You are what you wear: What your clothes say about you

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat”, but with our skin being the body’s largest organ and absorbing anything we put on it, and our buying decisions having potentially devastating social and environmental impacts, as well as the clothing we chose influencing both our behaviour and how we are perceived, this article explores why we are in fact what we wear…

Remember the saying: ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’? While we shouldn’t, rightly or wrongly, we do make snap judgements about people based on the clothes they wear. Take a moment to think about it: Would you feel comfortable in hospital with a doctor who wasn’t wearing a white coat? Or a bit taken aback if the mechanic who fixed your car wore a suit to work? For decades, this psychology has been the fuel for researchers all over the world, who explore not only the relationships between clothes and our perceptions of ourselves, but also how they can affect our performances in and out of work.  

From symbolism to the way in which they’re made, there’s mountains of evidence to suggest that the conscious decisions we make when choosing our clothes have way more effect on the unconscious than we initially thought. A study by Psychology Today found that both men and women, when shown photographs of men in bespoke suits and very similar high street equivalents, perceive the man in the made-to-measure suit ‘as more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner’. Photographs were shown for just three seconds and faces were blurred, meaning the participants made the snap judgements they did, simply based on the fit and quality of the suits. 

Sometimes dressing up can not only set you apart from your colleagues aesthetically, but can get you mentally ahead too. Northwestern University found that when a group of people were randomly assigned doctors jackets and identical painters jackets, those who wore the doctors jackets ‘acquired heightened attention’ when asked to spot the differences in a picture test. New York Times, 2012Researchers put it down to the connotations that come with the types of people who wear those items of clothing. Although stereotyping - it’s interesting to note how the symbolism of certain garments affects our brains. 

However you choose to dress for work or socially, dressing for the occasion and the people you spend or want to spend time with is important. Whenever Barack Obama addressed working class Americans, he would remove his suit jacket and roll up his sleeves. In business, building relationships is key, when it comes to our clothes, we have to understand the relationship our clothes have with those around us.

Much has been made of the psychological impact that our clothing has, but let’s assume you don’t care about what people think, what about your health and what you put in your body? If this is a consideration then you should be just as concerned with what you put on your body, as the same chemicals that are found in our food and are causing illnesses, are also in our clothes and therefore absorbed by our skin.

“Whether it is glysophate or formaldehyde, these are not the kind of things you should want your body absorbing on a daily basis and the only way to avoid these chemicals is to choose organic alternatives.”

If you are a businessman then in all likelihood you wear a cotton shirt 5 days a week. Although cotton is a natural material, the process of cultivating conventional cotton isn’t natural at all. Cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops in the world, accounting for huge amounts of pesticide and fertiliser use globally. Glysophate is one of the pesticides commonly used and was found to be a ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ according to the World Health Organisation. It has also been in the news recently, as a court ruled that its use caused a man’s cancer. Traditional ‘wrinkle-free’ or ‘non-iron’ shirts are even worst , as the chemically harvested cotton is then treated with a carcinogenic known as formaldehyde, which is also known for preserving dead bodies. Whether it is glysophate or formaldehyde, these are not the kind of things you should want your body absorbing on a daily basis and the only way to avoid these chemicals is to choose organic alternatives.

Dressing the part is not enough, choosing to shop ethically, with sustainability in mind is just as important, no more so than today. We should all want to make sure that our purchases are not contributing to the enslavement of low paid workers or the degradation of our planet, or detrimental to our health or those we come into contact with. Much like the psychology behind the doctors’ jacket, knowing the clothes you choose to purchase are of high quality, come from a supply chain that rejects these ideas, and won’t impact your health, sits much better on your shoulders than the weight of something that looks good but comes at the cost and suffering of people and/or planet. 

“Our consumption choices are now a big marker, defining the kinds of people we are and the kind of planet we want to live in and leave for our children and grandchildren.”

With the release of the UN’s IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC and the fact that the fashion industry is globally the second largest polluter after fossil fuels, our consumption choices are now a big marker, defining the kinds of people we are and the kind of planet we want to live in and leave for our children and grandchildren. Understandably, not everyone can afford a wardrobe full of bespoke suits, shirts or luxury ties. But being more conscious in your shopping decisions, taking accountability for where and how your clothes are made, and even gradually phasing out things such as conventional cotton shirts in favour of organic cotton is a great step forward. 

We choose to not use plastic in any of our products, using only natural materials including organic cotton and Tencel for our shirts, organic silk for our ties and organic corozo for our shirt buttons. Organic wool suits will be available from April 2019, our bags are made from recycled cotton and our hangers are made from wood. These choices are dictated by our commitment to keeping our environmental footprint to a minimum, and allowing our customers to wear our clothing without a dose of toxic chemicals, which can damage your health. We also choose to have our clothing made in Italian workshops that pay their workers fairly and provide clean and safe working environments.  

"There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it creates unhappiness" - Gandhi

Today, luxury is evolving from conspicuous to conscious consumption, without sacrificing on quality or style. Our view is that if you could buy a garment that looks and feels great, one you could be certain is ethically made without anyone in the supply chain suffering or damaging the planet, through the use of toxic chemicals, and without exposing yourself to them too, why would you not explore this option? This should be the norm, rather than a niche. We stand in the wake of the UN’s 12 year prediction and one of the largest impacts we can individually have on a day to day basis is actually through what we choose to fill our wardrobes with.