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Shakaila Forbes-Bell

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When discussing female empowerment, the feminist movement and its success in improving women’s wellbeing within patriarchal societies, the impact of clothing and fashion might be pretty low on the list. However, as we have highlighted on this platform, clothing can play a pivotal role in driving political conversations, in forming group dynamics and just generally improving the confidence of women the world over. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we have identified 4 garments that have all positively impacted the lives of women in one way or another.

Boots

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: WashingtonPost.com

The ones we hate to love, high-heeled boots. No one will deny that high-heels are a health hazard. ‘As early as 1881, a British physician reported an occupationally related backache caused by “the wearing of high-heeled boots, which necessitates the continuous action of the muscles of the lower part of the spine, in order to maintain the proper balance and erect position’ (Linder, 1997). Despite the associated pain, women continue to wear high heeled boots for one reason; they make us feel powerful, or if you’re Elle Writer Estelle Tang, they make you feel like a “Powerful Witch”. In a survey conducted by MIC respondents noted that heels helped them to “flip a switch” in their minds that took them from “girl” to “woman.”

Psychologically speaking, it can be the case that high-heeled boots evoke a sense of power in women simply due to the fact that it makes them appear taller. Indeed, in US presidential elections the taller candidate is always more likely to win because we simply process taller people as being more authoritative (McCann, 2001). Interestingly, studies have also found that powerful people overestimate their height. If by adorning those few inches you can be perceived as more powerful, feel more powerful and even be more likely to win an election then as the saying goes: no pain, no gain.

Slogan T-Shirts

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: Essence.com

For years, slogan T-shirts have allowed women to literally wear their hearts on their sleeves and take centre stage in many political spheres. As highlighted by Phyllis Martin in her 2004 book ‘Fashioning Africa: Power and politics of dress’, clothing has always had the capacity to “be threatening to observers and even dangerous for wearers. As sensibilities about gender, sexuality, age, and status converge, the dressed[…]body may be a site for contestation”. From ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Time’s up’ women have being utilising clothing in the form of Slogan T-shirts to ignite social change for several years.

British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett is often credited as one of the first to create a politically charged slogan T-shirt. When meeting the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 she unzipped her jacket to reveal a shirt with the anti-nuclear sentiment that read “58% don’t want Pershing”. Since then, several female fashion designers including Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney have all created slogan t-shirts that allow women to express their political viewpoints.

Sadly, a study by NatWest found that when voicing their opinions, a fifth of women have been negatively described as ‘opinionated’, while one in 10 has been called ‘feisty’ or ‘vocal’. These perceptions can often negatively impact a women’s confidence, forcing her into silence. Luckily, Slogan T-shirts can lift the burden of vocalisation by speaking for women in a way that cannot be misinterpreted or go unnoticed.

Bras

Fashion Psychology

A controversial entry on the list, bras has often been seen as an antithesis of female liberation; an instrument created to contort women’s bodies for the male gaze. When digging a little deeper though, you’ll find that bra-burning is less of a feminist staple and more so a trope pushed by anti-feminist media. According to author of Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism W. Joseph Campbell stated that the during the event in 1968 when the burning happened, bras certainly weren’t the only garment thrown into the fire.  “Invoking bra burning was a convenient means of brushing aside the issues and challenges raised by women’s liberation and discrediting the fledgling movement as shallow and without serious grievance,” Campbell wrote.

When looking at the history of bras you’ll find it has always been routed in providing women with increased comfort and support during times of increased activity. The first bra patent was granted to Mary Phelps Jacob in 1914 in New York who, upon fashioning a bra made up of handkerchiefs and ribbon celebrated the fact that she could “move more freely”. Whilst studies have shown that bras, particularly ill-fitting ones can cause back pain, not wearing a bra when exercising means that your back, neck muscles, and trapezius (a major muscle in the back) are also going to have to work a lot harder to balance out your weight. Similarly, Livestrong reported that ‘sports bra helps minimize the movement of your breasts, which can help to reduce pain and discomfort caused by stretched skin and ligaments caused by working out’. 

The number of women playing sports regularly are increasing and after Nike’s recent impassioned ad featuring Tennis Champion Serena Williams, we’re sure these numbers will continue to climb. There’s no denying that bra’s, particularly Sports Bras have played a significant role for women in this arena.

