The psychological meaning of clothing is something academics have been curious about for more than a century, particularly the influential Harvard psychologist William James, who believed
the clothes you wear ranked just under your physical body, but above your immediate family, in contributing to your understanding of who you are.
And modern research has borne this idea out, suggesting that clothes indeed influence self-perception. People who feel dressed-up are more likely
to think of themselves as competent and rational; in contrast, those who are dressed casually tend to describe their personality accordingly, as friendly and laid-back. Recently, a team of researchers from Columbia University and California State University, Northridge, took this idea a step further and conducted a series of five experiments that suggest the clothes we wear don't just influence the way we think about ourselves; they also seem to influence the way we think, period.
Specifically, they found that people who felt more formally dressed than the people around them were more likely to think abstractly. "And by that we mean, basically, holistic or big-picture thinking — so not focusing on the details but seeing bigger ideas, seeing how things connect from a more high-level perspective," said Michael Slepian, first author on the new paper
, which was recently published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.