Mind and Body

The psychological reason why clothes can make or break you

What you wear gives subtle cues about your status — and others judge you accordingly.

Originally Published: 

Clothing and accessories are more than scraps of material. How we clothe ourselves influences how we feel — and how others feel about us. That’s particularly true when it comes to wealth and economic status. Turns out getting dressed influences real-world outcomes — some that can benefit you, and others that can harm.

Subtle economic-status cues are interwoven into clothes, according to a 2019 paper published in Nature Human Behavior. Across nine studies, people rated how “competent” they thought a person in a photograph looked. The photos featured faces shown with different upper-body clothing, which independent judges labeled as looking “richer” or “poorer.” The raters consistently judged the faces paired with “richer” clothing as seeming more competent than the faces paired with “poorer” clothes.