Shoulder Pads

Fashion Psychology
Image Source: TheDollsFactory.com

During World War II the epaulettes that graced the shoulders of soldiers manoeuvred their way into the fashion industry as women donned shoulder pads as symbol of solidarity with the brave fighters abroad as they contributed to the war effort at home. In post-War times, psychological research has found that shoulder pads have a positive by-effect for working women. In the 80s-movie classic Working Girl, Melanie Griffith’s character dons larger than life shoulder pads to legitimise her new position as a respected business woman and thus the era of power dressing was born with designers such as Alexander McQueen and Dolce & Gabbana showcasing the style on the runway. In the 80s and during its revival in the early 21st century, shoulder pads were the clothing equivalent to the ideology of ‘leaning in’ – taking charge and embodying power in male dominated industries. But why do we associate shoulder pads with power?

Broad shoulders are typically associated with males, with studies showing that men with broad shoulders are not only perceived to be more masculine but they also possess higher testosterone levels (Kasperk et al, 1997). As shoulder pads broaden shoulders, when wearing them women can also be perceived as possessing more masculine traits. It’s certainly true that women should not have to ‘man-up’ their wardrobes in order to level the playing fields. Shoulder pads could lessen the impact of the negative stereotypes that some men hold of women when applying for roles in traditionally male-dominated workplaces.

Did we miss any wardrobe staples? Let us know in the comments

Header Image Source: Variety.com

The Carnival outfit, coupled with the freeing backdrop of the Caribbean can evoke an impassion response, particularly in women. In this piece, we’ll discuss the psychological research behind the outfits appeal and how its strong historical roots makes it deeper than simply a cute costume.

This time last week I was awash in a flurry of gems, sequins and feathers and I’ve never felt more powerful. Together, these pieces formed part of my masquerader costume as part of Trinidad Carnival – a yearly celebration that takes place in the days leading up to the Lenten period.  Now, before I paint you a clearer picture of how an outfit (which, on paper sounds like a young bedazzling enthusiasts fantasy) could insight such forceful emotions and even before I describe what the term ‘masquerader’ means, I must first give you a brief insight into the history of Carnival

Dating back to the 18th century, the history of Carnival in Trinidad is tied up with colonialism and catholicism. While transporting slaves to the Caribbean, Europeans, hailing from France and Spain brought their Pre-Lenten celebrations with them. Carnival originally started as a period for rich White elites to celebrate before the sacrificial period of lent while Black slaves were forbidden from partaking in the festivities. Through a series of emancipations and uprisings, Carnival was reimaged and evolved to what it is today – a cultural jubilee climaxing in the ultimate street party.

Revellers ‘play mas’ or simply, join in on the festivities by becoming ‘masqueraders’: Members of a Carnival group or ‘mas band’. Mas bands create elaborate and whimsical costumes for their masqueraders to wear. In every mas band masqueraders are split into sections. Each section has its own style of costume which come in varying degrees of flamboyance, from delicately placed gems to floor-length tassels and six-foot-tall feathers that would make Big Bird green with envy. Trinidad, where my family hail from, is known as the ‘mother of all Caribbean Carnivals’ so you can understand my innate infatuation with the event. 

Now that we’ve got the history out of the way, let’s get back to what you came here for – the fashion. I can spend another couple of paragraphs talking about the series of stellar outfits required for the multitude of parties leading up to Carnival Tuesday but like your white dress on your wedding day, there’s only one outfit that really counts.

“My body was decorated as if it were a prize to be celebrated..”

Global Carnivalist playing for Yuma Band in the Cloud 10 Section

For Carnival Tuesday, I chose to play mas with a well-known band called Yuma. Yuma elicited the talent of Rawle Permanand (@rawlepermanand) to design the costumes in the section I chose called cloud-10. The name possibly referred to the white base colour of my costume, complemented by iridescent pink and blue gems. In my opinion, it referred to the cloud 9 (but better) feeling I experienced when I wore the full outfit, complete with my modest feather backpack and my striking crown. For many people, who don’t quite understand the liberation and freedom associated with Carnival, walking out of your house (for about 5 plus miles thereafter in the parade) in what is essentially a decorated bikini can seem indecent and too risqué. However, it’s possible that these views have a lot to do with societal pressures, particularly those applied to women and their attire. 

Sadly, psychological studies have shown that wearing fewer items of clothing can actually negatively impact the way women think about themselves and can even impact their presumed intelligence. In one study, entitled ‘the swimsuit becomes you’ (by Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn and Twenge), researchers asked a group of female participants to complete a math test. While some of the female participants completed the exam in everyday attire, the other participants completed the exam wearing a swimming costume. The results revealed that, despite there being no difference in the intelligence between the two groups, the participants wearing the swimming costume performed significantly worse on the maths tests. The researchers concluded that this occurred because women often internalise the perceptions of others regarding the way they dress. It’s certainly true that in many Western cultures, women who choose to wear less clothing are deemed to be unintelligent, are sexualised and in some cases even vilified. These pressures can lead to self-objectification which produces body shame, “which is manifested in diminished mental performance”. Interestingly, the same negative effects were not experienced for the men tested in Fredrickson and colleagues’ experiment. 

