Fashion Psychology: How Your Clothing Style Affects People’s Impressions of You

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Fashion Psychology: How Your Clothing Style Affects People’s Impressions of You

Businessman checking his time / Photo by Getty Images


Humans are known to be visual creatures and it is not a hidden fact that they often judge things by their appearance. This includes a person’s fashion choices. The way you dress may go well beyond just first impressions.

According to Shakespeare, “Clothes maketh a man.”  Your fashion statement can actually build a person’s mental definition of you—your character, your career, and personality. Ennis Cehic, author of the article First impressions: What your clothing says about you says, “People look at your appearance, your body language and how you are dressed and instantly make an evaluation.” He also cites that a study reveals that it only takes one-tenth of a second for people to form an opinion of you.  

While there are many scholars who proclaim that fashion is shallow and ridiculous, science says otherwise. Jacquelyn Smith, author of the article Here’s How Clothing Affects Your Success affirms this by stating, “because perception is often reality, what you wear not only communicates who you are in the minds of others, but also influences your level of career advancement.”

Smith adds after citing a study, “your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire and promotion.”

There are more factors involved than just the kind of clothing that you wear that influences a person’s perception of you. The manner in which you carry yourself in your clothes not only affects people’s impressions of you but also your daily interactions, your relationships and even how successful you can be in your career. Cehic also explains that “it is important to know how your personal brand is influenced by your clothing".

Having an outstanding personality may not be enough to cover up a person’s mediocre choice of clothes. Fashion Psychology has proven that knowing how to dress well is imperative if you want people to take you more seriously. Being conscious of what you wear and how you appear in front of others is not as superficial as most think it to be.

Being able to determine the effect of your mode of fashion on others will help you in creating the type of impressions you desire. If you improve the way you express yourself through your clothing, you may also shape a better lifestyle.


Fashion vs. Style

First, it must be established that fashion and style are not that the same. They are merely two elements of clothing that complement each other.

Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture states that fashion is, “the cultural construction of the embodied identity.”

To differentiate it from fashion, style is defined by as, “Characteristics or elements combined and expressed in a particular (often unique) and consistent manner.” gives a simpler distinction between fashion and style by quoting Oscar de la Renta who declares, “Fashion is about dressing according to what is fashionable. Style is more about being yourself.”

Therein lies the difference. Fashion is more about following a certain trend in a particular time whereas style is more about a form of self-expression through your manner of dressing.



Your Clothes and Your Self-perception

Despite the fact that one should be mindful of how others perceive his appearance, one must also note how his clothes make him view himself.

According to, “Besides being an external cue affecting the response of others toward you, clothing is also an inner cue affecting your self-image. Feeling good about how you feel good about yourself, thereby increasing your personal presence.”

Lina Jamal and Judith Lidenberger, authors of How to Make a Great First Impression, continue, “When you wear more powerful looking clothing (e.g. professional business attire, a suit, darker colors, etc.) and clothing that is appropriate for your profession, it changes your mindset--switching from “relaxed mode”  to “professional mode”. This positive change in attitude is reflected in body language and behavior ( e.g. better posture, firmer handshake, maintaining eye contact, sticking to business etc) giving you greater visual power.”

An interview which Jamal and Lindenberger conducted with Karen Dixon, Supervisor of the Mercadien group also reflects this. Dixon says, “Dressing in a professional yet stylish manner can give you a tremendous feeling of confidence that is exhibited through your attitude and actions.”

Jacqueline Whitmore, in her article, Your Attire Speaks Volumes Before You Open Your Mouth, writes, “Looking your best isn’t about vanity. Instead, it’s about investing in self-improvement. Keeping high standards for your appearance will help you feel happier and more successful.”

So then it not only matters what you wear but how your clothing makes you feel. The better you feel in certain clothes, the more it will project in your actions. On the other hand, if you do not feel an affinity to the outfit you are wearing, it also shows and people will be able to pick up on that. further elaborates, “The opposite is true when we don’t feel right about how we’re dressed. The observer meets the ensuing negative energy in kind, potentially causing a further drain to our self-image.”


Colors  Matter

When people appraise someone’s clothing it does not stop with just the dress code of the clothes. Even the subtle details such as color play an important role in how people view you. Due to the variety of colors in clothes, Fashion Psychology is also linked to Color Psychology.

According to Business Insider, “Color Psychology is based on the emotional and mental effects that colors can have on people and their perception.”

They further elaborate that colors can convey your intelligence and economic level in society.

Based on Rishi Chullani’s article Formal Attire and Negotiations--How Clothing and Color Affects Psychology and Negotiations, here are some colors and their messages and effects:


Black communicates that you are in control and in power. It also shows luxury and sophistication. However, it should not be worn alone because it can convey instead misery and evil. He also advises not to wear only black during negotiations because it can intimidate your negotiation peers.


Chullani also elaborates in his article that grey is a neutral color. He says it stirs up feelings of carefulness, practicality, accomplishment, and stability although too much of it can show depression and isolation.


According to Chullani, blue is the most recommended color to wear to job interviews because it represents trustworthiness and loyalty. It is perceived as a calm color and is found to boost creativity.

