Enclothed Cognition: A Thinking Man's 'Look Good, Feel Good'

Enclothed Cognition: A Thinking Man's 'Look Good, Feel Good'


We know. “Enclothed cognition” sounds like a freshman-year philosophy class, or a death metal band from when you were a teenager. But we promise it’s actually pretty interesting and useful for when you’re putting together an outfit.

So, hear us out—we’re not going to give you a psychology class, but we are going to dip our toe into the pool of clothing and perception. It’s not quite comparable to Patrick Bateman’s attention to aesthetics, but more so like how Don Draper’s subtle fashion choices add to his smooth charm.

Here’s everything you need to know about enclothed cognition, (including what exactly it is and how it got into your closet).

What is Enclothed Cognition?

Put very simply, enclothed cognition is how the way you dress impacts how you feel psychologically. It’s your mental and emotional state as a direct result of the clothes you’ve put on.

You know when you’ve bought something new and you’re kind of excited to wear it? And when you are wearing it, you’re convinced that everyone knows that it’s new and is quietly in awe? That’s enclothed cognition.

But more than a feeling, enclothed cognition can also change how you behave. You may find yourself sitting a little more upright in that sweater that everyone says suits you. You may be more likely to approach strangers at a bar when you have those tailored pants on. When we believe that we look good, we act with more confidence.

Happy with your outfit choice for today? How many times have you mentally played James Brown’s “I Feel Good” when you walk around?

H3: The Lab Coat Experiment

Enclothed cognition wasn’t a fancy term made up by fashionistas. Researchers Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky defined the concept after conducting an experiment in 2012. Subjects wore either a white lab coat or casual clothes and went through a series of rounds to test their attentiveness. In each round, people wearing lab coats were significantly more alert. The conclusion then, is that because lab coats are seen as a symbol of intelligence and focus, the people wearing them embodied those qualities. Cool, huh?

We do the same thing with other items of clothing.

For example, when someone is wearing a uniform, they tend to conduct themselves according to what that uniform represents. In a more casual setting, how we dress becomes part of our social status—if you’re wearing something expensive, you feel proud of your value. If you’re wearing a statement print, you feel like you’ve distinguished yourself from the crowd. Even if you’re in sweatpants, you feel comfortable and at ease. It’s all connected.

Look Good, Feel Good

Obviously, we’re not hitting the gym and heading out for dinner in white lab coats every day—only from time to time—but enclothed cognition is still at play.

In fact, fashion psychologist, Dr. Dawnn Karen, says that there are three types of enclothed cognition: mood illustration dress, mood enhancement dress, and repetitious wardrobe complex. The first refers to dressing in a way that continues your mood, the second is dressing to enhance your mood, and the third is dressing in the same outfit to increase your productivity.

Each type of enclothed cognition can have a positive impact on how you feel in general, so long as you trust that you look good.

Killer Wardrobe = Killer Confidence

Now you know the science, so let’s put it into practice. These are a few scenarios where your enclothed cognition can come to life.

In the Office

Most offices have a business casual dress code these days (especially if you’re working from home) which opens a whole bunch of opportunities to appear well-groomed while still being relaxed.

Try a fitted, open-collar shirt tucked into casual trousers—not jeans—and a statement accessory like sunglasses or a watch. Take care to select colors that compliment your skin tone or hair or eye color, and remember that a pair of clean, white sneakers can always round out an outfit.

Date Night

If there’s ever a moment to have your clothes mirror how you feel, it’s date night. Not only will your significant other get a visual treat (hey, boo), but they’ll also surely notice your extra attitude boost. We’re not saying that you need to prepare a full tux—nor a Borat-style thong mankini for that matter—instead, opt for a plain t-shirt with an open button shirt over it, well-fitting jeans or trousers, and a bomber jacket to top things off. A nice coat or blazer can also do the trick, just keep the colors blocked, and only wear one patterned item.

Night Out with the Guys

Your buddies deserve to witness your enclothed cognition just as much as your partner, right? Whether you’re on wingman duty at the bar or heading to your friend’s apartment to watch the game, impress the boys with your style and stance. Try a loose, striped shirt, untucked over dark-colored jeans, slightly rolled up with a pair of clean socks showing. Add sneakers and voila, you’re at peak cognition.

For more “look good, feel good” tips, check out our lookbook, designed with style and synergy in mind.