So, why did I feel powerful? I believe it has a lot to do with the environment. For the most part, in the Caribbean, the woman’s form is celebrated. I didn’t experience the lustful looks or hear the tsking of an older person when I had more skin on show than they would have liked. My body was decorated as if it were a prize to be celebrated and being among other women, who were all dressed similarly if not the same, can heighten that freeing feeling. That feeling of camaraderie was certainly felt by experienced masquerader Globey (@GlobalCarnivalist) who has travelled the world playing mas in 15 plus Carnivals. “I do feel a stronger sense of community when [playing mas]. Most times the other masqueraders in my section will look out for each other; fix a costume string here, tuck a panty line here, mention “hey you’re about to have a nip-slip”. It’s amazing how a Carnival costume can bring strangers together on the road.”

Some scientists would argue that the impassioned response that many masqueraders have to their head-to-toe sparkly costumes has an evolutionary component – a topic we discussed in the piece ‘Sciencing Beauty with Pat McGrath’. Evolutionary psychologists claim that our attraction to shiny things is linked to our ingrained need for survival. For example, in a study on children, infants aged 7-12 months old were found to put their mouths to glossy plates much more than to dull ones. Children had also been seen lapping shiny toys on the ground, the way an animal might drink from a puddle. Researchers have concluded that the connection between drinking and shiny design was an evolutionary artefact–a sign that “our crush on glossy fabrics is rooted in a primitive desire for water as a vital resource” (Coss, Ruff & Simms, 2010).

Me playing for Yuma Band in the Cloud 10 Section

Designing a costume is not as simple as throwing together some gems and hoping for the best. “The costumes are as diverse as the islands, colourful like our homes and innovative,” says Globey.  Not only are the costumes intricate, delicate and skilfully designed, they tell a story of a people who underwent unimaginable suffering to evolve free; free to celebrate their presence in a way that forces you to take notice. 

The cultural significance of the Carnival costume was brought to light recently when Nigerian-American YouTuber Jackie Aina and Filipino-American YouTuber Patrick Star partnered with Uoma Beauty for a Carnival-Inspired Campaign. While the campaign claimed to be inspired by Nigeria’s Carnival celebration, the costumes featured were more reminiscent of Caribbean Carnivals like those held in Trinidad and dissimilar to the costumes worn at the Calabar or Caretta Carnivals in Nigeria. Naming a set of lashes in the collection “Trinidad” was not enough to halt the wave of disappointed tweets, some even coming from me. Many were upset at the fact that the campaign featured Non-Caribbeans donning Caribbean cultural attire, a move which can be interpreted as cultural appropriation. Others were disappointed at witnessing a routine that often happens in black communities, that being, when a community adorns a garment that’s unique to them they are at best misunderstood and at worst deemed derogatory. However, when that same garment is worn by a more visible person, detached from the community, they are celebrated. Thankfully, living up to her reputation as a champion for inclusivity, Aina listened to her followers and swiftly selected 4 Caribbean influencers to take part in Uoma’s campaign.

Today I’m back in London. My feathers did not survive the 8-hour flight. My two-piece is missing a couple gems and I have a few scratches on my arms from careless attempts at dancing with fellow gemmed-up masquerades. However, I will never forget the freeing feeling wearing that outfit and having my body and all of its curves not simply accepted but championed.

In many articles, I’ve discussed the positive psychological impact of dressing comfortably but how can you dress comfortably if you can’t find clothes to suit your frame? While we’re lucky to be living in the Body-Positivity era where women are calling out brands for their one-size-fits-all offerings sadly, research has shown that 57% of women feel that there are no clothes to suit their body type. In an effort to help all women feel more confident in their clothing choices I’ve used psychological research to identify clothing styles that will suit women with the following 4 figures: Hourglass, Petite,  Pear Silhouette and Tall. 

A portion of this article was originally printed in Cosmopolitan Germany

Hourglass

fashion psychology
Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan Germany

Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology made up of a series of principles that provided the foundation for the modern study of perception. If we consider some of these principles when dressing, we can ensure that we’re emphasising the parts of the body we like and de-emphasise the parts of the body we don’t. For example, the Gestalt principle of figure/ground lets the eyes know what it should be focusing on (the figure) and what it should ignore (the background). 

