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What Are Your Clothes Saying About You?

There's a psychology behind your wardrobe. Discover it.

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April 12th, 2012

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What Are Your Clothes Saying About You?

Your style says a lot about you.

What you wear can inform passersby of your type of employment, as well as your emotions, ambitions and spending habits.

And now it’s even launched a whole new type of psychology.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner literally wrote the book on this phenomenon, which she calls the “psychology of dress.” In “You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You,” she explains not only how psychology determines our clothing choices, but how to overcome key psychological issues your wardrobe might be bringing to light in your everyday life, or even at work.

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“Shopping and spending behaviors often come from internal motivations such as emotions, experiences and culture,” says Dr. Baumgartner. “You look at shopping or storing behaviors, even putting together outfits, and people think of it as fluff. But any behavior is rooted in something deeper. I look at the deeper meaning of choices, just like I would in therapy.”

We spoke with her to figure out why clothes are so revealing (of our personalities, that is), what messages they’re sending and how you can use your wardrobe to change how others perceive you—and even how you think about yourself.

How We Use Clothing As An Aid, And Weapon

Americans rely on clothing as an economic and social indicator because there aren’t official marks of rank such as a caste system or aristocracy, says Dr. Baumgartner.

“When you don’t have a specific system, people come up with their own,” she explains. It’s what “helps you figure out where you fit in. Especially now, with the economy, with people losing status, maintaining a sense of who we are becomes even more important. Our clothes help place us where we think we want to be. ”

She cites the Real Housewives TV series as an example: “Look at the way they focus on money. When they fight, they use logos and designers as a way to put each other down. They’re using clothes and accessories both as a tool to know where they fit in and as a weapon against others.”

Clothing That Projects A Good Or Bad Image

Have you ever been told that you can judge a man by his shoes? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There’s no one piece or style that makes a person look successful. Dr. Baumgartner recommends the basics when trying to project a positive image: the little black dress, the blazer, the pumps. “With classics, history has done the work for you. It has lasted throughout time, so you already know it works,” she says. And what is it that makes a classic a classic? “It has multiple functions, and it’s appropriate for different age ranges and body types. It became a classic because it works no matter who you are.”

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(To help you choose the best wardrobe items to use and reuse, LearnVest created the Essential Outfitter.)

On the other hand, there’s no one piece or style that makes a person look unsuccessful. “Anything where it looks like you didn’t take the time or make the effort comes across badly,” says Dr. Baumgartner. “The worst clothing is the kind that tries to undo, ignore or hide where or who you are, or the kind that shows you didn’t pay attention to your body/age/situation … Any clothes that prohibit you from doing your job well send the wrong message.”

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