The Business of Fashion: Releasing Your Inner Miranda Priestly

When the phrase “women’s empowerment” is mentioned, there are a lot of likely ideas that pop into people’s minds: feminism, confidence, and bodily autonomy are just a few of them. However, for some reason, anything concerning appearance is usually brushed off as being trivial, non-feminist, or not concerning to empowerment.

But, as a feminist, strong advocate for women’s empowerment, and soon-to-be businesswoman, I can say that this assumption that fashion and empowerment are somehow not correlated is absolutely false.

From the time that I was very young, I have felt a deep connection between my clothes, my personal identity, and my confidence at a given time. I begged my mom to let me start dressing myself very young, I would take pictures of my outfits to try not to repeat them, and I would never pick out my outfits the night before, it was always a ritual to see what new ideas I could come up with during my morning routine. It wasn’t that the clothes were ever “fancy” or showcased an expensive brand, actually quite the opposite. The majority of my clothing items consisted of hand-me-downs, clearance rack finds, and anything I could find at a thrift store and customize to make my own. This relationship I had with clothes led me to a mentality that I still go by today: when you feel your worst, dress your best. Of all the years that I have quietly said that to myself, it has never once failed me.

When I was about to go to college, a lot of adults would tell me that my style would change once I got there. They would preach to me about sweatpants and baggy t-shirts (which thanks to the athleisure trend can actually be fashionable now) and how I would never have time or motivation to think about my clothes. I found it deeply troubling that people would say this, not just to me, but to anyone whom they saw had a big interest in clothing/fashion for a long time. Once again, people brushed these things off as being trivial, so they assumed that it was okay to say this because no one really cares about clothes that much. This is exactly what led me to the field of fashion psychology.

Within this field of study, the psychological connections between clothing and things such as mood, productivity, and confidence of the individual are established. Essentially it goes to say that “you are what you wear,” or in more scientific terms, you are experiencing enclothed cognition. Those who have “dressed for success” as some people say are more likely to be more productive, comfortable, and confident in work and their daily lives. But this research goes even further to encompass what clothing choices make others perceive about the individual, how elements of clothing convey different things, how the youth’s fashion trends can show the shifting ideas of generations, and how people make sense of the world based on clothing.

From a business sense, these ideas of fashion psychology are even more relevant. They form the base of all activities in the multi-billion-dollar fashion industry, to which everyone (minus nudists) is somehow a part of. On a more personal level, you can positively affect others’ perceptions of you by utilizing your own personal style in smart ways to help you stand out at interviews before you even say your name, make a name or brand for yourself at conferences, or just alter your own outlook making you a more positive force in the workplace.

With all of this information in mind, it’s easy to understand that rather than fashion being something trivial to women’s success, outward appearance can actually be one of the most liberating things about being a woman. It’s not a matter of vanity, but a means of self-expression, a combination of business and emotion, a say in what others think of you, and a link between feeling alright and feeling great. A lot of women over the years have honed in on just how important and influential the fashion industry is within the schools of business and psychological thought. But, because fashion is predominantly considered a more “feminine” field, its immense financial, emotional, and societal benefits have often been overlooked or downplayed. Thankfully, in recent years, women in the business of fashion have been getting more and more attention by the general public. Last year, the Netflix show “Girlboss” told the story of Nasty Gal founder and one of the richest self-made women (and actually self-made, Kylie) according to Forbes, Sophia Amoruso, who started a multi-million-dollar company from her apartment.

And of course, the movie The Devil Wears Prada brought to life a highly fictionalized version of the inner workings of a fashion magazine, shining light on the important parts of the fashion industry that people often miss. As one of my favorite female characters, Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep, has a famous monologue where she perfectly states how the fashion industry affects everyone’s life.

You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don’t know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you’re trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back…However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of ‘stuff.

Even if you’re still not convinced that these ideas apply to you, and find that clothes are something of an afterthought in your day, I would challenge you to use your personal style to your own benefit the next chance that you get. After all, everyone has to wear clothes every day, so why not wear ones that you actually like?


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