For anyone who has labored to put together an outfit in the morning, here's some vindication: What you wear impacts how people see you, and how you see yourself. Yes, getting dressed matters — and in ways that might surprise you.

Of course, it's not hard to understand the impact of dressing formally — or conversely, of going out in your pajamas — and how that makes you feel and act differently. But there are some interesting aspects of our personalities that our clothes can uncover, and surprising subtexts that we may be revealing when we don't intend to. 

Red matters. Yes, red is an impactful color. The plethora of corporate logos that use this dominant color is evidence enough to back up the premise. But red has some specific uses beyond just calling attention. In non-human primates — and, researchers have found, humans too — red is attractive to the male species. Studies have shown that a woman wearing red is more attractive and sexually desirable to straight men. So that advice to wear red on a date is legit (if you're a heterosexual lady, that is). The best part is that men just think you're attractive, not that the color you're wearing has enticed them. According to a 2008 study, "Men seem unaware of this red effect, and red does not influence women’s perceptions of the attractiveness of other women, nor men’s perceptions of women’s overall likability, kindness, or intelligence."

I've definitely found this to be true. The only times I've been randomly asked out by strangers were twice when I was wearing the same red dress (which was not particularly racy) and another time when I was wearing a red T-shirt. And here I just thought that I looked particularly good in red! Hint: Everyone looks good in red.

Black and blue are sending a message too. Black and other dark clothing indicates neuroticism, according to Sam Gosling's book, "The Science of Sin." (All of New York City is chuckling and thinking "duh" right now as they make a note to tell their therapists this one. I'm from a long line of native New Yorkers, so I can make fun.)

young man wearing white lab coatDressing the part makes a difference. Sure, the old saying, "dress for the job you want, not the one you have," seems like a sensible visual way to affect your perception by the people around you. But how you dress also affects someone more important — you. In an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that regular people who dressed in a lab coat did tasks more conscientiously than those in their everyday clothes.

Scientists called this idea "enclothed cognition" and explained it as: "... the co-occurrence of two independent factors – the symbolic meaning of the clothes and the physical experience of wearing them." This totally explains the year I spent wearing a uniform when I was attending a private school when I lived abroad. I remember the uniform making me feel as if I was just like everyone else — and I definitely didn't feel that way inside, so it was upsetting to me. I also had a really hard time wearing a business suit when I was younger and interviewing for jobs. Now I know my feelings were legitimate.

Dressing unconventionally = Open to new things. This is also from Gosling. File this one under the "tell me something I don't know" category, right? But if I'm personally trying to bring the caftan or muumuu back, does that make me totally out there? (It's OK if you say yes!) 

Dressing young to feel young. To the horror of teenagers everywhere who hate when a parent dresses like they do, dressing younger makes you feel younger, look younger and even affects your health. Although, to be fair, there is a lot less division between "older people's clothes" and "young people's clothes" than there used to be, so this might be less true if we continue in the direction we have been headed in the last decade.

According to research gathered in Perspectives in Psychological Science, the following points are also true:

  • Women who think they look younger after having their hair cut and/or colored show a drop in blood pressure and they look younger in photographs (even when their hair is cropped out) to independent raters.
  • Baldness triggers old age. Men who bald prematurely see an older self and therefore age faster: Prematurely bald men have an excess risk of getting prostate cancer and coronary heart disease than do men who do not lose their hair prematurely.
  • Women who have children later in life are surrounded by younger age-related cues: Older mothers have a longer life expectancy than do women who bear children earlier in life. Large spousal age differences result in age-incongruent cues: Younger spouses live shorter lives and older spouses live longer lives than do controls. 
Glasses make you look smart, but less attractive. The stereotype, in this case, is true (at least when it comes to perception). From a Swiss Journal of Cognition study in 2011: "Eyeglasses generally directed observers’ gaze to the eye regions; rimless glasses made faces appear less distinctive and resulted in reduced distinctiveness in matching and in recognition tasks. Moreover, the stereotype was confirmed but depended on the kind of glasses — rimless glasses yielded an increase in perceived trustworthiness, but not a decrease in attractiveness. Thus, glasses affect how we perceive the faces of the people wearing them and, in accordance with an old stereotype, they can lower how attractive, but increase how intelligent and trustworthy people wearing them appear. These effects depend on the kind of glasses worn."

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Lab coat photo: /Shutterstock

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.