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Words of Wellness: ‘You Are What You Wear'

Often when people wake up in the morning, one of the first questions they ask themselves is, “What should I wear today?”

You may be guilty of it, too – male or female – standing in front of your closet for what seems like a lifetime, agonizing over which outfit will look the best, convey the right message or hide those extra pounds.

Jennifer Baumgartner, a psychologist, knows these feelings all too well.

As she worked toward her Ph.D., Baumgartner followed in her grandmother’s footsteps by working in retail and styling people’s wardrobes. She discovered what she was learning in psychology classes, was happening in dressing rooms.

“I have always been interested in fashion, style, and the way people dress,” Baumgartner said. “I felt clothing was wearable art and was fascinated that as wearers, we interact with the art and the artist (the designer). I was also intrigued by the internal process that influenced dressing behaviors (shopping, putting together an outfit, storing, wearing, not wearing, etc.”

While working on her dissertation, Baumgartner began writing ‘psychology of dress’ ideas in a book format. She eventually was offered her own blog, “The Psychology of Dress,” by Psychology Today – and this led to her most recent book, You Are What You Wear – What Your Clothes Reveal About You.

"Unfortunately, the feel-good chemicals released from shopping are temporary, so one must continue to shop to reap the benefits. This can lead to an addictive cycle, where shopping continues despite negative outcomes."
- Jennifer Baumgartner, psychologist

Q: Describe the connection between psychology and dressing for success.

A: Obviously, if you are well-dressed, you are going to feel better about yourself. We always hear that dressing a certain way makes us feel a certain way, but what we don't hear is that the way we dress is the way we feel. Yes, we can dress stylishly, and this will impact our feelings of our success, but I think it is more important to analyze the internal reasons we are not dressing successfully in the first place. If we can identify why we are not enhancing the self externally, we can make those internal changes, which leads to successful dressing. These reasons may include fears of failure, discomfort with standing out, lack of time/self-care, etc. When we can change these things, dressing successfully is, well, far more successful.

Q: Clothes and what you buy can also be a look into a person’s mind – case in point, “Tessa,” a well-dressed woman who had shopped her way into debt, who you describe in your book. Can you explain further?

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