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What Does Our Style Say About Us? The Psychology of Fashion Can Help

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.


Since I have arrived at college I have developed a little bit of a shopping addiction. Although my bank account is taking the brunt of my addiction, I don’t think it’s the right time for me to change my ways. In all honesty, the only thing that I think I need to change is my style. Most of us go to college in search of ourselves. In college, we change quite a bit. We make new friends, discover new interests and just grow up. My style in high school in no way matches who I have become today and that’s totally okay… maybe it’s even for the best. One of the easiest ways to change and grow into yourself is to change your style. As we mature, our style should as well. However, developing the right style to match the “new” you is the tricky part. Fashion psychology actually aims to explain why our style evolves and how it can match the new you. 

In high school, I vividly remember all of my fashion fails. From a blue chevron shift dress I constantly wore in ninth grade to exclusively wearing Free People my junior year, my fails were frequent and memorable. High school me and high school fashion were rough. Since I have arrived at Northwestern, though, I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone. I’ve thrifted pink pants, bought “Comme Des Garcons” converse, and even bought straight-leg jeans. Fashion psychology defines changes in style, like the ones I have undergone, as changes in identity. Our clothing shows the outside world a persona we have created for ourselves. Are you confident? Influential? Intelligent? Mature? If you know the answer to how you want to be perceived, then you should wear clothes that make you feel that way. 

We can develop this style through many different avenues. It is important to note that fashion psychology does not attempt to have you define your style to limit your evolution–rather, fashion psychology sets guidelines for what effect clothing can have. For instance, knowing if your style leans more towards formal, casual, edgy, professional, young or mature, can give you a better idea of what clothes you can choose to present yourself in that particular manner. 

Color also plays a key role in style evolution. In movie scenes, differences in lighting colors, set colors and clothing colors indicate character evolution. The same concept applies in fashion psychology, where brighter colors are perceived as youthful and carefree and more neutral colors are perceived as mature and serene. Oftentimes, thinking of a color pallet for your closet can make the effect you want your style to have more pronounced. 

In the field of fashion psychology, researchers analyze the impacts our personal style can have on our daily lives. Dawnn Karen is one of the youngest professors at the New York Fashion Institute and the only fashion psychologist in the United States. Her research delves into what people can express through their clothing. Karen actually holds “fashion therapy” sessions to help clients develop their own style based on the way they want to present themselves. She delves into why we choose to appear the way we do and how or if we should change our style. Karen also explains the impacts our style can have on our confidence, professionalism, friendships and overall happiness. Fashion is important to who we are. 

Harry Styles went from boy band skinny jeans to really high-waisted pants. Taylor Swift went from cowboy boots to knee-high boots. I went from terrible chevron dresses to hopefully cute slip dresses. The point is, we all change, and our style changes with us. Looking back on my old clothing is embarrassing, but it is a nice reminder of the person I was at that time. Our style is an important reflection of who we are and, more importantly, who we want to become. Style is important because it is a portrayal of ourselves that everyone gets to see. As we grow into ourselves throughout the course of our lives, I think it’s fun and refreshing that our style gets to grow up with us. After all, a shopping addiction never really hurt anyone!

Sam is a communications studies and sociology double major at Northwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors playing tennis, baking anything with dark chocolate in it, or just spending time with friends and family. She is obsessed with reading anything by Kurt Vonnegut, watching period pieces, and constantly scrolling Twitter.
Jenna Spray

Northwestern '23

Jenna is a journalism and legal studies double major at Northwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys binge eating dark chocolate and studying Italian in hopes that she can one day become an honorary Italian citizen. As a washed-up high school athlete, fitness is one of Jenna's passions, and her goal is to encourage more young women to get in the weight room. You can find her curled up in her bed watching Gossip Girl or using the squat rack at your local gym.