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Can You Make Your Mood Better by Dressing Up?

Who needs Advil when you’ve got seersucker?

In college, I had a friend named Randy who insisted that his pleated khakis, pastel button-down and oxblood loafers could cure any and all feelings of dread, particularly those experienced during a hangover. Now, Randy was notorious for losing his wallet, breaking his phone and vomiting on himself — sometimes all in one night — but come the following morning, gleaming in his finest Brooks Brothers duds, Randy never seemed any less than a beacon of professionalism. As someone who could never get it together to that extent the morning after, I always wondered, Was Randy onto something? Can clothes really affect your mood, health and confidence, the same way a good hair day can?

Turns out the science is on Randy’s side.

As Adam Hajo and Adam D. Galinsky, both professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, wrote in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, it’s a phenomenon known as “enclothed cognition.” This, they explain, “involves the co-occurrence of two independent factors — the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them.”

In their experiment, Hajo and Galinsky had subjects perform tests while wearing a doctor’s coat, a painter’s coat or no coat at all. They found that “subjects’ sustained attention increased while wearing the doctor’s coats in a way that their attention did not increase while wearing the painter’s coats or no coats.” In other words, the people wearing a doctor’s coat were more focused than those wearing a painter’s coat or no coat at all. Essentially, because they looked the part, they tried harder to act it.

The University of Hertfordshire’s Karen J. Pine, who also has studied the effects of clothing on a person’s psychology, concurs. As she noted in her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we’re unaware of it.” In her study, one participant said, “If I’m in casual clothes, I relax and am tomboyish, but if I dress up for a meeting or a special occasion, it can alter the way I walk and hold myself.”

So Randy, you were right. Lookin’ good does mean feelin’ good.