The Psychology of Fashion: New Book

Over the past six years, Prof Carolyn Mair PhD, has brought attention to a previously neglected area of Psychology: Psychology for Fashion. 

Prof Mair’s new book, The Psychology of Fashion, was published last week as part of Routledge’s Psychology of Everything series. The book is designed to engage a general audience by exploring the reciprocal relationships and influences between fashion and human behaviour.

Fashion is an important global economy which employs millions. Fashion touches everyone; we all wear clothes. As a result, the fashion industry affects us psychologically at individual, societal and global levels. In the book, Mair discusses the many purposes of clothing beyond functionality and shelter including conveying symbolic meaning, meeting the demands of individual taste, modesty and cultural expectations and displaying social status and gender preference. Furthermore, at a broader level, the behaviour of the fashion industry impacts the environment and influences the mental health and psychological wellbeing of its employees and its consumers. The Psychology of Fashion discusses the impact of the industry on fashion designers and fashion models as well as consumers. It engages in debate about fashion, self and identity, body satisfaction, fashion consumption, and using fashion as a vehicle for positive change. 

Humans are social animals, and we are motivated to belong to social groups as these enhance our sense of self and identity. We can portray group membership through our clothing. Our affiliations and feedback from others influence our self-concept and self-esteem. Yet, judgement based on appearance alone is fast and often flawed. Fashion does little to stop us engaging in fat talk, self-hate and photo-editing; all of which increase dissatisfaction with appearance. A lack of diversity within the industry marginalises many minorities. Although we are witnessing a slight improvement in terms of diversity in fashion imagery, pressure to achieve the ‘ideal’ appearance is increasingly being felt by all genders across the age span. Outcomes manifest in unhealthy eating behaviour, risky lifestyles, and increases in demand for cosmetic interventions.

Psychologists researching reasons behind our shopping behaviour have found that we shop for many different reasons including the desire to satisfy a need as well as simply for pleasure. However, psychologists working in fashion aim to educate and empower consumers to make more informed and considered purchasing decisions in line with Dame Vivienne Westwood, who encourages us to Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody's buying far too many clothes. Clothing can empower us and enhance our thinking in ways we may not have considered. The intention of the Psychology of Fashion, as a discipline, is to go beyond understanding what our clothes say about us, and to understand human behaviour across the fashion industries. The overarching aim is to make a positive difference to the lives of fashion workers, fashion consumers and the environment in which we all live and work.

The Psychology of Fashion is available from Routledge here.

Carolyn Mair is a Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Prior to establishing her consultancy, she was Professor of Psychology for Fashion at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, where she created and led the world's first Masters programmes to apply psychology within the broad context of the fashion industry. Carolyn works with the fashion industry and fashion educators and is frequently featured in press and other media.


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