In a garment that has two colours, our eyes will focus on the part of the body that has the least amount of either colour (the figure) and the areas that have the most amount of colour will be ignored (the background). People who have an hourglass silhouette typically determine their trim waist to be their best asset and want to emphasise this. To emphasize this feature, they can utilise the figure/ground principle by having a single block of colour in the middle of their waist that breaks up the rest of their dress/outfit. This can also take the shape of a dress that has a concentrated print along the waist, or, for example, a white dress that has a black coloured belted waist, anything that draws the eyes to the centre of the body. Accessories such as belts should be placed at the smallest point of the waist to create more of an impact. 

The styling rule that I’d like to abolish for people with an hourglass figure is that they should ‘avoid frills’ for fear that it will make them look “too big”. As long as frills or volume-adding features don’t over-shadow the waist, they can serve to complement an hourglass figure. For example, a blouse dress that cinches in at the waist or has a belted waist will be perfect. 

Having said that, peplum-style dresses that have added fabric around the waist should be avoided if you want to truly embrace your hourglass figure. High-neck, mid-length dresses in a figure-hugging material are extremely complimentary to people with an hourglass figure. Dresses in this style will hug the body at its three smallest points; the neck, the waist and the knees – fully honouring the hourglass shape. While short jackets will draw the eyes to the waist and highlight this area, women with a more adventurous style could embrace longer ‘ombre-coloured’ jackets to draw attention to the waist. 

Petite

Fashion Psychology

The best kind of dresses for dainty/tiny women are short dresses as these emphasise the length of the legs, elongating the body and allowing the wearers best assets to shine. Empire-waist dresses will also help to create this elongated effect. Two-pieces are also perfect for dainty/tiny especially when a crop top is paired with a high waisted skirt as again, this will make the legs appear longer. If pairing an outfit with heels, closed-toe pointed heels will be best as these also create the illusion of a longer leg. 

Gestalt’s principle of similarity states that when two things appear similar to each other, our eyes group them together. So, dainty/tiny women who choose to wear prints should wear dresses/two-pieces where the print along the chest varies slightly from the print directly under the chest area. The way the eyes will perceive these prints as two groups will make the bottom half of the body appear longer and make the wearer appear taller. Similarly, a short jacket will work best for this figure-type as it will allow the waist and areas below to shine. Based on this principle, dresses with a drop waist or short dress with a high concentration of colour or print at the very bottom should be avoided as it will make the legs appear even shorter.

If you find yourself coveting a garment that is too long for your body type either take a visit to the tailor or take a shortcut using hemming tape. Hemming tape is super easy to use and works on most fabrics, all you’ll need is an iron and a few pins. 

One styling rule that I’d like to abolish is that dainty/tiny women should avoid ruffles as these might make them look “too cute”. In fact, if ruffles are placed exclusively around the chest area or even around the shoulders this will draw the eyes up making the legs appear even longer. To avoid the “too cute” look, it’s all about placement. For example, a Molly-Goddard style dress with frills and volume all over the body can swamp the body making you look like a child playing dress-up. 

Pear

Fashion Psychology
Source: Girlwithcurves.com

Women with pear silhouettes either want to embrace/draw attention to their lower half or they want to minimise it. The types of fabrics that you wear around this area can help you to either emphasize or de-emphasize it. For example, glossy fabrics reflect more light, attract the eyes and make the surfaces underneath it appear larger. Matte fabrics absorb light and make the surfaces underneath it appear smaller. Rough surfaces also absorb light more unevenly than dull surfaces. If you want to emphasize your lower half and make it appear even bigger, wear a shiner material on the bottom, one that reflects light. If you want to minimize your lower half wear dull, uneven materials on the bottom like linen or perhaps sequins on a night out as these will absorb more light. 

For women who want to balance their body and make their top half look more in proportion to their lower half, harness the power of stripes. Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that horizontal stripes make the body appear smaller while vertical stripes make the body appear larger. So, if you would like to emphasize the chest area, wear a dress that has vertical stripes on the top and horizontal stripes on the bottom. Adding another layer up top for example,  by adding a t-shirt under a slip dress will also create balance by drawing the eyes to the upper half of the body, making it appear slightly larger. Make sure that the t-shirt and the dress are contrasting colours to achieve the desired effect. A mid-length, volume inducing jacket, like a puffer jacket for example, will also achieve the same results. 

