This column has discussed self-presentation before—the idea that you use styling and behavior to convey an impression of yourself to others. As part of that presentation, you choose certain clothes and accessories to guide other people to see you a certain way. But other people’s perceptions are not the only consideration. You probably also pick your outfits based on how you’re feeling inside on any particular day.
There’s a good chance that what you’re wearing right now reflects what your state of mind was when you opened your closet door this morning. Besides practical wardrobe considerations, women often choose clothing based on their feelings. This month’s Allure Magazine reported a British survey of women’s favorite “happy” or “bad mood” outfits. Happy women preferred clothes that are “well-cut, figure-enhancing, and made from bright and beautiful fabrics,” while women in a bad mood gravitate toward baggy tops and jeans.
(Jeans also made the happy clothes list, but ranked below a favorite dress, jewelry and favorite shoes.) Even when we need to wear a uniform, we often manage to sneak in an expression of our inner self. For example, a teenager in private school can choose to wear a pink cardigan, or a gray hoodie over her requisite pants and shirt, and her choice might indicate if it’s a happy day or a sad day for her. A working woman may have her wardrobe dictated by her employer, but she may choose a beautiful jacket or a saggy old sweater to keep her warm on the way to work. Selecting the old sweater may be a result of feeling down when she left her house, and she may choose the jacket on better days.
Besides reflecting your mood, clothing choices may reflect your feelings about yourself. If your self-esteem is low, and especially if you’re not feeling good about your body or your appearance, you may be more likely to choose clothes that help you “hide,” or that don’t require you to put much effort into your presentation. Feeling more positive about yourself may lead to more flattering and noticeable outfits.
Not only can your mood and feelings about yourself definitely affect your choices in your closet, but this idea can work in the other direction, too. The British survey found that 71% of women believed that changing their clothes could change their mood. In other words, if you’re feeling bad, maybe spending a day in your favorite outfit will boost your mood. Taking the time and making the effort to care for yourself this way can help self-esteem and confidence.
In contrast, spending a day in drab, unflattering clothes may darken a bright mood.Why not try a fashion application of basic behavioral therapy? When you’re feeling bad, try avoiding an impulse toward clothes that reflect that bad feeling. Instead, reach for something that you would usually choose on a happy day. You may feel strange putting it on, but your mood may soon reflect your more positive fashion choice. We all like to seek refuge in our “bad day” clothes sometimes, just like we all need a big hot fudge sundae sometimes, but we can make these times less frequent and less habitual. Making an effort to treat yourself to your happy clothes, regardless of a sad feeling, reminds you that you’re worth the effort, and that you deserve to feel good in your clothes.
So, if you find yourself feeling sad and wearing a baggy top and unflattering jeans, go back to the closet. Put on some happy day clothes and maybe your mood will follow.