By Kate Hakala
If you’re like me, on Wednesday night you were barraged with social media doling out criticisms concerning the presidential debate, hitting on everything from domestic policy, facial expressions–and of course, sartorial choices. My favorite quip offered by one of my friends was that President Obama’s tie was too distracting because it was moiréd. News anchors even compared the size of the flag pins rested on the candidate’s lapels. This commentary, though entertaining, had literally nothing to do with the abilities of the two men, but rather, everything to do with our perception of their abilities. This talk got me thinking: How does our clothing choice change our behavior?
Think about how we’re drilled to “dress for success” for a job interview. Think about how we want to wear something sexy or showy for a date. Think about how much we use clothing to mine out the identity, social status, and opinions of those we don’t know well. Now think about how you feel a little more reckless when you dress up like Amy Winehouse for Halloween, or how you feel smarter trick-or-treating as Albert Einstein. As it turns out, clothing shapes not only other’s perceptions of us, but our perceptions of ourselves and our state of mind. You might not be the same person in a pencil skirt that you were in your Levi’s.
The scientific term for clothing shaping how we think is called enclothed cognition, a theory built out of the idea of embodied cognition, or that the physical body effects the nature of the human mind. The effects of clothing on cognition skills have only recently been highlighted in the lab.