We often see style as a projection of ourselves; a way to emphasise personal uniqueness or seek group similarity. But whatever the purpose of our fashion ‘identity’, the acute awareness societies have accumulated across places and time could actually be a method of self-affirmation and consequently, protection from potential mental disorders.
Cultural dressing and mental health
What we wear is a reflection of who we are and knowing who we are as individuals can help improve mental wellbeing by giving us a sense of direction, purpose and security. For example, clothing preferences can influence mental wellbeing and reduce the general risk of mental health issues – so long as it is synonymous with an individual’s social groups (Bhui, et al, 2008). For some, making culturally traditional clothing choices can lead to a lower risk of mental health problems, but for others making ‘integrated’ clothing choices (ones which are trend-led) can reduce this risk.
Wearing traditional clothing can feel protective; it reflects a sheltered upbringing and adherence to religion, whilst wearing trend-led pieces can give others a sense of social status and confidence. Therefore, perhaps it’s not literally what one wears that enhances wellbeing, but rather what it stands for in our social circles. Adopting another culture’s traditional clothing style can not only be interpreted as cultural appropriation, it can also create intrafamilial conflict as it differs to the identity of your peers. Therefore, style potentially has the power to mediate relationships with others, affecting our mental health.
Dress yourself happy
Having a sense of personal style may also be influential at a cognitive level. Having positive self-evaluations, and an exaggerated perception of control and optimism can promote a positive mental state (Taylor et al, 1988). This may seem self-explanatory but what you may not know is that fashion can be a mechanism by which we can enhance our self-perceptions. By giving ourselves the power and freedom to dress as we please, we can enhance our preferred features and mask our insecurities, contributing to an increasingly positive, optimistic view of oneself.
Having a positive illusion of our bodies and capabilities has been reported to aid us in dealing with negative feedback more constructively. Therefore, the next time you have an important event, make sure to wear those special heels, your favourite tie or even your lucky underwear – it could be your secret weapon to happiness.
Take Pride in your Appearance
With all of this in mind, much of our mental well-being arguably pins on our levels of self-esteem. Having high self-esteem can help to reduce the livelihood of suffering a mental disorder to displaying antisocial behaviours (Mann et al, 2004). Therefore, encouraging young children and adolescents to take pride and care in their appearance could stretch further than vanity, rather it could be used as a preventative measure from troubled behaviours and poor health later in life. Focussing on boosting self-esteem via fashion may in fact be beneficial in healthcare and education programmes – it will give individuals more confidence and security in who they are. This can also have the additional benefit of boosting job prospects; by knowing how to dress well improves first impressions and chances of succeeding in an interview. The additional income and ability to maintain busy can also keep people out of trouble – also giving wider societal benefits.
Fashion clearly has a role to play in promoting a positive self-image and reducing mental health issues in individuals. Although it may not be the sole cure to mental disorders, feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin can boost your sense of identity and self-esteem, which consequently improves mental wellbeing. Treating yourself to a new t-shirt or tie may not necessarily be something to feel guilty about – it could be contributing to a positive self-image and protecting you from a predisposed mental health issue.