There has always been a part of me that loves dressing up. I’ll take a shirt, tie, and blazer any day over a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. There’s just something about tightening a crisp knot in my tie, looking in the mirror, and feeling good. And thanks to scientific research, there’s a term for the feeling: enclothed cognition.
Enclothed cognition is a fancy, scientific way of saying, “you look good, you feel good.” Recent research shows that putting on some nice clothing, walking outside with a fresh haircut, and heck, even trimming your beard, can positively affect your mindset. For Dudefluencer, that’s an essential pillar of men’s self-care.
Whether we realize it or not, the clothes we wear, how we take care of the way we look affects how we feel about ourselves. It can make all of the difference in building confidence towards becoming the best version of ourselves. Thinking about the pillars of positive masculinity, the research behind enclothed cognition proves that to be our best, we need to look our best.
What is enclothed cognition?
My favorite day as a teacher was “Mock Interview Day,” the one day out of the entire school year when we asked our students to dress in their nicest clothes for a series of mock interviews with local businesses. We’d prep our students with practice questions, have them develop their first resumes, and guide them through the process of wearing business casual clothing.
For many of the boys in our school, this would be the only time they wore a shirt and tie before graduation. It was a big deal to them, and it was my favorite day because most students felt empowered by their clothing. Nervous teenagers would come to my room in the morning and ask for help tying their tie. I loved watching their shoulders raise as we twisted one end of the tie over the other until a perfect Windsor knot completed the outfit. Almost immediately, you’d see the student’s head held higher, their face more relaxed, their confidence built up.
I’m sure most readers have felt the same feeling and heard the phrase, “Look Good, Feel Good.” Those emotions, that confidence, all come from a term called “enclothed cognition.” The phrase enclothed cognition comes from the research of Hajo Adam, and Adam Galinsky, who studied the “systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.” They believed that two factors contributed to enclothed cognition: the symbolic meaning of clothing and the physical experience of wearing them.
An easy example of thinking about is wearing a suit to work versus sweatpants to go to sleep. As soon as you put on those cozy clothes, you know it’s time to relax. Subconsciously, we’ve been thinking about enclothed cognition the entire time. Galinsky further says, “It has long been known that clothing affects how other people perceive us, as well as how we think about ourselves,” so it’s no wonder that their research backs up their hypothesis. “Consequently, when a piece of clothing is worn, it exerts an influence on the wearer’s
psychological processes by activating associated abstract concepts through its symbolic meaning – similar to how a physical experience, which is, by definition, already embodied, exerts its influence.”
The way Adam and Galinski conducted their experiment was through three different trials. The first tested student’s attentiveness during a test while wearing versus not wearing a lab coat. The results showed that the students who wore the lab coat had fewer mistakes than those who didn’t. They followed up with a second study using that information, diversifying with wearing a lab coat, wearing a painter’s coat, and seeing a doctor’s coat. Once again, those wearing the lab coat did best. They separated three groups into wearing a doctor’s coat, wearing a painter’s coat, and identifying a doctor’s coat to finalize their theory. Once again, those who wore the doctor’s coat performed best.
After studying the results of their experiment in which they examined the effects of someone wearing a lab coat, Galinski and Adam concluded, “there seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing, and this experience constitutes a critical component of enclothed cognition.” The lab coats by themselves didn’t get attention, nor did the doctors. Still, when put together, there was an increase in attention and confidence.
I imagine for those students, seeing a tie didn’t mean as much until they saw themselves in the mirror wearing it. The same goes for me when I put on formal clothing for interviews or Zoom meetings. A hung-up dress shirt is still just a hung-up dress shirt, but there’s something special about how they make me feel when I put them on.
Before going any further, I want to give a quick shout-out to Andrew Perkett and the Dudes at Inherent Foundation. I’ve believed in the concepts behind enclothed cognition for a while. Still, it wasn’t until I chatted with Perkett that I was introduced to the phrasing and research behind it. If you get a chance, definitely check out the good work everyone at Inherent Foundation is doing for dudes across the country.
How does enclothed cognition affect our life?
Following up on Adam and Galinski’s study, a group of researchers went deeper to figure out whether formal clothing enhances abstract cognitive processing. After studying how formal attires affect people’s thought processes, the researchers came to a similar conclusion about enclothed cognition: “wearing clothing that’s more formal than usual makes people think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly and about fine-grained details.” So how does this work?
I’m reminded of the reception from my wedding. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to explain to my wife was why I was so excited to get a pleather Stone Cold Steve Austin vest for 90% off. Rachel asked me when would I ever wear that vest, and since it arrived, I’ve been bound and determined to find reasons to throw it on.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Stone Cold Steve Austin, he was a beer-swilling, tough-as-nails professional wrestler who preferred kicking ass over anything else. His feud with World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon was a workplace fantasy for many: beating the crap out of your terrible boss.
Anyways, at my wedding, one of my groomsmen urged me to bring the vest, and of course, it was busted out at the reception. While I didn’t think much of it the day of (because, you know, weddings are long and busy), watching our wedding video and looking through our album showed just how many of our guests put it on before hopping on the dancefloor. And every single one of them looked like they transformed into someone else: a confident bad ass. This change in demeanor wasn’t an accident. According to the research, it was because of the symbolism of what the vest represented and how it made them feel.
What happens is our brains symbolize certain items and meanings: red means stop because of traffic lights or stop signs. Brand logos like Nike symbolize sports and excellence. So it’s no wonder that the clothing we see and wear symbolizes something too. Hajo Adam tells The Atlantic, “I think it would make sense that when you wear athletic clothing, you become more active and more likely to go to the gym and work out.”
