Change your mood by changing clothes

In one of the most extraordinary scientific experiments of the 20th century, social psychologist Stanley Milgram asked people to deliver electric shocks to another person they believed was taking part in the research.

In fact, the person being ‘shocked’ was an actor, and no shock was actually administered.

But the participants didn’t know this. A considerable proportion obeyed the man conducting the study, even when they believed they were delivering potentially lethal shocks.


Milgram was exploring obedience to authority, but even he was amazed at how willing his participants were to do as they were told.

One way in which the experiment established authority was to have the man running it (not Milgram) wear a grey lab coat. Apparently this ‘outfit’ played a substantial role in making those taking part follow directions that anyone outside this context would surely have viewed as cruel and inhuman.

The thing is, I suspect that simply wearing the lab coat also played a part in helping the experimenter feel superior. Clothes can do this.

Now while I’m certainly not suggesting you dress as a dictatorial lab manager (heaven forbid), there’s nothing like a reminder that what you wear can affect the way you feel.

In the wrong circumstances, dressing down can lead to you feeling down. As for the opposite… Well perhaps there’s a reason it’s called dressing up?

Why not give it a try? Once in a while, for instance, dress as though you’re headed for an important meeting even if you’re actually doing nothing more demanding than your grocery shopping. Please don’t blame me if people suddenly start treating you more respectfully, however.

15 thoughts on “Change your mood by changing clothes

  1. Interesting, I have recently lost my father and while he was in hospital I bought 10 of the same tShirt I didn’t buy them all at once, I bought 4 as useful under layers then realised they were easy to wear and comfy, so bought 6 more so that I could always have one even if I got behind with the washing. Now that he has gone I wear them if I can’t be bothered to dress up. While I appreciate the lift dressing up can bring, these give me a comfort that links in with my love for my dad. Weird maybe but helpful to me on fragile days. ME

  2. I like that idea of dressing well rather than dressing in a casual or sloppy kind of way. Dressing sloppy could send signals of a lack of self- respect. Some years ago, a guy who worked in the NHS told us that if you want to get looked after when you see a Dr, dress smart. When my partner hurt his eye he took the advice as we went to A& E. He told the young Dr he was a cameraman, and when he came to examine him, his hand was shaking! So how you present yr self to the world does have an effect, yet it’s something I regularly fail to remember..

    1. Great story Jackie. I think people do indeed react to whatever you’re wearing – and simply knowing that they might react can, even sub-consciously, change the way you’re feeling. Thanks for sharing that thought.

  3. Hi Jon,

    Very simple idea but not something you necessarily think of when you’re not feeling great.

    I can definitely attest to the power of sunglasses & lipstick. Dressing up however can make me feel as though I’m in “work mode” which can be stressful if worn for too long as maintaining a work self can be tiring. Interesting comments about being treated differently by NHS staff – I work in the NHS and can definitely say a well-dressed patient does have an effect, although would hope this doesn’t affect the quality of care given.

  4. Dressed smart casual for the day- check!

    Note to self- beware of people wearing grey lab coats.

    1. I’d always thought of lab coats as being white, but according to the records Milgram’s man’s coat was definitely grey Christine. Maybe those were the days before Persil though.

  5. I agree that dressing differently can definitely affect your mood or the way you react to others. How many times have you dressed up and felt superior to waiters whilst at a posh event, or dressed too casually and felt ‘down on yourself’ for going even to the shops and feeling others looking down on you.

    As part of my role as a Healthy lifestyle Coordinator, there have been moments when I have felt the power of just ‘having the whistle’ when participating in sports!

    It’s a strange feeling, but it really can affect the way you react to others, so try to be mindful of your reactions especially when you are in a less than usual environment. Nice observation Jon! I enjoyed thinking about this topic.

      1. The COLOUR of the clothes you choose can be completely key to your mood change. Try wearing orange!! it is empowering, comforting, uplifting, life enhancing, soul forgiving and fun!!….:)

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