Working from home is no easy task. A number of WFH professionals believe changing into formal clothes is a crucial step in their morning routine. It helps get them into a productive mindset. According to research, our clothes affect not just how people see us, but also how we see ourselves.
“The body has always used cues for survival and smooth functioning. When the sun sets, the body uses melatonin to facilitate a transition to sleep and promote rest. Similarly, we use dress cues to prepare for the day,” explains Dr Sonal Anand, Psychiatrist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai.
She says some years ago, researchers at the North-Western University, USA, came up with the concept of ‘Enclothed Cognition’. This is now used in many self-help initiatives and by the fashion industry, as what we choose to wear can be a strong nonverbal symbol of our personalities.
According to Dr Sonal, when we change into formal clothes, the brain associates it with performance and gears up. “We usually learn such behaviours by watching parents, situations around us, and even from the television. When parents declare that it’s time to wash up and change for dinner, the child’s brain knows that it’s time to unwind and prepare for sleep. The body associates certain clothing with certain times and functions,” says the psychiatrist.
“This has become all the more important during the pandemic, as most of us have lost routines. The current situation has had a deep impact on our emotional and psychological state, causing conflicts in small routine things. A good way to adapt to the situation is by helping the body and brain prepare in advance for better outcomes,” she says, and suggests that we prepare the brain for activity by dressing up as we would normally for work even while working from home, and then get into relaxed wear after work to prepare the body for rest and sleep.
Mahika Yadav, founder of SITCH a multi-designer fashion house, totally agrees that dressing up well not only makes you look good but boosts confidence too.
“When lockdown was announced, one of the things that kept me going was dressing up every day and sitting down to work, be it attending meetings online or sending emails or talking to my team. Dressing up and being prepared has helped me achieve my goals and have a structure in place even while working from home. It kept me going and feeling better mentally,” shares Mahika.
The right clothes help ease anxiety, lift depression, improve focus, foster ambition, slow anger and achieve calm, feels Deeptha Raghunath, Founder, Aiykya, clothing brand. “We as designers hope to use this framework when designing and putting together collections, and knowing the psychological profile of our clients will help them and us too,” she notes.
Dressing in a way that will make you feel confident of being able to get past this situation is one method to overcome the current hardships, she feels. “The days we are down and out are the days we should choose to dress up, use makeup and accessorise; on the days when we are morose, a bright solid shift dress would be ideal,” she says, adding, freelancers and most working professionals in the current WFH situation know that wearing pyjamas or sweats all day doesn’t foster a focused mindset or foster drive and motivation.
According to psychologist Anuja Kapur, enclothed cognition impacts how we reason. The theory supports the idea that the clothes we wear (or that others are wearing) changes our thought patterns. “Society takes only a split second to judge you based on your attire. On the basis of the uniform worn, you can decide where a person stands in society, what the individual can afford and what profession he/she belongs to,” she says. Clothing also affects the wearers’ actions, she notes. “Wearing formals gives the businessman a psychological boost. In the same way, the colours of our clothes affect cognition, as different colours send out different messages – yellow flashes happiness and optimism whereas green signals healing and hope,” Anuja explains. She stresses that it is vital to understand how our outfits meld with our actions and thoughts and how others will perceive our ideas and actions based on our clothes.
Ruchi and Reena Kakralia, Founder and Designer, Baise Gaba, clothing brand, say, “Before the pandemic outbreak, workplace attire underwent a change. Semi-formals and even casual business wear were being adopted. During the pandemic a new ‘partly formal’ trend has become popular, with people opting to pair a part of formal wear with pyjamas, they note. And during festivals, people went the whole way, complete with hair-dos and accessories. “At Baise Gaba, we saw an increase in the demand for comfortable yet stylish ethnic wear for different occasions in 2020,” they say, adding that this trend is reflected in upcoming collections.