What is Fashion Psychology

Hello all,

I realised I launched this blog without first explaining what Fashion Psychology even is. So let me provide you with some brief information to help you contextualise my current and future posts.

What even is Fashion Psychology?

Currently there is not a single agreed upon definition of Fashion Psychology, the governing body that UK psychologists would typically turn to for an understanding of different areas of psychology is the British Psychological Society. However, the BPS does not currently have a definition of fashion psychology nor does it list the emerging field as a career option for budding psychologists. But, not to worry, there are many areas of psychology that aren’t officially listed by the BPS 1) because it tends to only list fields in which you can become a chartered psychologist; meaning a psychologist who can legally practice under said title, and 2) because each core field has a plethora of sub disciplines or investigative areas.

So, in order to provide you with a definition, or at least rough explantion, I turned to the interweb. When you Google, “What is fashion psychology?” you are provided with the following definition:

“Fashion Psychology is the integration and utilization of the science of psychology and the industry of fashion to create manageable therapeutic tools that ultimately assist in the development of desired results in both clients’ perceptions of self, their behaviors, and moods as well as targeted objectives within the business model.

Source: Careersinpsychology.org

Another explanation which I quite like was offered by Dr Aurora Paillard, course leader of the BSc Psychology of Fashion at the University of Arts London in an interview. Note, the University of Arts is the only establishment in the world to offer degree level courses in Fashion and Psychology, and was the first to do so.

When asked, Aurora describes the role of Fashion Psychologists as:

“Fashion Psychologists study the impact of fashion (clothing, cosmetics, accessories) on wellbeing but also on performance, they also assess consumer behaviour (brand loyalty, consumer decision making, stores atmospherics, etc.), and they work towards ‘Inclusive Fashion’ (a fashion designed for and about everyone).”

I like this definition because of how encompassing it is, and the inclusion of wellbeing, which for me is the crux and most important element of my work around Fashion Psychology, or rather Style Psychology as I prefer to call it.

For those interested in getting in to Fashion Psychology and new to the field of Psychology it is important to draw attention to the convoluted nature of Psychology.

After studying Fashion Psychology you may carry out phenomenal work and push the field forward in the way we need, but the title of chartered Psychologist is typically reserved for those meeting the BPSs criteria for chartered status. Typically, Psychologists are Doctors, meaning they have completed either a Phd or a professional Doctorate. Not all psychology professions require PhDs, like Forensic psychology, but even this requires a degree, a masters and completion of two years post qualification supervised practice.

Having a thousand letters after your name is not the be-all-and-end-all, but it is worth those of us within and linked to the field of Fashion Psychology considering the implications of the title and associated connotations. Like the title, medical Dr, it carries weight; It encourages others to trust in our words, opinions and advice. With such a title comes great responsibility, but not quite as much as Spiderman…

Perhaps, and hopefully as the profile of Fashion Psychology continues to increase, we will see more courses created, more chartered Psychologists showing an interest, more research in the area and perhaps one day Fashion Psychology will be listed by the BPS as a career option, amongst the greats.


Deliberate Dressing


If one is to consider the frivolity of clothes, then consider we live our livesin clothes” Keenan, 2001


Ajax Lee
Photo credit: Ajax Lee


Who remembers those little paper dolls with the tab clothes? They would come in a book and you would cut or pop them out and fold the little paper tabs over their shoulders and around their impossibly tiny waists to make sure your carefully crafted ensemble was befitting your dolls plans for the day and their mood. We used to take so much time and care, considering and choosing what the doll should wear that day; tennis skirt perhaps if she was feeling in a sporty mood, or glittery party dress if she was feeling a little showy and ostentatious that day, (those who are too young to remember paper dolls 1) I envy you 2) Google it 3) Insert Barbie/ Ken/ or Bratz equivalent.)

How many of us can say that we take as much time, care and consideration with our own dressing on a day-to-day basis, not just when we’re going “out, out”? Granted, as adults we don’t have as much free time as we had as kids for such frivolous things (no judgment if you still like to dress dolls) or to ponder life’s big questions e.g. If Sabrina can cast spells, why does she still do her own homework? But I want to think with you for a moment, and question, is taking time to consider what we put on our bodies to face the day ahead really frivolous?

How many of us have gotten dressed in the morning, pulling and dragging on the first moderately decent clean thing we find and running out of the door or have had the experience of being out somewhere and wearing an outfit or item, that didn’t quite fit, or you didn’t feel wholly comfortable in? How did you feel? Compare that to how you feel when you have worn something you are happy, comfortable, and feel good in.


Pile of clothes


Whether you think yourself a fashionista or not what differentiates us from other species (as well as having Netflix) is that we dress. It is something, unless you’re a nudist, that we can’t avoid. So why not positively engage with dress and take charge.

