We all know that feeling – striding into work, full of confidence because we’re wearing a new suit / shoes / makeup etc. But are we really what we wear? What makes us behave like this?
It all comes down to the theory of ‘enclothed cognition’ first coined by social psychologist Adam Galinksy. He conducted a study where he noticed that participants wearing a white coat who were told it was a doctor’s coat were found to have greater sustained attention than those who were told it belonged to a painter.
The idea is based on the concept of embodied cognition, where physical experiences can subconsciously trigger abstract associations. It’s like how the heavier box seems more valuable than the lighter box etc.
So if an experience (i.e. wearing clothes that make you feel good) can trigger an abstract association (i.e. being an absolute girl boss), then Galinsky argues that wearing a particular item of clothing can cause people to embody it and adopt its symbolic meaning (i.e wearing these particular clothes make me an absolute girl boss, and so I will behave like one!).
So for example, if you associate a pair of running shoes with the thought that these shoes are “the ones that make me run faster”, then by wearing the shoes and embodying this sense of improved performance, you subconsciously influence your own thought processes to think “well I’m going to run faster today because I’m wearing these shoes”, which makes you more likely to actually behave this way (i.e. actually run faster).
For enclothed cognition to work, it relies on the wearer both physically wearing the clothes as well as understanding their symbolic meaning. It doesn’t work if you’ve never worn the clothes before, as you need a process called priming to allow for the subconscious change in behaviour to occur to match the behaviour associated with the clothes.
It turns out, the clothes really can maketh the (wo)man.
Adapted from my original article at https://feminem.org/2018/01/04/choosing-armour-part-1/