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I spoke to Stylist Magazine about a new cult classic, that spotty, relaxed-fit, midi £39.99 dress from Zara. The dress is everywhere, so much so that it has its own instagram account @hot4thspot. How does a dress transform from a simple garment into an ‘it-piece’? Social proof and versatility provides the psychological explanation behind this transition. 

It is, says fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell a prime example of how current trends for women’s fashion revolve around comfort and practicality.

“We’ve moved away from the height of the bodycon era,” Forbes-Bell  explains to me. “As a community, we’re realising that comfort and relaxed fit dressing key – it’s got such a large part to play in how we navigate our lives and how well we complete our daily tasks.

There was a 2015 study that found wearing more comfortable clothing impacts your cognitive performance in a positive way but uncomfortable clothing is associated with distraction and cognitive load.”

But comfort alone does not a cultural phenomenon make. That’s where the print and cut come into play.

“The black and white polka dots suit a variety of skin tones,” says Forbes-Bell. “And the cut is very flattering for a wide range of body types. If you see someone similar to you wearing something, it’s easier to envision yourself in it. So if it suits so many people, you’re far more likely to see someone else like you wearing it – and that starts off a cycle of what we call ‘social proof’.”

Read the rest of my comment and the piece by Moya Lothian-McLean in its entirety here.

Empathy is a concept that I am sure most of us are familiar with, but what about applying it to what is in our wardrobes?

When going through the daily routine of getting dressed, we often overlook the fact that our clothes have passed through many hands before they make it into our wardrobes. From the designers and buyers, to cotton farmers, spinners, dyers, and machinists, each have played an important role in producing our clothing.

Each item of clothing has a broader narrative, and we are only privy to part of that story. This narrative began well before the clothing came into our hands. Even looking inside our garments, the clothing label yields only a small part of that garments story – often only the final point of assembly.

There seems to be a disconnect between consumer and what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ (or ‘seams’ for that matter). Could empathy help bridge this gap?

Following the empathy-altruism hypothesis, looking at our wardrobes with more of an empathetic eye, in an attempt to gain a better understanding and insight into the lives of our garments and their makers, may be just the motivation we need to enact change, and make more socially responsible purchasing decisions.

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I started taking a more empathetic approach to my wardrobe last year, being more curious about what I owned. I now find myself looking more closely at garments, examining their construction, and labels, wondering how many hands the garment has passed through, and the continents it has traveled across. Needless to say, my consumption habits have changed dramatically. I find myself buying less (on a ‘need’ rather than a ‘want’ basis), researching before I buy, and trying to purchase only ethical and sustainable items.

One thing I have encountered that may not be helping the problem is the lack of empathy in media reporting. Employees of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, were forced to work in a building that was known to be unsafe. On 24th April, 2013, the world watched on in horror as the factory collapsed, killing 1,133 people and injuring another 2,500 (mostly young women), making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history, and the deadliest garment factory accident in history. Unfortunately, this is not the first tragedy to hit the Bangladeshi garment industry.

Kanchana Ruwanpura PhD, from the University of Cambridge, a garment industry researcher, reports a lack of empathy in the media’s portrayal of these workers, with a tendency to “flatten the voice of labour by reducing workers to a homogenous category or to slaves”. A prime example of this, is the media’s representation of her account of the Sri Lankan Garment Industry. After being asked for input for a piece for Broadly, Ruwanpura detailed the highly educated labour force, the high standards in building regulations, and protective labour legislative framework. What however, was published showcased complete disregard for the reporting of the positives points she had made in relation to the Sri Lankan garment industry. Instead emphasis was placed on the lack of living wages and barriers to unionisation.

The tragedy that was the Rana Plaza factory collapse has been a catalyst for activist groups, including the formation of organisations such as Fashion Revolution. Fashion Revolution have provided us with insight into what life is like for the individuals who make our clothes living in developing nations, enacting genuine change in the way in which clothing is made, while encouraging us to ask one simple, yet powerful question – ‘who made my clothes?’.

The ‘Garment Worker Diaries’, a project of Fashion Revolution, is just one project that is encouraging us to look down at the shirt we are wearing with a renewed sense of empathy. This project takes an intimate look into the lives (and wages) of some of the women in the Cambodia, India and Bangladesh garment industries. The diaries provide us with insight into their daily routines, their weekly earnings and spendings, how they manage their meagre wages, the conditions in which they work (e.g. length of shifts, brands they work for, injuries), and their family responsibilities.

