For me, dressing well sometimes means putting on an ironed dress with jewelry and a favorite pair of heels. Other times it means putting on a well-fitted pair of jeans and plunging into the pile of casual sneakers that have somehow made their way into my closet. It usually means unchipped polish on my finger nails that matches my toes and brushed hair that I took the time to do. Sometimes it means makeup, and other times it doesn’t. It always means, however, dressing for me and not for anyone else.
Dressing well is subjective, and so there’s no point in dressing for others — I dress well even on days that I don’t leave my apartment, consumed in work, because it makes me feel good. And when I feel good, I do good work.
A gamut of research actually suggests that clothing that improves a woman’s confidence can actually benefit her mental and physical health, too. So we might all want to dress well even when we’re feeling unwell. Here’s what it could do for you.
1. Your style innately affects your performance.
Scientists call the phenomenon “enclothed cognition,” which is the effect of clothing on cognitive processes. Adam Hajo and Adam D. Galinsky, professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, explain in their research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that enclothed cognition “involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors — the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.” They asked subjects to perform tests while wearing a doctor’s lab coat, a painter’s coat and no coat, and found that the subjects’ sustained attention increased the most while wearing the doctors’ coats.
This suggests that how you dress could affect how well you perform. “If you associate those clothes with power and confidence, it’s going to have a huge impact,” Galinsky told The Washington Post, noting that one’s perception of power is subjective, so not all clothes will have the same effect on all people.
2. Your style reflects your mood and vice versa.
Your clothing choices can shape your mood. Professor Karen J. Pine, of the University of Hertfordshire writes in book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.” For example, when you put on a pair of yoga pants, you may feel more inclined to relax; when you put on a dress or a pant suit, however, you may feel more prepared to walk into a meeting and give a presentation.
Likewise, the mood you’re already in may shape your clothing choices. Pine also cheekily writes: “Women are more sensitive to different moods than men and in their study, a woman’s mood was more likely to influence her choice of clothing. Perhaps that is why we women need to have more clothes, to match the multitude of moods to which we are subject? Or, if not, it seems a rather good excuse!”
3. Your style can improve your overall health.
A clothing line called INGA Wellbeing creates fashion-conscious clothing for medical patients, and some of the pieces in the line even boast openings to accommodate medical devices like IVs, drains and monitors. The innovative garments intend to help patients regain their independence by empowering them to dress themselves, move about and socialize, which in turn should promote a speedier recovery. “What we wear during medical treatment has a profound effect on how much we want to move around, or engage with friends, loved ones and even our careers,” the website reads. “This in turn has a significant impact on our mental and physical wellbeing.”
A nurse-led campaign #endPJparalysis founded by Professor Brian Dolan found supporting data that patients wearing “normal” day clothes in the hospital spent 0.75 fewer days in the hospital than patients who wore gowns or traditional pajamas. This suggests that, if you’re feeling unwell, dressing well might empower you to get up and get going throughout your day, and be a more productive worker — this affect on your mental health could more quickly improve your physical health, as it did with the aforementioned patients studied.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.