Many women with a pear silhouette find it hard to locate dresses that don’t have a large chest area. One dress style that avoids this issue is a wrap dress. Traditional wrap dresses will allow you to adjust the fit of the dress to make it tighter at the top to accommodate your smaller chest area while draping loosely around the lower half to provide comfort. 

One styling rule I would like to abolish for the pear silhouette is that those with this shape need to avoid slip dresses. While many slip dresses were designed with a straight figure in mind some are cut in a way that allows more room on the lower half of the body to suit pear shapes. If you’re on the look-out for a slip dress, pay close attention to its cut to see if it goes in at the waist and gets wider at the bottom. This will allow it to drape nicely around your curves. 

Tall

Fashion Psychology

Women who embrace their height should wear maxi dresses. Maxi dresses are the perfect dress for taller women as it makes them look statuesque. When wearing midi dresses, taller woman should opt for form-fitting dresses especially around the lower half of the body. Midi dresses are very popular at the moment but can look unflattering on tall women if they flare out too much just under the knee or around the calf, creating the appearance that the dress was meant for a shorter individual. However, if the dress is form-fitting and utilises a figure-hugging fabric, the length that the dress stops at won’t matter because it will look deliberate.

Tall women should pay close attention to their proportions if they want to create a balanced look while also embracing their height. If you have longer legs, then perhaps avoid empire waist dresses as this will serve to make your legs look even longer. If you have a longer torso, a dress with a drop waist will over-exaggerate this portion. Find a dress that cinches in at the natural waist or use a belt to achieve balance. 

For both tall and androgynous women who feel like they’re wearing ‘a costume’ when wearing a dress, focus on tailoring. Dresses that have more volume around the shoulder area can create a more masculine aesthetic as studies have shown that people deem those with broader shoulders to possess masculine traits. Picking dresses with tougher fabrics such as leather can also add to the effect. When in doubt, throw on a classic biker jacket or tailored blazer to create a more androgynous look.

The styling rule that I would abolish for tall women would be to ‘avoid heels’. Tall women should not shy away from their height and embrace wearing heels. If the thought of towering over people is too daunting, throw on a pair of three-inch heels; not quite kitten heel, not quite high-heels but a happy medium. 

Do you have any styling tips that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments!

My latest feature in The Guardian for Leah harper’s piece discussing the movie Bombshell and the role that clothing plays in women’s careers. 

‘“The sheer number of studies investigating the way a woman’s appearance might impact her career path is enough to tell you that sadly, compared with men, women have to jump through additional hurdles (or outfits) to climb the career ladder.”


Forbes-Bell describes the film’s scene in which an anchor switches to trousers as being “akin to a symbolic bra-burning” and says that, despite some modernisation, the rules of workplace dressing often remain steeped in sexism.


“The fact that some airlines still require female flight attendants to wear skirts, coupled with the [UK] government ruling that companies can force women to wear high heels, is evidence that this type of inequality is still rife,” she says.”

Read the full article here

Have you ever found yourself in possession of an unwanted magazine subscription, of a  limited-edition pair of shoes that are far too uncomfortable, or purchasing an overpriced shirt because a sales assistant paid you a compliment? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

While our fashion and beauty products can serve as useful tools to help us navigate  various aspects of our lives, there are times when handing over our hard-earned cash is not always in our best interest. Psychology tells us that brands use two paths to persuasion to get us to us from ‘contemplation’ to ‘check-out’; the central route and the peripheral route. The central route to persuasion only works when the customer is already motivated to make a purchase. The central route relies on the seller giving you specific and relevant pieces of information about the product in question. For this route to work, you must be able to really think about and comprehend the information being relayed to you.

The peripheral route to persuasion doesn’t rely on facts. Instead of providing customers with logic and relevant information, it relies on the use of psychological tools and superficial cues to persuade you to purchase. Therefore, the customer requires very little motivation for the peripheral route to work in fact, this route works best when you’re not really thinking carefully about what you’re buying and why. 

To help you make sure that you’re not being duped into buying products that you don’t really want or need, I’m going to give you a brief introduction to Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 5 ‘Principles of Persuasion’. These principles delve even deeper into the psychology behind the success of the peripheral route to persuasion to help you shop smarter this Black Friday.

1. Reciprocity

The reciprocity principle is based on the belief that as humans, we feel compelled to ‘return the favour’ and pay people back in kind what they have given to us. In a restaurant setting, researchers tested the number of tips a waiter received under different circumstances. When the waiter brought patrons the bill, the researchers found that if the waiter left a mint, tips increased by 3%. Interestingly, when the gift was doubled by the waiter quickly returning and saying, “for you nice people, here’s an extra mint,” the tips didn’t double they quadrupled and increased by 23%. All patrons received the same standard of service but those that received the unexpected gift and kind words felt compelled to reciprocate by providing a higher tip.