I say over and over again, how we feel affects what we wear, and what we wear affects how we feel. If we continuously wear things we’re not comfortable or confident in, it can impact on our mood, self-esteem and ultimately our well-being. When we dress carelessly, it sends out a message of lack of self-care to the world and more importantly promotes feelings of being uncared for within ourselves. How many times have you said or heard a person say, “I just don’t have time to dress like I used to” or “I have more important things to do/worry about”. But we are important, and few moments aren’t going to hurt or take away from anyone. In psychological terms wearing clothes, you are happy in can promote something called hedonic well-being or hedonic happiness, also known as the feel-good factor. It’s the same little buzz of happiness you get, if you’re anything like me, from eating a slice (or two) of your favourite cake or watching a good movie (Magic Mike 2 anyone).


By all means, this DOES NOT MEAN spending hours getting ready each day, unthinkingly following all the latest trends (I’m sorry, I just can’t get on board with this dad trainer trend) or maxing out your credit cards to buy a new wardrobe. But just take a few moments in the morning to consider yourself, check in with yourself, and ask, “what do I WANT to wear today?” Dress for your day. Dress deliberately.


Suggested reading

Hefferon, K. (2013). Positive psychology and the body: The somatopsychic side to flourishing. Maidenhead, United Kingdom: Open University Press.

Pre Fashion Week Thinking: Fashion and Psychoanalysis

With London Fashion Week (LFW) less than a fortnight away, we’re all excited to see what treats lay in store, presented to us in metaphorical bows of silk, chiffon and lace from our favourite design houses and high street brands.

Increasingly people are stopping to consider the psychology of fashion e.g. what it says of us. McQueen famously spoke of his work as a form of therapy, stating that it was a way to exorcise his demons; suggesting that fashion may not only speak of us, but to us and have psychological and therapeutic benefits. But what does psychoanalysis have to say about the different realms of fashion? Last year I attended the world’s first Fashion and Psychoanalysis conference at UAL, hosted by UAL’s London College of Fashion in collaboration with the Freud Museum London (my old stomping ground).

The conference was hosted over two days with talks from curators, researchers, scientists, artists, fashion designers and more (see end of article for full list of contributors).

But what did I learn from the conference that might help inform my thinking as we slide into fashion week? What lens, or lenses might the thinking shared provide, through which to view the fashion world?

Over my next few posts I will share my most thought provoking ummm…. thoughts from the Fashion and Psychoanalysis conference. Enjoy

Part 1)Fashion is a substitute for the woman’s penis Umm, what!?

Hold on, before you spit out your gin fizz, let’s think about this together a little bit. Valerie Steele dubbed the Freud of Fashion maintains that sexuality is central to the study of psychoanalysis and central to fashion. She proclaims that sexual symbolism can be seen all across fashion, and that more overt sexual symbols in the form of fetish themes have also crept in. While showing one Versace campaign picture, she described the “multiply endowed woman”, covered in hard, rigid, erect straps, donned in impossibly high heels.


In this way the woman becomes more powerful, with her many phallices..phalli? Phallics? Symbolic penises (because that’s where all power lies don’t you know). Steele who has researched the connection between fetishism and fashion also shared that high heels are ubiquitous with female fetishism, and although Freud spoke very little about clothing he believed that heels protected men against homosexuality by endowing women with a phallis (Freud, oh Freud oh Freud. This is definitely going too far for me, and in today’s day and age, is just offensive and outdated in times where most women prefer a good pair of Converse ((other brands available)) over a pair of heels and homosexuality is not something that needs protecting against. Anyway, let’s take a deep breath and continue).

Not only is much of fashion tied up with sexuality and fetishism (pun intended), but according to Steele’s research it seems to be sexuality from the benchmark of being a man e.g. endowing ourselves to be more powerful, or for the benefit of men e.g. as above (let’s not repeat it). The shaping impact of male gaze is something we’re aware of, but Steele’s example of the way fashion has shifted attention to different parts of the body over time, is a powerful one e.g. the bum enlarging bustle in the late 1800s, hip widening panniers in the mid 1700s, boob enhancing stays and dresses in the late 1700s and early 1800s, belly flashing crop tops in the 1990’s.

But with our increased knowledge of the impact of male gaze and internalised gaze [1] [2], having more female fashion designers than ever before and the increasing rise of feminism, what are we seeing in fashion now?

Only last month Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss stomped it out on the runway for Kim Jones’ last Louis Vuitton show, in wait for it…..FLATS! Also, just last October Miu Miu sent a plethora (yes plethora) of models down the runway in flats.


