Cheap clothes might affect your anxiety more than you think

I bought a sweater at a local boutique recently, and I wear it almost every week because I like the way it makes me feel.

I invested in myself a little bit, and it feels indulgent, like carrying a leather bag.

This sweater is not what I would consider sophisticated business attire; it’s not a pantsuit or a power-jacket, but wearing it is strangely empowering.

I was talking to a friend about it the other day, and I started to wonder whether there is something deeper to this feeling of contentment and confidence that “investment pieces” bring us.

Studies have shown that the types of clothes we wear affect how we feel about ourselves, but does the quality of our clothing affect our emotions, too?

As women (and probably men) know, there’s this feeling you get sometimes that no matter what you do, you’re never enough. You’re never fashionable enough, never pretty enough, never successful enough, never enough, enough.

And when you shop at stores like Forever 21 or H&M, you get that feeling, too. There’s this overabundance of cheap, disposable stuff that’s never enough. All of it’s cute and fun. But the sweaters ball up after a few washes, and if you buy that funky jacket, you should probably buy those pants that go with it, and those shoes that match, and before long, it gets out of hand.

It’s trendy and affordable, but there never seems to be that one piece that you just keep coming back to. Instead, there’s always one more thing that you need to buy.

As I was talking to my friend, I was wondering if that feeling of never having enough contributes to the anxiety of never being enough. Maybe wearing cheap, disposable clothes is affecting our psychological wellbeing in deeper ways than we think.

Professor Karen J. Pine at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK studies what’s called “enclothed cognition,” and her research shows that clothes influence our thought processes and affect our moods.

She’s actually found that clothing primes our brains to think differently and take on some of our wardrobe’s characteristics. For instance, when kids wear superman t-shirts, they are more likely to feel confident and strong, or when test takers wear white lab coats like doctors, they’re more likely to perform better.

In her book, Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, Pine writes, “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.”

So when we wear cheap, disposable stuff, are we subconsciously telling ourselves that we are cheap and disposable? Do we buy clothes because we feel like we’re never enough, or do our feelings of inadequacy come from our clothing, too?

A pantsuit by any brand is still a pantsuit. But maybe the trendy clothes we’re buying to boost our confidence are actually contributing to our anxiety.

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