One classic example of the reciprocity principle in fashion is when you get an email about ‘a special 10% discount just for you on your birthday’ from an online retailer you shopped at before. While you may be tempted to spend £££s because of the gesture, take a step back and realise this is reciprocity in action. Do you really want to go on a birthday spending spree, or do you feel obliged to take up the brands ‘kind’ offer?

2. Commitment and Consistency

The commitment and consistency principle derives from our desire for our decisions to look like they follow a logical order. Our desire to appear consistent is so strong that we’re more likely to be persuaded by a decision if it aligns with our prior behaviour. ‘Cognitive dissonance’ is a type of psychological distress that occurs when we hold conflicting thoughts or engage in conflicting practices. In a fashion context, cognitive dissonance can be used to explain brand loyalty – instances where you favour one brand over similar ones, and we see this even more so in the sportswear industry where logo mixing is almost seen as a crime.

Some stylists have even suggested that logo mixing makes people appear indecisive. Indecisiveness means cognitive dissonance; we don’t want that so what do we do? We don’t just buy an adidas top, we must get the leggings and the trainers to match as if we’re all football players told to wear the team kit. You’d think that as we get older that we wouldn’t be so bound by these unwritten rules, but research has found that over 35’s are more responsive to the commitment strategy of persuasion and therefore, take their brand affiliations more seriously.

3. Social Proof

Social proof is essentially a consensus, a general agreement among a group where the majority always wins. Even if you don’t initially like an outfit, you’re likely to find aspects of it that you do like if a lot of people deem it to be fashionable. Their approval provides social proof that the outfit looks good and our trust in this ‘majority rules’ principle helps to shape our perceptions. As humans, our desire to connect with and to follow one another evolved to form the bedrock of our community-based civilisation.

Social proof is in our DNA, so of course, seeing a particular dress on Instagram receiving two thousand likes is going to cause you to picture yourself in it. Relying on the opinion of others to inform our own, is a shortcut used to speed up our mental processing during decision making. Its ability to help us think quickly is another reason why social proof is such a persuasive tool, but as research has shown, the conclusions we draw as a result of social proof are not always accurate. Trusting your own judgement is key, the group isn’t always right. When shopping, remember, you truly know what’s right for you.

4. Authority

Fashion Psychology

From childhood, we’re taught to revere authority figures. We view our parents, teachers, doctors and so on as infallible fountains of knowledge and their high likelihood of being correct socialised us to revert to authorities as a shortcut to astute decision making. In fashion, these figures come in the shape of designers, stylists, editors, trend forecasters, buyers and now, even influencers. Twice a year, after every fashion month, these fashion authority figures come together to curate a list of what will be the biggest trends of the season, and we go along with it without much reproach.

Psychology says that every season, we make space in our wardrobes for these new trends because we identify those behind these lists as people whose knowledge and breadth of experience in the fashion industry is to be respected. Their positions create a belief that they know what they’re talking about and who are we to question that? However, at the end of the day, no one knows you better than you. The next time a fashion authority dictates the look of the moment, don’t feel obliged to partake unless you feel 100% confident and comfortable wearing it.

5. Scarcity

Arguably, scarcity is the most persuasive of Dr Cialdini’s principles that we see at play when fashion forces unite. Shortly after H&M’s first collaboration, Karl Lagerfeld vowed to never work with the Swedish brand again for their failure to create enough garments to suit demand. Sadly, for shoppers less quick on the draw, H&M was employing the scarcity principle as the brand does with each and every one of their collaborations. The persuasiveness of the scarcity principle stems from the fact that it plays on our ‘fear of missing out’ or FOMO. Numerous studies have shown that people are extremely motivated by scarcity and FOMO, even more so than the thought of gaining something of equal value.

Even though scarcity is probably one of the easier principles of persuasion to spot it’s a tricky one to try to tackle. What if those really were the last of that pair of jeans in your size? If they were, try to soothe your psychological discomfort by reminding yourself that there’s more where that came from. Fashion is cyclical after all.

Next time you’re out shopping make sure you’re on the lookout for these psychological tricks!

This Black History Month, was delighted to write for Glamour Magazine, discussing my latest research paper ‘Testing the effect of consumer-model racial congruency on consumer behavior‘ and how it highlights the economical and psychological benefit of Black fashion models. 