Adopting a more empathetic approach to our wardrobes could help us connect with the people who make our clothes and understand their stories, helping us as consumers to gain a better understanding of the social side of manufacturing. As a result, this could encourage us to make more ethical and sustainable decisions when it comes to our clothing consumption.

When you read the term ‘fashion influencer’ who do you think of? @Melissaswardrobe? @Charlotteemilysanders? @Jeffgoldblum? Yourself? Accessibility to fast fashion and high-grade cameras have aided the rise in fashion influencers making a career on platforms such as Instagram and 21 Buttons – tools that have helped produce style icons as young as 11 years old. Although such fashion influencers play a pivotal role in providing us with endless bouts of inspiration, research has found that their success and quadruple digit likes can sadly also inspire feelings of envy.

Why them and not me?

They main appeal of Influencers is that they are more alike their audience than traditional celebrities. They’re more like us and while their reach and engagement rates are impressive they’re also accessible. It seems that an iphone, a few editing apps and a keen interest in style can put the instafamous lifestyle within anyone’s reach but many people simply can’t achieve the same level of success. When conducting my own research, I found that many young women secretly adopt the attitude of ‘why them and not me?’ and other studies have found similar results. If you’ve ever had a green eyed moment, don’t worry, you’re not alone – a classic psychology theory called social comparison explains how we’re all susceptible to this phenomenon. 

Our increased activity online has resulted in many of us engaging in ‘upwards social comparison’ – meaning that when we see another person who we believe to be in a better position than us, whether that be in terms of style or wealth or in any capacity, we instinctively compare ourselves to them. So, instead of feeling inspired by a post full of the latest ‘#gifted’ designer garms, we become consumed with the need to make our lives more Insta-worthy. This comparison becomes even more complex when influencers create compelling content feature fast fashion finds. For example, while influencers such as @naomigenes and @missjosline have continually shown that you don’t have to wear expensive clothes to be stylish, their ‘balling on a budget’ posts  can unintentionally create feelings of hostility among their followers purely because they are very likely to own the same outfit on but only receive 60 likes compared their 60,000.

Research suggests that comparison is at the root of envy inspiring feelings of inferiority which may be linked to low self-esteem. Most research into social media activity has found envy via these negative social comparisons to be a causal factor of depression (Lee, 2014). This is even more worrying when the comparison comes in the form of carefully constructed and edited photos full of achievable looks because when the comparisons standards are high, they can result in higher levels of envy and ultimately, depression. Furthermore, in 2016 research found a positive association between social comparison by way of social media body image dissatisfaction in women.

The online world creates a compelling venue for new influencers through which we can all receive guidance and be inspired by show-stopping looks. To maintain what should be a healthy relationship between you and your favourite influencers I suggest cutting back on the screen time just a little bit. Not only is it bad for your wellbeing but the green with envy look suits absolutely no one.

Header Image Source: Big Bud

Instantly embodying the positive or professional persona you envisage isn’t always easy. But what if something as simple as the colour of your clothing could turn these visions into reality?

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Staring at a wardrobe over-flowing with tops, trousers, skirts and shirts can be daunting on a day-to-day basis. While as humans we have excelled in the art of decision-making for the most part, these first-world problems can cause us great confusion. This is where psychology can help. Have you ever considered eliminating your options by choosing a particular colour of clothing to wear? Perhaps you have an important job interview or feel fatigued due to a poor night’s sleep. By strategically selecting certain colours you can enhance your mood, improve your confidence or reduce anxiety – all whilst answering that recurrent question of: ‘what do I wear?’

For decades, research has been investigating how colours can be used to manipulate our mood and help us work at optimum performance. These effects seem to be embedded in our emotions and behaviours from as young as four years-old, with findings showing that when playing in a pink room, children displayed more strength and had a more positive mood, compared to a grey-coloured room (Hamind & Newport, 1989).  The warm tones of the colour pink reflected a welcoming, safe environment, so increased stimulation and arousal to make children more alert and interactive. Therefore, colour seems to play a significant role in our learning and interaction with our environment. Perhaps by popping on some pink shoes in the morning can set you up for a productive, positive day.

Later research looked at emotional responses to colours in adults by assessing the colour they wore and emotions towards and reasons for their choices. Bright colours elicited positive emotional associations and dark elicited mainly negative emotions (Hemphill, 1996).

