Fashion as Communication: What Do Your Clothes Say?

Fashion as Communication: What Do Your Clothes Say?


Photo from: Sofie Delauw/Getty Images


With five minutes before you need to leave for work, there is no time to spend on a put together outfit. With disheveled hair and a cardigan that doesn’t match your pants, you head out the door. Throughout the day, you feel distracted and self-conscious about your unkempt appearance.


We have all had those days. Not only does this present an unprofessional look to those around us, but it more importantly limits our own capacity to accomplish tasks for the day. Let’s face it, we’ve coined the terms “dress for success” and “power outfit” for a reason. These ideas show that we believe in a look good, feel good philosophy. But this doesn’t come from our own imagination. Research backs this up.


Dr. Jennifer Baumgarter, author of You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You, explains that each behavior made, even shopping choices, start rooted in something deeper than what we see on the surface. Baumgarter and others use the phrase “enclothed cognition” to describe what clothes say TO you and not ABOUT you. This concept gives scientific proof that you should dress how you want to feel, not how you actually feel. You’re sending a message to yourself as well as the world around you.


To give a few examples…


  1. Dressing in plain loose style shows feelings of sadness
  • We should try dressing in brighter colors to feel more cheerful.


  1. Keeping old clothing shows clinging to the past
  • We should get rid of any clothing that no longer fits or compliments our current style.


  1. Dressing in only designer logos shows need to broadcast wealth
  • We should remind ourselves that designer logos do not give us more importance or increase our value. Then we should keep our favorite designer items and look for less expensive alternatives to complete our wardrobe.


Clothing is an aid and not the ultimate when it comes to confidence. Clothes don’t need to define you or be the focus of your day, but they allow a newfound boldness through feeling empowered. Now you can head into work with assertiveness to accomplish your daily tasks without distraction or stress over your outfit.


-Kenzie Spodnik ‘23