Why the Clothes You Wear Reflect How You Feel About Yourself

I’ve always felt that confidence played a huge role in what I wear but wasn’t sure which came first: the confidence or the clothes.
Publish date:
February 27, 2015
clothes, shopping, the row, Saint Laurent, psychology, fashion week

Every year, twice a year, when Fashion Week comes around, I get so excited. I don’t work in the fashion industry, so going to shows and keeping tabs on every look that comes down the runway isn’t part of my job, but there’s something about the excitement in New York City — and in my Instagram and Twitter feeds — that, for lack of a less corny description, inspires me.

I have a long history of being an outsider to Fashion Week. When I was in middle and high schools, my mom and I drove into Midtown Manhattan from New Jersey to see the scene in Bryant Park. I thought every person walking in and out of the tents was Anna Wintour. When I studied abroad in Paris for my junior year of college, I lingered in the Tuileries Garden and outside the Grand Palais to catch of a glimpse of whatever was going on inside.

I finally made it into Lincoln Center as a lowly volunteer during my senior year of college, where I put name cards on seats, cleaned up makeup stations, and ate a Fiber One bar every time I passed a pile of samples (read: a lot). After getting scolded at by a headset-wearing supervisor for walking across the runway when the paint was still wet, I decided I might as well dress the part and sneak into shows myself. The next time Fashion Week came around, I wore my street style chicest, flashed my phone at the security guard as if there were an exclusive invitation in my e-mail, and joined throngs of (mostly) girls in the standing section.

I could never put my finger on why I liked the idea of Fashion Week so much until I had successfully nudged my way into the nosebleeds of Mara Hoffman’s spring 2014 show. When the lights went down and the music started thumping, I got an adrenaline rush from seeing the clothes come down the runway. I wanted to wear every outfit. It was a high similar to what I get while shopping, but more controlled given that I couldn’t actually buy the clothes.

Fashion is an outlet for self-expression, and every product that comes out of the seven-day event is added inspiration to the arsenal of ways to express yourself. The exhilaration I get from it is empowering.

Fashion gets a bad rap for being shallow, it’s just clothes after all. Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist who moonlights as a wardrobe analyst with a consulting business that analyzes how clients’ behaviors affects their clothing choices, validated my thinking that what you wear is an extension of yourself. “It’s a reflection of what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling,” she told me. “How we dress conveys our self-conception.” The way we dress has an enormous effect on every part of ourselves. For example: Saint Laurent's fall 2014 collection made me want to be all glam rock.

I’ve always felt that confidence played a huge role in what I wear but wasn’t sure which came first: the confidence or the clothes. What I mean is, do I gravitate towards clothes that I hope will make me feel more confident, or do I wear certain things because I already have the confidence to do so? According to Baumgartner, it depends on the person and their internal motivation.

Let’s say you choose to wear a tight black dress because you want to feel good about your curves. If you think the dress will make you feel better, then it will. If you choose to wear the dress for an unhealthy reason though, like if you’re self-conscious and feel pressured to take a fashion risk, then you’ll still feel self-conscious. Clothes are a means to express how you feel.

I choose to give clothes the power to change the way I feel and think about myself. When I look at runway shows online, I play a game of make-believe in my head: If I were to wear one of the looks, where I would be going? What’s my job? Where do I live? At what stage in my life am I?

I envision a completely different version of myself in a look from Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent collection than in one from say, The Row, but each look conveys a type of woman I’d like to be. In the first one, I’m a fun-loving rocker chic gal, maybe living in Paris or London. In the second look, I’m a more mature, strong, independent woman in my 30s. I have a partner but I know that a man is not a financial plan.

Superficial? Yes. Fun? Yes.

Fashion might play into the “judging a book by it’s cover” thing, but if what you wear helps you express your emotions and aspirations, then by all means, let it.

Does it have the same power over you?