Various studies have revealed that when employees are surrounded by blue or are working in a room with blue walls, they become happier and more productive.

However, an extreme use of blue could mirror coldness instead.


Wearing brown, Chullani explains, shows that you are organized, pure and honest. It can also send the message that you are a team player. He states that although it is a color of simplicity, it has a strong impact.

Too much brown though, could reflect dirt and age.


White is associated with cleanliness and hygiene. It also mirrors being well-balanced, open-minded, and being optimistic.

Too much white, he warns, can instead portray isolation and unrealistic views of perfection.


Accessory colors

He also describes colors that can be used to give an accent to your outfit.

Chullani also explains the general rule of choosing accessory colors. He states that warm colors like the shades of red reflect excitement and action. Cool colors, like those colors that are often associated with nature such as blue, green and violet show that a person is calm and passive.

If you want to achieve a more calming effect, use cooler colors. On the other hand, if you want to increase tensions, use warmer colors.

He says that the colors used in the accessories do not need to be solids but can be blended and mixed and matches.


Below is a list of colors you can use to amplify the personality you want to convey in your accessories:


Green shows balance and restorations. It also gives others the impression that you are peaceful and generous. Its different shades can also reflect different traits. The lighter shades show growth and renewal, while the darker ones portray envy and greed.


This color is often linked to optimism, happiness, and laughter. It is also known to spark creativity. He advises that cheerful shades of yellow are perfect as accent colors.

On the other hand, he says that too much of it can be overpowering.


Since it is a combination of red and blue, he explains that purple is a balance between the warm and cool colors. He states that purple helps promote creativity and new ideas.

He also elaborates that this color gives the impression that you are prosperous, wise, sophisticated and trustworthy.

Overuse of purple, however, sends the message that you have destructive and pretentious emotions.



He expounds that red is a powerful color. It is a color that shows confidence and also mirrors strength. He says that research shows it immense exposure to red quickens heartbeats and breathing rates because it stimulates the central nervous system.

He also stated that it would go well as an accent color to the calmer shades.



Dressing to  be More Successful

It turns out that it is not just what you wear (whether it is a suit, casual attire or a party outfit)  but also how you wear it that forms people’s impressions of you, be it positive or negative.

Psychology Today refers to a study that confirms this. In a journal called Sex Roles, it showed that more people reacted favorably to women who dressed more conservatively in the workplace. It revealed that minor changes in the dress such as the length of the skirt or an extra button on a blouse can greatly affect people’s perception of you.

Listed below are some tips Smith gives to her readers ways to dress to be more successful:

1. Refrain from revealing too much skin.

2. Wear clean clothes.

3. Do not wear wrinkled clothes.

4. Wear clothes that flatter you.

5. Follow the dress code or one notch above.

6. Wear appropriate clothes and shoes.

7. Avoid wearing shorts.


People’s Impressions on Your Clothing is Linked to How They Treat You

Naturally, when people form their impressions of you, they will react in a certain way. says that a survey done by a law firm on a thousand resource executives who had a dress down policy in their workplace declared that there was a rise in flirtatious behavior by 30% and as a result, there were more sexual harassment lawsuits.

Smith notes in her article, “when you combine your appearance with communication skills, not only is their perception towards you affected, but their behavior toward you is also influenced.”

Darlene Price, President of Well Said Inc. stated, “Clothing plus communication skills determine whether or not others will comply with your request, trust you with information, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary or fee for contracted business, hire you, or purchase your products and services.”

More evidence points to this. Thorin Klowsowski quoted Milena Joy, an image consultant in his article Dress for Success With Science and Joy advised, “ Changing your look and people’s reaction to you is all about consistency. If you consistently look put together, polished and sophisticated, there won’t be much to talk about for long. You may have to suffer through one day of reactions from co-workers, but soon your new look will be the norm. If you try to ease into the new look, each change will be a new opportunity for someone to make an obvious comment, therefore putting you in an awkward self-conscious position. We advise that you jump into your new look...and make the decision to dress for a successful new you and never look back.”

Maggie Young shares her experience of how differently people interacted with her when she decided to dress well instead of staying in her usual sweater and yoga pants in her article How you dress changes the way people treat you. She noted that they were all positive changes.

Firstly, Young said that her teachers took her more seriously. They made more eye-contact with her and tended to call her more often.

Secondly, strangers viewed her as more approachable and therefore became friendlier towards her.

Thirdly, people remembered her name more every time she first introduces herself.

Lastly, more people were asking for her advice. She surmises that there may be a connection to her appearing put together externally might have lead people to think she was the same on the inside.

Many studies and testimonies from the experts have been presented to validate that a person’s manner of dressing is more than just wanting to appear aesthetically pleasing to other people’s eyes.

Clearly, more than just egotism and superficial vanity, there is a science and art behind a person’s appearance, especially in his fashion and style. It takes some careful consideration and planning to put together an ensemble of clothes that bring out the best in a person which in turn makes people gravitate towards that person positively. It could be called genius even.

It does not take a fortune to put together an outfit that makes you appear more put together and confident. Using the guidelines stated earlier and combining each of them, together with one’s own creativity, a person is more likely to have the best first impression.  


Businessman having a coffee break / Photo by Getty Images




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