Its true: Dressing up can affect the way you think and feel. You have probably personally felt it when putting on a nice dress or suit ahead of an event. It brings a sense of purpose and perspective shift, you embody what the outfit stands for. You mean business, and thats exactly what you'll do.
'Enclothed cognition' is a combination of theories that human beings have an inherent desire to maintain a positive self-image and that people will do what ever it takes to achieve this. It's what your clothes are saying to you, not about you. How they make you feel.
In social psychology, self-presentation theory says that clothing plays an important role in how we present ourselves to other people. The clothes we wear can serve as a form of nonverbal communication often conveying our moods, abilities, sexuality, attitudes. Dress someone in a white lab coat, they will perform better in tests requiring close and sustained attention; yes, studies have confirmed this.
This theory of self-presentation also suggests that humans prefer to question things they find illogical or confusing in order to reestablish their sense of identity and value. In relation to enclothed cognition; For example: if a person wears formal dress they automatically believe themselves like someone who is more put together than. If they wear something casual like sweatpants they believe themselves more lazy than a person who wears formal dress. So yes, putting on something nice can come with a host of positive feelings.
Another theory that deals with self-presentation and identity is the social identity theory. This theory says that people want to create meaningful relationships with others by identifying certain similarities between themselves and others. In relation to enclothed cognition this may be explained in two ways: In the first case a lady could be wearing very casual tracksuit bottoms in a relatively formal setting; she would have to find other common threads in which to be in common with others around her. The overall result would be feeling ostracised from the status group as she would feel branded as 'low class' or no sense of style. A second way this can be seen is by the same woman wearing a particularly well fitting, stylish, outfit. She would feel accepted and embraced into the status group.
The third theory that is relevant to enclothed cognition is Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In this set of theories Maslow describes five levels of basic human needs: physiological; safety; love and belongingness; esteem; and actualisation. Enclothed cognition deals with how clothing relates to self-esteem discussed in the example above, which in turn corresponds directly with the esteem level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Despite the seemingly obvious links between clothing and self-esteem, researchers have yet to fully confirm these associations through empirical research. Some studies found that people wearing formal dress had higher levels of subjective well being (an example would be - how happy you feel about a situation) than those who were not. Another study that tested Maslow’s theory found that participants experienced higher levels of self esteem when they wore more expensive clothing rather then an inexpensive piece of clothing. These two experiments show how people may experience emotions and feelings in response to what they wear but are unable to prove officially whether or not wearing clothes actually has any effect on your feelings and emotions as a result.
Studies such as these simply construct hypotheses about how this theory may work but are unable to prove those conclusions. It is possible that a subject has psychological or emotional problems that may cause higher levels of anxiety, depression and even aggression which in turn would lead them to wear clothing they believe society will accept.
A study conducted by Jeff Galak et al finds that the “clothing effect” can actually be measured objectively due to the ability of fMRI scans. These studies found that there was an association between high fashion clothing and positive feelings and emotions while wearing these clothes such as pride. That is, a person feels good when they feel fashionable because it gives them confidence instead of feeling unattractive and undesirable which leads them to wear something more flattering for their body shape. The same can be said about how wearing a formal dress should lead to higher levels of self-esteem. Yet these experiments were unable to measure the actual effect of clothing on an individual’s emotions and feelings as they are not able to observe the subject 24/7 so there is still that possibility that an individual has psychological issues are being observed.
Despite the inability for researchers to fully confirm enclothed cognition, its undeniable that what you wear has a strong influence on how you feel. Remember next time your getting into your glad rags that your relationship with clothes extends much further than simply how you look in the mirror.