Enclothed Cognition: Empowerment Through Clothing
Introducing the 2nd blog in a 3-part series about how a SeaCell sweater improved my mindset.
This blog is my closer examination of "enclothed cognition," which is the psychological phenomenon where our attire impacts how we see ourselves and how, in turn, we feel.
Join me as I uncover the intricate relationship between our wardrobe and our psyche and how we can harness this connection to foster self-confidence and authenticity in our daily lives.
As children, many of us were told the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, that fascinating tale designed to warn us that, although agreeing with the masses may seem like the easy, safe route, at the end of the day, we should trust our intuition, our guts, ourselves over all others.
It occurs to me that, when viewed from the emperor's perspective, this is a fantastic, early example of a phenomenon that has only recently been coined "enclothed cognition," albeit an extreme example.
Enclothed cognition occurs when someone's mental and emotional processes are affected by the clothes they wear. In the outrageous example above, the emperor could strut and prance about believing himself superior to anyone who couldn't see his clothing.
Not only does this altered perception affect us, but it also affects how those around us perceive us. Those lower than the emperor pretended to fawn over the emperor's attire because they wanted to be viewed as enlightened enough to glimpse the "invisible" clothing.
Awareness Is Key For Enclothed Cognition To Occur
So, some awareness of enclothed cognition has existed for centuries, perhaps millennia, although the concept was only recently named. One of the most interesting examples of this in my own life happened years ago - for myself, then passed on as a tool for embodying a new identity.
I was a professional musician for many years, and one day, I got the idea to dye my hair pink. It’s pretty common to see rainbow shades of hair every day of the week nowadays, but 20 years ago, unless you were hanging out in Little 5 Points in Atlanta, GA, where every day was like Halloween - it just wasn’t within most people’s sphere of experience.
I got all sorts of funny looks at the grocery store, buying carrots with flamingo feathers and dusting my shoulders. But when I was on stage as the front-woman of a 4-piece band, I WAS a rock star. Turns out, hair as an accessory can have the same effect as our clothing on how we feel, behave, and see the world.
How Clothing Affects Your Brain Chemistry
Fast forward to my career as a fitness coach. One day, a woman walked into my gym (did I mention I own a gym?), looking quite defeated and forlorn. She explained that she had joined the military and the bare minimum of athletic feats she was expected to perform were way outside of her current physical capacity. She had come to my gym for help getting in good enough shape to pass her physical preparedness testing. I agreed to help her, and we scheduled our first session.
When she showed up, almost everything I asked her to do made her cry. She had already decided mentally that she was failing, even though we were at the beginning. I realized that what she needed more than a workout that day was an attitude adjustment.
Recalling how much my own experience with my hairstyle helped me to embody a new archetype, essentially, I asked her, “Do you think you could dye your hair?” She gave me a funny look, so I explained how she was going to have to start showing up as someone who saw themselves much differently, someone who was able to tap into that potential future superhero within and let that vision define how she showed up to train every day.
I wasn’t sure I got through to her, but the next day, she showed up in a plain white Hanes t-shirt with letters penned across the front in black Sharpie, “I AM A F**KING ROCK STAR!”
She was able to tap into a more empowered version of herself - with a cheap tee and a marker! I got the most amazing letter from her months later from boot camp, which to this day is one of the best testimonials I’ve ever received, explaining what a transformational event that had been for her.
To say that enclothed cognition can be a powerful tool is an understatement.
A Sustainable Sweater That Empowers You
I recently attended a weekend workshop and was interested to see in the itinerary and instructions, under the heading “WHAT TO BRING,” the words “An outfit that makes you feel beautiful on both days.” I was stunned at how much time I spent ruminating on this one sentence.
I’ve been in somewhat of an identity rut lately, having moved across the country and trying to fit my square peg into the round hole of being an hourly employee instead of an entrepreneurial gym owner. Turns out, I’m not cut out to be a traditional type of employee, but do much better as more of a freelance, free spirit.
And as I considered how long it had been since I’d thought about clothes that make me feel beautiful, I wondered, “Have I ever thought about clothes that way?”
Self-Identity Through Enclothed Cognition
I certainly have put an enormous amount of effort into dressing myself in a way that I thought would make others think I’m beautiful… or cute, or hot, or fill-in-the-blank as to whatever the situation seems to demand. But what is it that makes ME feel beautiful? I’m not sure I know. But I tried on a lot of clothes before I packed my bag and headed out of town.
What I decided was that it could be tremendously beneficial for me to deliberately choose the character I want to play next in the theater of life and then dress the part. The following week, I bought some thrifted clothes to try on some new roles. What an interesting way to bring out the best in ourselves.
It may seem odd to bring meditation into a conversation about enclothed cognition, but I have a serious practice that continues to get more meaningful with every month that passes. My favorite meditation teacher says we should know who we want to be and internally rehearse what that person would do and what that person would say, and I have just lately added, “what that person would wear.”
The Super Power Of Enclothed Cognition
My Oliver Charles sweater is a great example of this. There’s so much about it that lands right on the mark. Who would wear a seaweed SeaCell sweater- someone who cares about sustainable and humane textiles, someone who loves the sophisticated simplicity of the design, someone who appreciates the perfect cut, the perfect knit, the perfect feel? I believe it’s all of the above.
Keeping my actions aligned with the person I want to be is about integrity, which has always been a quality I’ve striven to; it’s about truly walking your talk and living a life of authenticity. I think many people would see it as shallow or trivial to bring fashion into a conversation about the genuineness of identity, but I look at it differently.
I want to have such a deep respect for every aspect of my life, including the clothes I wear. I’m sort of done with that mentality that flippantly discards things because they’re cheap, and somehow, our consumerism has us living in a world where disposable is better. It really isn’t.
Clothes Tell Stories And Hold Memories
Ultimately, my clothing is a manifestation of who I am. It’s the image I present to the world as a representation of the internal me. That’s pretty dang important. My Oliver Charles sweater is imbued with the qualities I assign to it - respect for the planet, subtle sophistication, and humble excellence - all qualities I want to embody.
This insight, when acted upon, empowers me by supporting the knowledge that I have the ability to direct the flow of my own life.