Playing dress-up

Okay, so Willowtree is going to change your life, right now, right here- Oprah style. Do you know why you failed that Eco’s test? It’s not because you slept through all your lectures or because you spent the night before scraping your inebriated self out of some club oh no, it’s because you were wearing the wrong thing darling.

According to a study done by brainiacs Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam; our self-perceptions, thought patterns and actions can change depending on what we’re wearing. So if you wear a white coat supposedly belonging to a doctor, your attention spans improves, whereas donning a hobo’s shirt might have the opposite effect.

Scientists have based the theory on ‘enclothed cognition’ (the belief that clothes we wear affect our thought processes). This stems from ‘embodied cognition’ (the theory that aspects of cognition such as concepts, categories, reasoning and judgment are influenced by aspects of our bodies like the motor and perceptual system, as well as interaction with the environment. This also extends to ontological assumptions about the world which are built into our bodies and brains.)

So what do we get from this jargon? In short: we think with our bodies as well as our minds. What we wear does more than affect those around us; it influences our thoughts and behaviour, and can even affect our basic abilities and make us adopt different attitudes.

We all know that people assume things about us before we’ve even opened our mouths based on what we’re wearing, but what about clothing’s effect on our deeper selves? Joshua I. Davis, assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College muses that “when we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role and…that might affect our basic abilities.” I remember feeling completely adorable and “late for an important date” when I wore a bunny suit to a school dress up day (no I wasn’t  five), and whenever I put on my leather cowboy boots something about their clippy-cloppyness makes me feel very Nancy Sinatra-ish…start walking!

The results of the study’s experiments are quite telling. First off, 58 students were randomly given either street clothes or a white lab coat to wear. They were then tested on their ability to recognize incongruities, (like when the word “red” appears in a different colour). Lo and behold, the students in lab coats made about half as many errors as those in normal clothes.

Next, 74 students were randomly given 3 options: to wear a doctor’s coat, a painter’s coat or simply look at a doctor’s coat. They were then tested for sustained attention by pointing out the differences of two similar looking pictures.

Lastly, students were asked to wear a painter’s or a doctor’s coat or just to look at a doctor’s coat for a while. The three groups then wrote essays about their thoughts on the coats and were tested for sustained attention. Again, those wearing the doctor’s coats were able to hold attention for longer than the others.

This proves that clothes do influence our cognitive abilities: it’s not good enough to look at them merely; we have to put them on. I don’t know if I would’ve done any better at Biology had I worn a lab coat to the exams but this definitely explains why, as a child in my Gran’s trench coat, I felt without a doubt that I was Sherlock Holmes and that despite podgy thighs and a missing front tooth; in a rather torn handmade ballerina skirt, I was Cinderella.

Perhaps then, in a way, we’re all actors. Maybe I’m not quite Olivia Newton-John when I put on my gym leggings but I sure feel ready to get physical. I know that when I’m in my pink velvet pajamas and fluffy slippers my identity becomes scarily close to that of a Wookie from Star Wars. But when I’m in my power jacket with the shoulder pads, I AM Anna Winters. Get me a decaf-skinny-mocha-choca-chino-latte and an aspirin pronto!

But getting away from the dress-up games, it may be so that clothes have hidden powers. Perhaps investing in a pair of chinos would be a good idea for an intimidating meeting or a job interview, or help you listen to your dentist the next time he starts droning on about flossing and fluoride and everything that starts with F instead of fun. Maybe some Asian print will finally give me the motivation to plan an exotic trip to Thailand. The world could be your oyster if you wore it on a pendant.

Multiple disaster personality disorder by Graham Dukas

I have a personality suited to disasters.

My heavy woollen fireman’s coat

can be quickly donned

in the event of a neighbourhood fire,

when I will leap into action,

bursting through flaming buildings

in search of glowing, grateful women

and their pet dogs and goldfish.

(Cats are difficult to control in a fire.)


My army uniform, replete with medals

of honour and award, stands at the ready,

(it is heavily starched), to be jumped into

should we be invaded by

the Chinese or the Americans,

when I will charge into battle

to defend our fledgling democracy

and its rainbow-tinted people

against the invading capitalist hordes.


My crisply ironed nurse’s uniform,

with matching scarf and beret,

waits patiently for an airline disaster

or a multiple train collision,

when I will hop deftly into

my pleated skirt and regulation tights

and with latex gloves for protection,

will gaily take up my position

to seek out the pulses of the living.