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The Surprising Ways Fashion Can Affect Your Mental Health

Updated: May 4

Mental health is a major concern in today's society, impacted by many external factors. One factor that is often overlooked is the ways fashion can affect your mental health: the colours we wear, the styles, and the fabrics all have the potential to affect our mental health in both positive and negative ways. In this post, we will explore how fashion can both help and hurt our mental health.

Positive Effects of Fashion on Mental Health

Fashion is often seen as a superficial, vanity-driven industry, but it can also be used as an effective way to boost mental health, making us feel both better and more confident.

Empowered: Wearing clothing and attire that matches our style can make us feel empowered and secure. It's a sense of escapism for some, using clothing and style to project an image to the outside world "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have". Some may view this as "imposter syndrome" territory, but actually, studies have shown that when we spend even a few minutes shopping or getting dressed, it can increase serotonin levels in the brain, improving overall mood. So when we feel down, it can be useful to take a break and pick some clothes that make us feel fabulous and help us look our best. Self-Expression: Style is a sense of self and the way we dress allows others an insight into who we are as people before we speak. Much like body language, a lot of our social cues, behaviour and mood can be projected through our style. Clothing can be a lot of things, it can restrict our movement, change our posture and affect our mood, it's worth considering where you are going and which "self" you want to be in that moment before choosing your outfit, you'd hate to give a poor impression in a job interview cause your shoes are causing you so much pain. Being your authentic self includes your authentic style as well.

Confidence: Having confidence enables you to take necessary risks without fear of failure, try new strategies, and push yourself out of your comfort zone; the exact opposite of what anxiety tries to achieve. It also helps you handle difficult conversations and stand up for yourself when necessary. With confidence in yourself, you can be sure you are making decisions that are in your best interest and that bring out your best self. Fashion is a huge part of gaining confidence and it's worth investing in someone to help you find your style, stable pieces and colours in order to start you off if the ultimate goal will help you fight mental illness and gain some confidence back from anxiety.

My Experience

I remember being at a tradeshow once and it was all very posh and very serious or so I thought! I had this perception going in that “this is a place of business”; so, I put on my tailored kit and heels and faced the long, arduous and boring day that was presented to me. My feet were killing, my stomach was bloated from hours of trying to keep everything sucked in, I could barely move my arms in my tight-fitting jacket and I dread to think what I smelt like after being shoved and tucked into every garment for 12 hours!

Long story short! I met a chap a couple of days in who said “Have you been busy?” and I said “Not at all, I don’t know why!” and he could see me shuffling desperately on my spot and said “You aren’t comfortable are you?” and I said “of course, I’m not comfortable, but this is work, not home and needs must” and in response, he said the single most important thing I’d ever heard “well if you aren’t being yourself and you look uncomfortable, you can’t expect to be comfortable talking to people and they won’t want to approach you”.

It was 100% true! I thought, what have I been doing? I look so tired and in pain, I’m putting people off!

The next day I wore my jeans and flats. It was the busiest day I’d had! I was happy to run about, go out and greet people and most importantly I wasn’t in pain while I was talking to people. I felt my whole self change. That’s what fashion does.

Fashion gives you a sense of self. It might not be comfortable, it might be bright colours, high heels, or make-up, either way, fashion lets you be someone else while being completely authentically yourself. After that single interaction, I thought of fashion in a completely different way, fashion was not a mask it is a way of showing who you are and regardless of what industry you are in, you can't expect people to gravitate to you if you aren't being yourself in the first place.

Wearing Clothes You Feel Comfortable In

When dressing for any occasion, comfort should be the top priority. While it can be tempting to splurge on the trendiest items or stick to the same pieces, having a wardrobe of clothes that make you feel confident, relaxed, and secure is essential. When you wear clothes that fit you, flatter you, and make you feel good, you naturally exude an aura of self-confidence that can make you stand out in a positive way. Comfort should be at the forefront when building your wardrobe and adding new items to it, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to find something that truly works for you. Make sure to find pieces that match your own unique style, and take the time to find clothes that bring out your inner beauty and make you feel at ease. Think ahead when you select your clothing, just because an item of clothing looks lovely in the store or online it doesn't mean it will benefit you overall. Take an outfit for a wedding... will the dress ride up on the dancefloor? what if you get bloated after the meal? Does it have stretch? Can you wear it all day and not feel self-conscious? Confidence is meant to last all day, not for the one photograph you take before it starts.