However, these colour-emotion associations aren’t as straightforward as they seem, as they appear to change with age. In 7-year-olds, colours were meaningfully related to emotion preferences. However, the associations can become increasingly more evenly distributed with age, meaning we can create new meanings and attach multiple emotional associations to colours throughout our lives (Terwogt & Hoeksma, 1995).

Here are some ways you too can use coloured clothing to boost your mood and perhaps prevent the floor-drobe from making an appearance every time you can’t decide what to wear… 

Job Interview

Reiss: Shimmer Suit £185
Reiss: Shimmer Suit £185

While many opt to wearing black to a professional occasion, it may not necessarily always be the most effective option. While wearing black can make someone seem respectable and powerful, it can also indicate aggression (Linhartová et al., 2013). Therefore,  wearing a slightly softer shade such as grey can reduce the aggressive intent whilst giving you an equal amount of perceived respectability. Don’t be afraid to add a pop of colour though – a pair of blue heels or a yellow tie can give add a little personality to your appearance and make you all-the-more memorable.

Date Night

Fashion Psychology
House of CB: Mareena Dress £109

If you’re hoping to dress-to-impress that someone special,  research has recently suggested that wearing something red can make you appear more attractive due to associations we have built up overtime with the colour. Biologically the colour red indicates sexual receptivity; non-human primates display red body parts at times of ovulation, which indicates fertility and meets the evolutionary desire to reproduce (Guéguen and Jacob, 2013). Socially, the colour red represents sexuality, with associations to places like Amsterdam’s red-light district and sexy lingerie. However, a successful love life isn’t purely this shallow – an emotional connection is equally as important – by opening up to partners it allows trust and rapport to build in a relationship (Joinson & Paine, 2007).

Time to Relax

Topshop: Khaki Washed Cycle Loungewear Set £22

When it’s time to wind-down, whether it be in the evenings or on the weekends, the colours you surround yourself with can help relieve tension and encourage relaxation. Green and blue are highlighted as being the least stimulating and most pleasurable colours (Wilson, 1966; Valdez & Mehrabrian, 1994). The connection of these hues with nature may encourage positive attitudes and a sense of tranquillity which in turn helps us disconnect from the day.

There’s no denying that the challenges of daily life can become somewhat overwhelming – and proposing that the solution lies in something as small as the colours of our clothing, may seem overly-optimistic. However, it does appear that anticipating the demands of the day ahead can help to narrow-down outfit options by selecting shades that will encourage an appropriate mindset – and put you in a positive position for the day.

I’ve been extremely busy lately working on an exciting (soon to be revealed) project so I was thrilled to be quoted in Wednesday’s Time’s talking about the psychology behind this season’s ‘it’ shade: Power Pink. 

The changing cultural climate has transformed pink from being a colour ‘just for girls’ to one that is linked with power and revolution,” says the fashion psychologist Shakaila Forbes-Bell, who explains that traditional fluffy connotations are being replaced by associations with post-feminist femininity. 

Read Frankie Graddon’s article on how Power Pink is making waves from politics to the boardroom here.

Our German followers may have heard me discussing a controversial topic on Cosmo Radio two weeks ago – the best way to dress for Brexit.

Many consider London the most important fashion metropolis, more important than Paris, New York, Milan. Fashion blogger Shakaila thinks London is very unique and complex. Especially for her, fashion has to be comfortable in order to feel comfortable in it.”

Shakaila Forbes-Bell

Listen to the full interview with host Siham El-Maimouni in both English and German here

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Social media gives power to the individual. This new power has led to the rapid outpour of new, privately owned, fashion labels who have used social media to flourish and extend their reach. But one issue they still may face is competing with the titans of the fashion industry who dominate our insta feeds. So with this in mind it is interesting to delve into how these small fashion brands can more effectively get our attention on social media.

The “Spillover” effect

A recent study looked specifically at how content creators or social media influencers can be, and are, most effectively used by smaller private brands who may not have a designated marketing department and hundreds and thousands of pounds to spend on Ad campaigns. Across a year they collected fashion content creators posts on a website called Lookbook.nu (Hsiao, Wang, Wang & Kao, 2019).

One of their findings showed that as expected, creators with more followers had more popular/more liked posts. But their second finding was more insightful. Hsiao and colleagues showed that images which incorporated tagged clothing items from well-known brands as well as smaller private labels led to increased post popularity and awareness of the smaller brand.

