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Are Humans Fashion Animals?

The importance of fashion in a general behavioural sense, aside from mating-specific behaviour, cannot be ignored. Human society is largely inclined to following prescribed social, moral and ethical conduct. Unlike the pre-20 th century fashions, set by the royal families, the 21st century fashion is quite experimental, evolving and accessible to everyone. We have started expressing our creativity and individualism through fashion, by either wearing someone's creations or instigating our own trends. Despite this move towards fashion freedom, however, when it comes to dressing for specific occasions, certain principles continue to exist and evolve in the fashion world. There will always be agreed dress and accessories for events, and this will differ depending on culture, ethnicity and gender, as discussed in the introductory paragraph. Thus, every fashion era draws upon a baseline (normal) behaviour while adding its own unique features.

There have been studies indicating differences between male and female behaviour with respect to fashion appreciation. If you ask impeccably dressed, single straight women why they like to match colours of their dress with make-up, accessories and shoes, you are likely to hear a response that they wish to look attractive to men. Now, how many straight men think of colour-synchrony as an important criterion for a woman to look attractive? Surprisingly, not many men really bother if the woman has colour-coded her attire or not. They mostly look for figure-accentuating clothing; highlighting what the men see as being their attractive bodily features and hiding their unattractive one. Interestingly, it has been shown that it is in fact other women who are most likely to be critical of a woman's colour-coding standards! Lloyd explores similar behavioural differences in his article:

Fashion in the brain

How do we perceive people and gauge their personalities? Flügel's  The Psychology of Clothes (1930) and Bergler's  Fashion and the Unconscious (1953) have explored some psychoanalyses in light of fashion. Although the homosexual undertones in their work are conservative and out-dated by modern standards, they have drawn important correlations between clothing and eroticism. It is quite possible that certain aspects of clothing can trigger sexual arousal. What we now know is that this experience is very subjective, due to differences in visual salience, mood and preferences; and it cannot be generalised for the all people or even specific groups. Recent cognitive psychology studies have shown that the interpretation of what people wear might differ in context, based on different ethnic groups, cultures and sub-cultures. The meaning conveyed might also differ on the purpose of fashion like conveying a wearable art, maintaining unique identity, identifying body image or providing a commentary on the body. Based on these intentions, we might gauge others' personalities, tallying it with our own preferences. The psychological bases of fashion is wonderfully explored in the following article:

How quickly can we judge personalities from their external appearance? Malcom Gladwell's non-fiction best-seller ' Blink!' talks about the rapid cognition we carry out within the first few seconds of meeting a new person.  He discusses a speed-dating scenario in which one could make a snap-judgement about a stranger's personality type. In our opinion, judging if a person might be of your 'type' can be attributed to fashion and body image, because when you have just few seconds to judge, external appearance is the first thing that you tend to observe. Indeed, if what they are trying to convey harmonises with what you are drawn to, it is likely that you will make a successful match. Nevertheless, it is no rocket-science, and not guaranteed that a simple alteration in attire can project a different personality type and create different first-impressions. Think about 'criminal' stereotypes; one might expect to see someone wearing a balaclava wielding knives. However, in reality, thieves and criminals often dress deceptively normally and attract little to no attention. Actors, models, business-heads and politicians often hire fashion / image consultants to advise them on the way they dress in order to project a body image best suited for their profession, and gain them popularity. Thus, fashion and psychology have a strong association in terms of projection and interpretation, but unfortunately, misinterpretation can still be a big problem.

So, what is the brain's mechanism for fashion-induced behaviour? Dopamine (or the 'happy chemical') in the brain is a major component of the reward and motivational system. Recent studies have shown that anti-social behaviour might be caused due to over activity of the dopamine system. Other studies correlate anti-social behaviour with a decrease in adherence to fashion trends; where persons do not care to 'fit-in' the accepted morality standards of the society. What remains to be studied is whether the apparent correlation between the dopamine system and fashion sense in causal or coincidental. If we obtain a significant evidence that it is linked, we might actually uncover a mechanism to explain if and why being fashionable is such an important factor for our emotional well-being.

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