Can What You Wear Affect Your Mood?

By Ashley Camuso

There’s no doubt that clothing can make a statement; but, what if we told you it was powerful enough to mentally improve your day? You know the feeling you get when you wear that amazing new sweater or put on a cozy pair of soft sweatpants—turns out, there’s actual science behind that emotional response. 

Fashion psychology (yes, it’s a real thing!) is the study and treatment of how color, image, style, beauty, and shape affects human behavior while addressing cultural norms and cultural sensitivities. 

Oftentimes, we’re on autopilot…throwing on clothes without thinking of anything but perhaps the weather.  But, there is a deeper, underlying relationship with our clothing according to Dr. Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist whose clients range from international politicians to new parents. “Clothes are something we place on our bodies every day, but we aren’t cognizant of our own relationship with them,” Karen tells Nutritious Life. “How you look and how you are perceived is a very real thing. Just as sports psychology, military psychology, and forensic psychology exist, there is a true need for this.”

This crucial connection is something ingrained in us as children as we begin developing favorite colors; however, very few people recognize its power. “Personally, clothes have helped me deal with trauma and overcome my struggles.”  In her 2017 TEDx Talk, “Styling From the Inside Out,” Karen reveals how fashion helped to rebuild her self-esteem and career after surviving rape and battery. Now, she is trying to help her clients cope with pandemic-induced emotions. 

“Due to the quarantine, we aren’t entering new environments. People are no longer dressing for someone else…they’re wearing what makes them feel good,” says Karen. “As for me, I’ve been really honing in on the mood enhancement stress theory…dress to optimize my mood. Prints and silk make me feel good, so I’ve been wearing kimonos. I can wear them around the house for comfort, but also close in on camera, and they look classic and regal.”

The practice even applies to essential workers in uniform. “I have a client who is a physician and is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. She was suffering from depression, so I wrote her a simple, yet effective prescription to wear the color, yellow.  She was shocked when the small change improved her mood tremendously.”

Clothing can also help us break bad habits that have heightened amidst COVID-19, like shopping for comfort. “Retail therapy is about overconsumption, excessive spending, and maximalism. It doesn’t get to the root of why you’re shopping, and it’s just a temporary coverup for feelings,” says Karen. Fashion Psychology, on the other hand,  is about “getting to the root of why we wear what we wear”, and utilizing what we already have.

So, how can we make the most of our wardrobe selection to feel our best? Karen offers some of her science-backed, go-to tips to get us started. 



Colors are scientifically proven to boost mood because they denote different meanings:

  • To feel happy, wear brighter colors like yellow. 
  • To feel safe, wearing blue can develop a sense of trust. 
  • To feel sexy, wear red. 
  • To feel a sense of control, wear black. 


Fabrics can transform your attitude and approach to the everyday. 

  • Cotton and wool can help you develop a carefree and laissez-faire attitude.
  • Soothing fabrics that feel good against the skin, like smooth charmeuse silk, can serve as a mood enhancement. 


Prints and embellishments can catapult you out of a monotonous state. 

  • Embellishments such as sequins can help you feel a sense of enthusiasm. 
  • Animal prints such as zebra and leopard can help you feel zany and whimsical, which can take your mind off of the chaos and depression surrounding the pandemic. 


Not all clothing will look the same on every body type.  “I had a client who was upset when her Instagram-induced purchases didn’t look the same on her body as they did on the influencers she followed,” Karen explained. “She was stuck in a cycle of buying more and more to try to look like the influencers she idolized.”

  • Follow influencers that resemble your own body for fashion inspiration.
  • Find a look that reflects your own instead of making purchasing decisions based on others’ posts.

Intrigued about fashion psychology? Check out Karen’s new book, Dress Your Best Life.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

About Ashley Camuso
Camuso works in New York City and lives in the Hudson Valley, indulging in a healthy balance of city subway adventures and quaint country hikes.

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