The Style Experiment That Totally Changed My Perception of Clothing
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.
This summer, The Cut published an article about why New Yorkers have always worn black. I moved here last June, and so far this hasn’t rubbed off on me. I figured all black would be a fun look to start with, and perhaps catapult me into full-blown New Yorker status.
My Findings: I felt powerful. Sexy and powerful. And maybe it’s because our photographer Paley was following me around Union Square with a camera glued to her hands while I channeled my best street style star, but I felt like I was the real deal, a true boss.
I spotlight bohemian style in many of my stories, but I have never personally dipped my toe in the paisley pool. Perhaps it’s because the mixture of prints, textures, and sweeping silhouettes feels overwhelming to me. Nonetheless, I thought this would be an especially interesting look to try out, due to my lack of experience.
My Findings: Hello, Stevie Nicks! This ensemble (briefly) transformed me into a romantic. I know that reads a bit dramatic, but having a full-skirted maxi dress traipsing behind me in the wind changed the way I walked and how I carried myself. I found myself crossing the street differently and interacting with coworkers in a slightly more wistful manner. I can’t say it felt authentic to my core, but it was fun to feel the effect take hold.
Remember when I mentioned my masculine-inspired style? Right. I knew I wouldn’t get out of this experiment without testing out a feminine, uptown look. It’s not that I despise it; in fact, some of my favourite celebrities and street style regulars embody this vibe. However, I always feel like I’m headed to Sunday school rather than the boardroom when I go the Blair Waldorf route. My quest: Look cooler when dressing more femininely.
My Findings: The most peculiar observation I made while in this ladylike look was that I felt nicer. I smiled more at strangers and embraced a new sense of ease that my anxiety-ridden self isn’t accustomed to. I even noticed I acted more helpful and maternal to my co-workers. Perhaps it was the soft shade of pink, or maybe it was because I knew my shoot was almost at its end—whatever the case, I was affected.
What I Wore: Theory Clairene New Divide Open-Front Coat ($822); See by Chloé Sleeveless Cotton Ruffle-Collar Top ($241); Simon Miller W005 Crop Jeans ($370); Aquazzura Christy Lace-Up Suede Pumps ($910).
The (extremely high) heels definitely changed the way I walked. I can’t say they were entirely comfortable, but my posture certainly improved, and thus did my mood.
What do you think of enclothed cognition? Sound off with your opinions in the comments.