So smaller fashion brands do better if they allow influencers to post content which mixes items from well known brands as well as their own. A suggested reason for this effect could be that, from the consumer’s perspective, seeing a popular brand name they know and trust alongside a new name being posted by an influencer they already like and follow, may mean they link the two brands as having similar quality/style. Therefore, they may be more likely to purchase products from the new brand they have been introduced to. This effect has been labelled the “spillover effect” where brand quality perceptions “spillover” to lesser known, smaller brands (Janakiraman, Sismeiro, & Dutta,2009).

Visual Communication

Research has found that, in the realm of luxury brands, the complexity of the image used can affect people’s perceptions of its quality/ luxury. When individuals are familiar with the brand then they perceive greater luxury from a more minimal and simplistic image (Lee, Hur and Watkins, 2018). So the fewer other objects present in the image places higher emphasis and perception of opulence on the brands product.

On the other hand, when the brand is not known to the viewer, more visual complexity in the image causes higher perceptions of luxury than a simple image (Lee, Hur and Watkins, 2018). So ultimately this suggests that for a new brand to get your attention it should focus its efforts on composing and posting interesting and engaging complex imagery in order to get our attention and lead us to want to purchase from them.

This could be done by new brands targeting influencers who tend to take more visually complex images, or by the brand itself posting in that way. The opposite should be used by well known brands.  

Whether this be subconscious or conscious, brands already use these tactics to get our attention. All you need to do is look at the instagram pages or established brands such as Chanel and Zara who use Minimalistic imagery and compare it to new upcoming brands such as Rixo and NeverfullyDressed.

Now that you are aware of some of the ways fashion brands get our attention maybe you will be able to notice their effects on you. If they do manage to get your attention, make sure you’re getting the best deal possible!

If you’ve ever suffered the misfortune of losing a loved one as well as witnessing a friend experience loss, then you’ll know that grief looks very different on different people. Although scientists such as Barbara Fane have revealed that individuals experiencing grief suffer from a similar disruption to the following brain areas, the outcome can vary. After losing someone the parasympathetic nervous system is impacted, resulting in insomnia and shallow breath. The effect on the prefrontal cortex/frontal lobe can impact your ability to express your emotions. The impact on the limbic system, can cause you to be easily triggered by things that remind you of your lost one. Whilst experiencing this biological onslaught, after losing someone, many people put their appearance to the back of their mind. However, as our contributing beauty writer Alysha Yates recounts, relief may come in the form of your beauty routine.

My mother would always dress herself in red. Her toenails gleamed with a glossy merlot finish come rain or shine.  In a reoccurring six-week effort to mask her relentless greys, she’d blitz intruders with her favourite semi-permanent dye, Crazy Colour- Fire. When she discovered my Sleek eyeshadow palettes, her request never wavered, “red with a little smoke on the sides.” Of all the ways she’d wear red, nothing served her better than sporting her signature scarlet smile.

So when I lost my mother in 2015 to the beast that is breast cancer, I couldn’t look at red the same for a while. My memories of overturned bloody dye bottles and dwindled lidless lipstick applicators brought me nothing but instant flashbacks of what I had lost.

Days after she passed, at each family gathering, I’d be swarmed by sympathetic apologies and faces filled with commissary for what could not be helped. With each pat on my back, I grew to fear the pain of my mother’s memory, serving only as a reminder for the unnerving fact that I’d no longer see her bright red smile again.

Alysha Yates Fashion Psychology
Alysha Yates Wearing Mac Dance With Me & Fenty Beauty Uncensored

Nevertheless, I had already agreed to write my mother’s eulogy for her funeral. I had run out of words while trying to finish writing and I decided to search for inspiration. I sat knee deep in photo albums, flicking through images of my mother, wadding my way through years of her life, buried in her memory. Hour after hour went by and I found myself with her again. She was aged 20 at a party, posed arm in arm with a best friend, both with matching classic square red manicures. Aged 25 on her wedding day, lips deep scarlet pursed and pouted for a glamorous flick.  She was aged 36, hair tinted and aflame, head down styling one of her clients at her hair salon.

Tears met my lips as I surrendered to her vivid red memories and I felt her with me once again. Fond memories rushed back and gave me the comfort I needed as I saw how attached my mother had been to this colour, how she would always endeavour to express herself throughout her life with these red accents.

At her funeral, we wore red rose brooches and our lips beamed a deep raspberry red. My mum loved to wear a mix of MAC’s Rebel with Russian Red. On that day, we brought her memory to life. Now, as her 4th year anniversary approaches, I soothe my grief by wearing red and my most treasured way of remembering her is by embracing a beauty routine that reflects my mother in spirit.

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 on March 8th, 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