“The struggles black models face in the industry are pervasive. However, with the exception of a few bold voices that speak out openly, these issues are silent, hidden behind backstage strifes and locked in hushed casting room conversations. The (lack of) representation of black models in the industry on the other hand, is not so hidden. This triggered Ashley Chew’s #BlackModelsMatter movement which, in turn, has inspired the publication of a new piece of fashion psychology research uncovering the true economic impact of under-representation in model casting.

Like many black women who grew up obsessed with fashion, before I had the vocabulary to articulate it, I knew that this love affair was somewhat one-sided. We were rarely seen, relegated to token features and placed under an ‘exotic’ umbrella that collected dust season on season. Fast forward a few decades later and we’re witnessing the birth of a different story. During the Spring 2020 shows we saw the likes of Valentino, Mayowa Nicholas at Balmain and Leomie Anderson for Tommy Hilfiger. While designers, including Kerby Jean-Raymond, Virgil Abloh and Abrima Erwiah used a host of Black models to anchor their unapologetically Black collections. A positive step in the fight for the visibility of Black models and according to The Fashion Spot’s ‘Diversity Reports’, the numbers agree….”

Read the full piece at:

Another Fashion Month has arrived! With conversations around mental wellbeing taking hold in the fashion industry, many have began to wonder whether the seemingly never ending cycle of fashion shows are necessary in our modern climate. While there are many reasons why the industry can slow down and produce less, we’ve revealed the Psychological reason why that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

“Fashions fade, style is eternal” any fashion lover worth their salt is aware of that famous Yves Saint Laurent quote. But if style is to be coveted over seasonal and seemily temporary fashion collections then why do we salivate at the thought of more collections and more shows in more cities around the world? Aside from the big 4, buyers, editors, bloggers and stylists are heading to increasingly well attended events in cities such as Copehagen, Sao Paulo, Hong Kong and Florence. Aside from Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter, in the article ‘What the Hell Are Resort and Cruise Collections and Why Are They So Lucrative?’ Kam Dhillon illustrates how designers are having to hastily create lines throughout the year for Pre-Fall, Pre-Spring and Resort all to suit consumer demand. Oftentimes however, consumer demand and creativity do not go hand in hand. You may remember when Riccardo Tisci cited exhaustion as one of the reasons behind his shocking departure from Givenchy in 2017. Two years prior, when WWD asked ‘Is Fashion Heading for a Burnout?’, fresh off the heels of his departure from Balenciaga, Alexander Wang brought up the intensity that comes with having to churn out an increasing number of collections.

Specifically speaking about the show system, I think that’s something everyone is challenged with — the immediacy of things, and the idea of how to deliver in this system, where the attention span has become nonexistent.

If the mental wellbeing of designers isn’t enough to stop the seemingly unending fashion show cycle then many argue that social media would surely slow it down. When discussing whether Fashion Shows still matter Jenna Igneri, associate fashion and beauty editor for NYLON had this to say:

I think fashion shows are becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on. Thanks to technology, anyone can view a fashion show or presentation from anywhere in the world—sometimes even live—so that glamorous feeling of exclusivity has long been lost.

Originally the concept of a fashion week presented as a clear solution for industry professionals to either report on or order from designers across the globe in a  convenient and timely manner. Now, as social media has afforded consumers the ability to live stream fashion shows around the globe from the comfort of their own homes many, like Igneri have come to wonder, are these large scale productions required every 4-6 months? While the true answer may be no, as fashion shows become increasingly consumer focused, psychological research indicates that they’re unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Every time a fashion show launches consumers are offered something new and that in itself is something simply too rewarding to pass up. Studies have found that we are hardwired to be attracted to novelty. In a study published in Neuron, researchers showed participants a series of images. After participants had become familiar with those images, researchers added a new “oddball” image. Measurements of participants brain activity revealed that the brain’s pleasure centres lit up when this new “oddball” image was introduced resulted in a flood of dopamine, the same chemical that is released when we eat good food and have great sex. In another study conducted at the University College London, participants were shown 4 cards one of which had a monetary reward. When the participant chose this card their brain’s pleasure processors lit up. After a time, researchers introduced new cards to participants. The result? Participants tended to choose novelty cards over the known money-making card. While this appears to be incredibly counter-intuitive, it clearly demonstrates the power that novelty has over us.

Shiny new things are not just for babies. If fashion consumers and industry professionals are no longer presented with the rush of dopamine that occurs every time they’re presented with a new show or collection then they will likely give up on the brand and look for pleasure elsewhere. Research into brain health also shows that regular experience of novelty is essential to a long and happy life. The next challenge that the industry faces is mitigating this need for novelty alongside the need for designers to maintain their mental wellbeing.

