The psychology of fashion

Fashion Psychology fashion handbook South Africa

A lot of magazines, blogs, quizzes etc tell us that the clothes we wear mirrors who we are and that people create perceptions about us at first glance.

But what does that actually mean? 

The clothing industry has evolved from being purely functional to being one of the biggest industries in the world worth over US$2.4 trillion per year globally. And the psychology of fashion allows us to explore what fashion really means to us, how it affects our decisions, the wellbeing of designers & consumers as well as those who are directly or indirectly influenced by the industry.

But first, in order for us to identify what “Fashion Psychology” is, we need to understand the definitions of both fashion and psychology. 

According to the Oxford English dictionary, Fashion as a noun is “a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour” and as a verb, it is “a manner of doing something”. Fashion is commonly understood to refer to the prevailing style of dress or behaviour, with the result that it is characterized by change (Carolyn Mair: 2018). 

Psychology, is defined as “The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context” (Oxford English dictionary). 

So how do we apply psychology to the context of fashion…

In the fashion industry, humans are involved in every facet of fashion from design, production, manufacture, advertising, marketing, buying, retail and sustainability etc. Constant decisions are being made to keep this trillion dollar global industry running, all influenced by our cognition, creativity and behaviour which are an integral part of psychology.

Applying psychology to fashion helps us understand this fast paced and complex industry from a slightly different but necessary angle.

Are we really what we wear?

How we dress can subconsciously be influenced by our personalities, mood and emotions. For example, if you are a confident and outgoing woman, then you’re more likely to feel comfortable in tighter fitting clothes and brighter coloured clothes.

On the other hand, if you’re more of the shy type, then you are less likely to wear something that draws attention to you. However, this is not always the case as psychology is not based on facts but on empirical knowledge.

Besides the “Abantu Bazothini” (what will people say) narrative, clothing can also enhance our self-esteem and general wellbeing. In psychology its believed that wearing brighter colours makes us happier and darker colours, the total opposite. Fashion allows us to express ourselves and our emotions without saying a word. It affects how we view ourselves and others, our self and identity and how we perceive a situation. 

So…what does your style say about you? 

Fashion, as it turns out, is more than just the clothes we wear.

Written by: Olwethu Ngodela

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