Anyone who has felt a surge of confidence when slipping on a pair of sky-high stilettos understands that what we wear is directly linked to how we feel.
Since childhood we've all adhered to a societal understanding of what clothing was appropriate, or inappropriate, to wear in any given circumstance; at school, job interviews, on dates and when entering the workforce.
A British study found that it takes precisely three seconds to determine your opinion on someone upon meeting them. Judging a book by its cover is something that rightly or wrongly we're all guilty of.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology examined the influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. The experiment examined people firstly wearing a white coat believed to belong to a doctor, followed by a white coat believed to belong to a painter. It concluded that when wearing the doctor's coat participants recorded higher levels of attentiveness.
Taking this principle to a practical level is Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist from New York. With a masters degree in psychology and a background as a model, she had an inside knowledge of the fashion industry and the emphasis that was placed on external appearances as opposed to inner beauty. She saw fashion psychology as being the perfect melding of passion and profession.
If you haven't heard of fashion psychology, you're not alone. It's relatively new, with only a handful of people in the world claiming to be fashion psychologists.
This niche group of professionals apply psychological theories to what we wear, understanding that our clothing choices impact not only our own thoughts and emotions, but also those of the people we come in contact with. "I style my clients from the inside out and bridge the gap from perception to reality," Karen says.
Her clients include CEOs, politicians, judges and entertainers. What she provides is more than a makeover, it's a complete mind-body transformation.
"I once worked with a very successful businessman who was overshadowed by the glamorous industry he worked in. I counselled him for a number of weeks and discovered a number of childhood insecurities that were holding him back," she says. With the emotional aspects in repair mode it was then time to work on the exterior. "He was quite short, so we designed a customised suit for him. He looked great, but told me he felt weird."
It's a common reaction she receives and unfortunately it's not always a happy ending for Karen's clients like the television makeover shows would have you believe. For many clients follow-up appointments are required so they don't slip back into old habits and their old clothes.
"A suit is only a suit. Quite often clients don't feel worthy of fulfilling the persona of an outfit. You have to tap into the underlying issues," she says.
Fashion psychologists don't just work with individuals – Karen consults on company uniforms and interior furnishings for hotels, restaurants and office spaces. "A uniform speaks volumes and is essentially a summary of the organisation it represents and the way an interior is furnished can make its inhabitants feel relaxed, engaged or even ready to buy," she says.
Karen receives about 10 emails a day from women interested in following her footsteps into a career as a fashion psychologist. Aside from the obvious academic qualifications, Karen says an innate appreciation for fashion and interest in body image is also essential.
"Fashion psychology moves beyond following the latest look. Often what I achieve with my clients is the creation of a timeless and stylish signature look."