In 2012, Hajo Adams and Adam Galinsky sought to answer a seemingly simple question, Does your outfit alter how you approach and interact with the world? In furtherance of their study, the two psychologists from Northwestern University coined the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the systematic influence that clothing can have on a wearer’s cognitive processes and spawned something of a budding new trend in the study of fashion.
At the time, there was already a sizable body of work addressing embodied cognition – the psychological theory that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind. However, far less attention was paid to the diverse impacts that clothes can have on a wearer, particularly when those garments bear a particular symbolic meaning, and Messrs. Adams and Galinsky aimed to build upon that foundation. They ultimately found that there is a direct correlation between what you wear and your performance, and that people do, in fact, take on at least some of the characteristics associated with whatever they are wearing.
Their findings add to the larger field of fashion psychology, which rather unquestionably sounds like the product of a profit-seeking university’s marketing department. Nonetheless, the field has solid academic roots that date back to at least the 19th century when American psychologist, Harvard University lecturer, and author Dr. Henry James focused much of his work on studies that placed great importance on clothing. In at least one of his works, James cited Microcosmus: An Essay Concerning Man and His Relation to the World, the 1885 essay by century German philosopher Hermann Lotze, who made specific mention of the “philosophy of clothing.”
Fast forward 133 years from the release of Microcosmus and “fashion psychology” courses are being offered at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (as led by New York-based Dawnn Karen, who the New York Times has described as “a leader in the growing field of fashion psychology”) and under the direction of Dr. Carolyn Mair, London College of Fashion is offering an Applied Psychology in Fashion master’s course, based on the premise that fashion is, ultimately, just as much – if not more – about people than it is about the garments, themselves.
Joining international universities in wanting to explore the marriage between clothing and the human consciousness are a growing number of publications, as well.
For instance, London College of Fashion master’s graduates Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein, Susan E. Jean and Pak Lun Chiu recently launched Hajinksy, an online magazine named after psychologists Hajo Adams and Adam Galinsky. The online publication aims to provide “insight into the human experience within the fashion industry” by way of articles that consider “the social masks that we use for the digital world,” the science behind “the influence of uniforms,” and how the “presentation of the body within fashion photography” influences the way fashion is perceived.
They are not alone, journalist Anabel Maldonado, who launched her site, Psychology of Fashion, last year is adding her voice to the budding discussion by way of the self-described “platform exploring why we wear what we wear and industry issues through the lens of psychology.” As London-based Maldonado notes on her site, “Personal style is not random. The clothes that feel best tap into our truest qualities, are a consequence of our different inner needs, and reflect our most deep-seated narratives about ourselves.”
But, alas, there is more to this field than understanding how the physical act of wearing specific garments stands to affect the wearer’s thinking, feeling and behaving. As Dr. Carolyn Mair of London College of Fashion notes, psychology can be applied to some of the ugly realties of the industry, from environmental harms to human rights abuses in the supply chain, in order to “enable us to predict and ultimately change the industry for the better.”
For the founders of Hajinksy this includes tapping into “recognizing the social importance that fashion has in order to create change and understanding how what we wear can influence how we think, act, and feel, and how fashion can cause societal shifts.”