the physical wearing of the clothes that triggers the meaning we have in our brain, in other words we must wear and embody the clothes. This is probably why Betty Halbreich, the famous personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman is known as the "fashion doctor". She knows those clothes have got to be put on!

In their experiment Hajo and Galinsky found that if you wear a white coat when taking a test and you believe it is a doctors coat than your ability to pay attention and perform increases sharply. If you believe the white coat belongs to a painter it does not (if any of my students are reading this please put on what you think is a doctors coat before you write your next paper). Click on this link if you want to access the entire study.

So the bottom line here is that clothing can influence how you THINK, FEEL and ACT. Here I am trying to look soft girly but I always end up with a touch of bad girly.

So, how can we use the enclothed cognition findings to enhance our fashion icon status and to successfully wear grey this Fall?

The first question to ask is what thoughts, feelings and behaviors do you associate with the color grey? If you see it as boring, depressive and blah, then according to this science when you wear it you will think, feel and act boring, depressing and blah. If you see a grey outfit and you think “oh that grey coat is Prada and I know that Miucca Prada has a Ph.D. and I really need to present as smart and intelligent today”, then go for it and wear that grey coat!

The second question to ask is “Who do I need to be today and what tasks will I need to perform?”  Remember, this is not “dressed for success” which is about how others perceive you, this is about how YOU want to think, feel and act today. You may need to act low key today because yesterday you unintentionally offended your boss but you also do not want to OBLITERATE yourself.  So muted dove grey in head-to-toe with the softest cashmere top, calfskin ankle boots, nude lips and a granite clutch will do the trick. You are still clearly there but not in anyone’s face being annoying!

So as an experiment (we can all be social scientists) rather than just buying what someone else is saying is a great grey look, try incorporating this research into your selection process. How do you want to think, feel, act and choose your grey looks accordingly.

Lyngrey, pleatsplease, brain