Picture credit: Vogue and Indigital.tv

Perhaps the lens therefore is one of change, of shedding of phalli, and of womanliness, for women. Let’s see shall we…


Fashion and Psychoanalysis conference contributors

Zowie Broach 
Introductory ThoughtsValerie Steele
Freud and Fashion

Claire Pajaczkowska 
In Fashion : Sexual Selection and the Fetish/ Understanding ‘Empathy by Design’

Anouchka Grose 
Ugliness+Time: Fashion and the Prisoners’ Dilemma

Shaun Cole 
The ‘Great Masculine Renunciation’ Re-assessed

Philip Mann
The Dandy : Pathological Hero of Modernism

Caroline Evans
Denise Poiret and the Material Mnemonics of Fashion

Bella Freud
in conversation with Amanda Harlech

Katerina Fotopoulou 
Body Imaging: Mentalising and Modifying our Bodily Appearance

Emilia Raczkowska
‘There Remains the Area of Clothes’ – Enclothed Cognition from the Lab to the Couch



The Importance of Sartorial Armour

Last Monday I had the privilege of speaking at The Dragon Café’s  Mental Fight Club, as part of their Festival of Freud. I’ll be honest, when I was first approached at the Fashion and Psychoanalysis conference last month, I did not see it as a privilege; a great opportunity yes, but I hadn’t considered what I might also learn from the experience.

The Dragon Café is a creative space in Southwark where issues around mental illness are explored through exhibitions and performances, seminars and workshops, and generally by coming together.  I was there to do an interactive talk on the link between clothes, personal style, and wellbeing.

My first question to the audience was, “what does personal style mean to you?” Calls of “Identity!”, “Individuality!”, “Comfort!”, “Tribe!”, and “Armour!” rang out.

My second question to the audience was, “Can you tell me of a time when you wore something that made you feel a certain way, or an item of clothing/outfit that evokes a particular memory?” I had expected replies telling stories of wedding dresses or outfits from childhood (I still remember my Teenage Ninja Turtles sweatshirt), but what I heard was less about the presence of outfits and choices, but the absence.

“When I was sectioned I was kept in the same outfit I came in, for 6 weeks” Just let that sink in. I was humbled into silence by the power of what had been shared. He went on to explain, “when I came into the ward I was in a bad way, obviously. But I felt because I was wearing the same clothes, that when they looked at me they saw the person I was when I arrived.” Clothing can be a reflection of mood, of seasons, of occasion, it speaks of temporality, and for this gentleman his state had been visually frozen in time. Although he felt his health had improved, he felt this could not be seen while he still wore the uniform of one of his lowest moments.

More tales came of being incarcerated and the clothes people found themselves reaching for upon their release, wanting to confer status, and relatedness to those they used to associate with. Tales of “greens”, referring to the green cotton trousers and tops inpatients are given to wear in mental health facilities and the loss of identity that follows as they become just one of the many “greens”.

I don’t think I need to over explain the power of these stories and what they highlight of the integral link between our personal style, sense of self and wellbeing. This is fashion psychology in everyday life.

Welcome to The Fashion Psychologist

Welcome to the Fashion Psychologist; your one stop shop for all things fashion psychology related. Here I will share easy to read, accessible summaries of academic research relating to fashion psychology from a range of publications; reviews of topical events; and share my views, from a psychological perspective on goings on in the world of fashion, beauty and media.

In the last few years fashion psychology has grown from a small burgeoning field to one that is becoming widely recognised. Fashion, retail and the media are paying more and more attention to the emotional, cognitive and generally psychological implications of the fashion world on individuals and society as a whole. Only last month Elle UK published an article entitled “9 women on how they use fashion to feel empowered: You don’t need a costume to be a real life wonder woman”. Perhaps unwittingly, what they were discussing here was the psychology of fashion; the link between what we wear and how we feel, behave, and even how we think.

In 2014 Professor Carolyn Mair launched the world’s first fashion psychology programme; including the psychology for fashion professionals MA, and the applied psychology in fashion MSc, both at the University of Arts London’s, London College of Fashion. Since then, the programme has seen three cohorts graduate and go off into a range of diverse and exciting roles such as fashion marketing, buying, styling and design; taking with them their newly acquired psychological knowledge. Dawnn Karen in the US has taken fashion psychology and founded the Fashion Psychology Institute, which offers on line training in fashion psychology to those with undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in psychology.

Fashion psychology is not a new field, and in fact was first coined in the late 19th century by American psychologist Henry James. It was also explored and discussed by Brit Thomas Carlyle, most poignantly in his seminal text , Sartor Resartus (1869).

Despite its longevity and newly found popularity, fashion psychology is yet to receive its own academic journal, meaning that fashion psychology students and enthusiasts alike must look to non-peer reviewed publications, pop-psychology articles and text books, which due to their nature, although still highly informative, become dated almost as soon as they are published. In any field of science, whether natural (biology, geology etc) or social (economics, psychology etc) current, up to date academic research is needed, to ensure the advancement of the field. Currently, research on clothing including colour, style, provocativeness, the impact of fashion images on self-esteem, and consumerism in fashion are published across a range of journals such as The Journal of Fashion and Marketing Management; The Journal of Social Psychology; Body Image; and The Journal of Problem Solving. Some of which require paid access.

Here, the fashion psychologist will bring ideas together, taking interesting articles relating to fashion psychology, from disparate sources and summarise and critically evaluate them; all in one place. Welcome to The Fashion Psychologist.