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My chief remit was not to show ethnic diversity as a policy…you would sell fewer copies. It’s as simple as that.” –

Alexandra Shulman, former editor-in-chief of Vogue U.K.

It’s one thing to know in your heart that racist comments like this are not true but another type of satisfaction arises when you scientifically prove it to be incorrect. In my new paper published in The International Journal of Market Research, I’ve done just that.

Before I had the language to articulate it, I knew that my relationship with fashion would always be somewhat one-sided. As easy as it is to get lost in the flourish of patterns, shapes and fabrics, as a young Black woman, you can’t help but notice something’s missing and that something is you, or rather, a reflection of you. At the moment, the number of active models of colour are on the rise. It’s true, fashion shows and magazine covers are becoming increasingly diverse. However, many of us still remember the days when if someone asked you to name 5 black fashion models you’d say Naomi, Tyra, Alek, Beverly and then your voice would trail off into a mumble.

I’m happy to say that this list is growing everyday but to say that fashion has fixed its diversity problem would be a step too far. Last year, the Guardian published data after analysing 214 covers from the 19 best selling glossies in the UK with less than positive results. In two months in 2017, the front covers of every publication featured images of white people, exclusively. The covers of four magazines – Marie Claire, HomeStyle, Your Home and Prima – did not feature a single person of colour throughout 2017. When analysing children’s magazines, the data revealed an even more dire lack of diversity where 95% of the cover models were white.

Increased inclusivity in fashion and movements like #unfairandlovely and #blackmodelsmatter will continue to be celebrated but for people of colour, our brains are simply hardwired to be hyper-aware that the industry is still not truly representative. 

‘Distinctiveness Theory’ refers to “the idea that people define themselves on the basis of traits that are numerically rare in their local environments.” Research suggests that race and ethnicity are two of the most meaningful self-defining traits associated with distinctiveness and are often the first things that pop into your head when you’re asked to describe yourself. So in general, minorities are more “saliently aware of their race” “and consider their race a prominent factor in their interpersonal communications”. As our race and ethnicity are prominent self-defining features, we’re more acutely aware when an industry, that has an important by-product in its ability to legitimize and publicize the existence of often-ignored ethnic groups, doesn’t.

The bi-product of underrepresentation is the fostering of the belief; especially among younger people of colour, that they’re undesirable. Hashtags and protests are powerful tools of change but money will always be the most persuasive motivator of change. It was this realisation that made me embark on my latest research paper investigating racial representation in fashion and beauty media. Ethnic minorities have a $3.9 Trillion Buying Power and yet very few brands consider us when creating advertising and marketing campaigns.

Fashion is Psychology
Example of stimuli used in the experiment

In my new paper ‘Testing the effect of consumer-model racial congruency on consumer behavior’ published in The International Journal of Market Research I tested the consumer behaviour of Black and White consumers when presented with adverts featuring Black and White models. The results proved that both black and white consumers will spend significantly more money on product when its advertised by a Black model. Models of colour have tremendous value. 

With this research I hope the industry will fully wake up to the damaging impact of  underrepresentation by understanding that it not only impacts the mental wellbeing of their consumers but it also impacts their bottom line.

I spoke to The Guardian Fashion desk and discussed the impact of TV character’s wardrobe on the viewing public. I also revealed how the styling work of Ayanna Kimani the TV series ‘Insecure’ allowed me to channel my inner Molly at work. 

The fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell understands the lure of a fictional character’s look. She identified with one of the central characters, Molly, on Issa Rae’s American comedy drama series Insecure – “a very powerful woman, very true to her culture and roots – as a black woman I really identify with that”. Forbes-Bell soon found herself on a “what this character wore” website. “I thought, ‘I need to find this’. I followed her stylist on Instagram.” When, in line with the character, she on occasion dressed in a more tailored way, it worked: “I definitely felt like I embodied that confidence.”
Even when characters seem a far cry from anyone we know, borrowing an aesthetic becomes an attempt to borrow some of their traits. 

Comer’s character may enjoy killing people, but she also has something many women more typically aspire to. “We don’t want to fade into the background any more,” says Forbes-Bell. With her clothes, Villanelle is making the point that she refuses to go unheard. Don a frou frou pink frilly frock such as the standout Villanelle outfit from the first Killing Eve series and you might just borrow a slice of her up-and-at-them spirit. “The easiest way to take charge is through your clothing,” says Forbes-Bell.

Read the rest of my comment and the piece by Ellie Violet Bramley in its entirety here