The Science

We already know that there is a sense of confidence that comes from our fashion sense and how and what we wear has an impact on the impression we give out to others.

Professor Karen Pine performed a study on this subject conducted for her book, Mind What You Wear, she got students to wear a Superman t-shirt. And by doing so she discovered that not only did it make them more confident, but it made them think they were physically stronger as well. (Good thing I wear a lot of nerdy stuff!)

The author of Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions, Neel Burton believes that wearing fresh and clean clothes can boost your confidence, making you feel overall better in yourself and your presentation. This could mean that instead of wearing an item a couple of times before a wash you rotate your clean clothing, pressing trousers or ironing shirts/t-shirt before wearing them.

Our world is not perfect, we are far too quick to judge so fashion is extremely important as we want to escape ridicule where ever we can, but it's also important to be comfortable and happy in what you are wearing to strengthen your confidence and certainty in who you are.

Mindful Shopping to Reduce Stress

Shopping for some it's a real stress and bother but it can be a great way to unwind when done mindfully and with purpose. Instead of aimlessly surfing the web for 'deals', take your time to explore and discover, consider what you are buying and why, you don't need the additional stress of debt or feeling like you've overspent. Focus on quality over quantity - look for items that will last for years and truly spark joy; of course, budget is a factor but if you narrow down what you are looking for beforehand such as your colours, your body shape and flattering fits you can find the experience a little less stressful and reduce the chances of going off in a tangent with items that aren't for you. Considering the environmental impact of what you buy and how it was produced, you might give yourself an unintentional boost by buying ethically and considerately. Shopping can be quite therapeutic if done right - take the time to enjoy the process, rather than rushing to make a purchase. And remember to practice self-care - don’t be afraid to put your well-being first and stay within your financial limits.

Tip: If you see something you like but have no budget and reason to buy it, take a screenshot and surf resale sites such as Vinted. Don't be worried about the store running out of stock or "missing your chance" as the season ends. Someone somewhere will be reselling that item, keep the screenshot with the name of the garment and you'll find it! I've found items from years ago that I liked but had no reason for buying and I found it at a fraction of the cost.

How to find your colour palette: Finding your flattering colours can seem like a daunting task, but it's actually quite simple. Start by identifying your skin's undertones; you can do this by looking at the colour of your veins on your wrist, noticing if your eyes are more blue, green, hazel or brown, and assessing the hue of your blush or makeup. It wouldn't hurt to go down to your local hardware store and pick up some colour swatches, place them next to your skin and get a better idea if you lean more towards a pastel palette or darker tones. This will start you off on the right path.

How to find out your body shape: Identifying your body shape can be a tricky and confusing task. Your best friend will be your tape measure if you want to be precise. Knowing which shapes you are closest to is essential for finding the clothes and styles that are most flattering for your body. After all, there’s a reason why many clothing items are cut differently for different body shapes. First, take a look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself what body shape you most closely resemble - apple, pear, hourglass, inverted triangle, rectangle, or diamond. Consider your shoulders - are they broad or narrow? What about your bust and hips - are they similarly sized or are one noticeably bigger than the other? Also, what about your waist - is it defined or undefined? Think about these questions and decide which shape you resemble the most. Knowing which silhouette suits your body shape the best will allow you to dress in a way that will flatter your figure. One rule of thumb is to identify the area you are most concerned about showing off and make sure to not draw attention to it. If you are most worried about your belly, look for items which draw the eye downwards to your legs to upwards to your face.

Fashion can have a major impact on our mental health, and it's important to understand how fashion can both help and hurt us. By emphasizing our own style, taking the time to find clothes we feel comfortable in, and shopping mindfully, we can use fashion to take control of our mental health and find our inner peace.

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