The Style Experiment That Totally Changed My Perception of Clothing

Nicole Kliest

One of my most cherished film scenes is during My Fair Lady when Eliza Doolittle (played by Audrey Hepburn), after a seemingly hopeless amount of etiquette training, steps out at the Ascot Racecourse in an exquisite black-and-white Cecil Beaton gown with an ornate matching hat. Doolittle is poised and refined, a stark contrast to her cockney character leading up to that point. Though, as we all know, she smudges the outing with a burst of foul language, it turns out there’s significant research behind her character’s ability to embody a new persona—and it’s all to do with the clothing.

A while back, we touched on a study conducted and published by The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The research team’s findings showed that individuals who put on a doctor’s white lab coat paid sharper attention and correctly completed more tasks than their counterparts who were told the coat was that of a painter’s or simply wore no coat at all. They argued that this was due to the scientific field of embodied cognition—more specifically, enclothed cognition. 

In a nutshell, what we wear affects how others perceive us and vice versa, but this theory contends that it also impacts psychological processes that determine our aptitude and behaviour. I have to agree. Thinking back about successful milestones or highlights in my career and in my personal life, my clothing more often than not reflected empowerment. Important presentations, special first dates, the whole kit and caboodle; I put thought into what I wore, and in turn it transformed me in a way that allowed for a positive experience.

This got me thinking, What if I dressed differently? It seems like a fairly surface-level question, but now knowing this research existed, I couldn’t help but ponder what I’d be like if I dressed bohemian, gothic, or feminine—so I did just that. To preface my experiment, I describe my personal style as an Olsen-inspired French tomboy. I love neutrals, simple silhouettes, and easy accessorizing. So when I embarked on this enclothed cognition experiment, I chose three very different vibes so I could truly put the theory to test.

See below to find out how it all went down and to see my outfits.

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