I have always loved dressing up.
The thing is, I’ve never verbally expressed my interest in fashion until junior high. The blue ill-fitting uniform I wore to school every day didn’t help either. I was shy, reserved, and avoided attention at all costs. I only interacted with my small group of friends, but even to them, I wasn’t quite the talker. I just didn’t see the point of sharing about it when I had little opportunity to wear my own clothes at school. That may have been just an excuse, and it doesn’t make much sense to me now that I’m an adult.
Maybe the real reason could have been my insecurity and lack of confidence. I never noticed it at that time, but I always compared myself to my schoolmates, even though there was no particular reason to. I didn’t find myself ugly nor was I doing badly with academics. I just thought of myself as dull—someone who blends into the background. It’s true that we may be just a background character for most people, but thinking that about yourself—that’s what makes it awful.
At the beginning of senior high school, we weren’t provided with a school uniform yet, so we had to wear civilian clothes during the first month of classes. On the first day, I wore a loose white button-down shirt, straight jeans, and my favorite pair of black ankle boots. It took me over an hour to decide what to wear, since I wanted to make a good first impression. I was in the arts strand, so I wanted to make it apparent enough that I had a decent style, but at the same time, not be obnoxious about it. The boots screamed, “I’m an art student!” while the white shirt said, “I wore the first thing I saw in my closet.”
Judging from the friends I made and the compliments my boots got that day, I think I pulled it off quite well. Nevertheless, it exhausts me thinking I dressed for other people at that time. It opened my eyes to the level of insecurity I had. I cared too much about what other people thought of me since I was young.
Over time, I learned how to dress for myself because, as it turns out, no one actually cares but me. That was also the moment I discovered my clothes had magical powers. My black cardigan made me more at ease when talking to new people. My plaid dress pants convinced me to actually do homework at a cafe instead of just pretending to. My brown houndstooth blazer helped me pass exams I didn’t study enough for. The better I dressed for a test, the lesser I studied for it because I have attained the “at least I’ll look good while failing” mentality. But you know what? I never failed—because my clothes have tricked me into thinking I was confident and prepared.
Turns out, after reading all those articles and listening to TED Talks for the past three years, I found out that all those problems of mine are related to fashion psychology. The most basic principle of fashion psychology is that people associate symbolic meaning with clothes.
Uniforms were made in order to avoid distractions in school or the workplace, but what it also did to me is lose my desire to express myself—not entirely the uniform’s fault, though. The equation in my little eight-year-old brain probably went like this: insecurities + ugly blue jumper = bad school experience.
Now, I know exactly why I rarely wear blue.
There’s this thing called enclothed cognition. It tells us that the clothes we wear can directly affect our mood, personality, and even capabilities. Yes, capabilities, just like Iron Man and Spiderman. Enclothed cognition proves that there is such a thing as dressing up for yourself and that clothes really do have magical powers. I wear a blazer and, suddenly, I’m 5 percent smarter. I wear a baseball cap and, suddenly, I’m an athletic person even though I barely move a muscle. It doesn’t matter if your clothes are “trendy” or “stylish” as long as you associate them with the kind of attributes you’re trying to attain yourself.
I dress up so much that it actually almost feels like I’m not fake confident or fake capable anymore. I’ve internalized the effects my clothes have given me all this time. Now, I’m just a well-dressed person who’s comfortable with who she is.
Ciara Cordis, 22, is a communication arts student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She’s in her senior year as a writing major and is exploring different areas such as fiction and fashion journalism to hopefully pursue professionally in the future.
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