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Shakaila Forbes-Bell

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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

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

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.

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

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