When you try on a pair of jeans and they just fit right, you know you’re going to be more confident the next time you’re out with friends or on a date with your partner. And enclothed cognition doesn’t just affect what you’re wearing, but also your grooming habits as well. A nice haircut, a clean shave, and even the type of body wash you use all can make you feel better.
So it doesn’t matter if you’re putting on a new suit, wearing a leather vest, or just adding some new products for your grooming routine. Science tells us that if you look good, you feel good; that’s an essential part of personal self-care.
Enclothed cognition and positive masculinity
Positive masculinity is when men use their physical and emotional strength to champion healthy behaviors and communities. Positive masculinity is the antithesis of toxic masculinity. Breaking the concept of positive masculinity down further, there are two subsections: self-care and community. Whereas community focuses on the people around you, self-care focuses on your mental health through mind exercises, physical movement, and enclothed cognition.
Healthy behaviors championed by enclothed cognition involve personal grooming and dressing well. There’s a difference between fashionable and trendy, which is something our men’s fashion guide gets more in-depth. Those healthy behaviors then translate into building self-esteem and confidence, two crucial elements towards a happier life.
I tie enclothed cognition and positive masculinity together because a majority of men struggle to believe in that concept. Thus they ignore the positive, healthy effects of looking good and feeling good. According to a study conducted by Tommy John, nearly half of the United States population doesn’t believe that their clothes affect their performance at work, with 22% of men believing in enclothed cognition. The results show that women recognize the connection between clothing and the mind more than men.
Championing healthy grooming behaviors is too often gendered, causing resistance in some men. A personal example came from a recent team meeting I had with some of my guy friends. We started talking about pedicures, and one of them immediately hesitated before telling us, “I don’t know how uncomfortable I’d feel telling other dudes I had a pedicure.” I stopped for a moment, thought about it, and then asked who had received a pedicure in the room. Everyone’s hand went up, including the guy who felt uncomfortable. To him, even though he loved his pedicure, he saw getting one as something that would take away his “man card.”
As a new generation of men has become more emotionally available and more open about their grooming habits, it’s time to start championing these behaviors as a form of self-care. Dress well. Smell good. Feel great. Enclothed cognition requires men to push back on decades of gender norms so they can take more pride in what they wear and receive the psychological benefits of it.
For me, I’ve started a new morning routine with skincare products and have focused more on which body soaps, and I’ve noticed a shift already. I feel more confident walking around the house, walking my dog, and even in the bedroom with my wife. Enclothed cognition allows me to focus on the positives such as a successful day of writing, or completing my run for the day, which has been a radical shift in mindset. Because of that self-esteem boost, I’ve become more willing to physically move my body (putting on exercise shorts helps), more able to do mindful work, and build up my friendships. There’s nothing better than knowing you look good, feel good, and are ready to take on the world.
So if we pride ourselves on positive masculinity and champion healthy behaviors, then the ideals behind enclothed cognition need to be at the forefront of our mind because something as simple as taking a shower can be enough to push you towards a happier, healthier life.
Where do I start?
The idea around fashion trends can be daunting, to say the least. Heck, in high school, fads went from Jnco Jeans, and backward red Yankee caps to Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirts within one single summer. As adults with jobs and a family, we ain’t got time for that. But after reaching out to numerous experts, I came to understand the truth: real fashion is timeless. So if you’re sitting down, struggling to figure out how to best invoke enclothed cognition into your life, then check out the two most important tips I can provide you.
Clothes that fit
This sounds obvious, but there’s a large number of dudes who don’t realize that the fit of your clothing is the most important aspect of your look. Before you go out and start buying new clothes, take a look at the clothes you already own. Do you have a suit that could be tailored? What about your jeans? Find a dry-cleaner or tailor nearby and see how you can reuse some of those items that might have been hidden in your closet.
Prioritize some of the fashion essentials when looking through your old clothing: suits, blue jeans, t-shirts. Avoid anything with too much happening on the front (i.e., graphic tees), and focus on some of your more timeless items.
Once you put on a shirt or a pair of pants that fit just right, then you’ll be more likely to experience the positive benefits of enclothed cognition. The same would go if you wore clothing that made you feel unattractive; you’d find yourself losing confidence.
Ignore fashion trends, and instead focus on the classics and making sure they fit you well. Quickly you’ll begin to experience enclothed cognition and move towards positive masculinity.
Proper Grooming Habits
Maintaining proper grooming habits is something you should already have experience with taking a shower, brushing your teeth, and trimming your nails. All of those are a part of a proper grooming routine, so if you’ve got those on lock, then that’s a great start. Those alone can provide some of the benefits of enclothed cognition. But to truly get all of them to look good, feel good juice, it’s time to take personal grooming up to another level.
First suggestion: find a skincare routine that works for you. There are more than a few men’s skincare lines on the market nowadays, which is great, so do your best to find one that heals and strengthens your skin. As someone who had acne as a teenager, my self-confidence was shot because of new zits popping up every few days. Now, there are skin care lines that have been designed with men’s needs in mind. And don’t forget, there are products for men that cover-up pimples as well.
Next, step up your shower game. I’m talking new shampoo, good smelling body wash. Have you ever had someone walk up and tell you how good you smell? And did it make your self-confidence boom? Absolutely.
Personal grooming doesn’t require a radical shift in your lifestyle, instead just a couple of small additions to your daily routine. By doing so, you build up confidence and self-esteem. That’s the power of enclothed cognition.
How have you experienced enclothed cognition? Any experiences with certain clothes affecting your mindset? Let me know in the comments below.