The Life Changing Magic of Fashion Psychology Fashion Psychology is nearing it’s moment in the sun.

While there are more than just two Fashion Psychologists to be found in the world, the one’s you’ll most likely come across in a Google search are Carolyn Mair and Dawnn Karen.  They’re disrupting the worlds of Fashion and Psychology, simultaneously.

Anyone who’s spent a minute in a therapists chair will know that our internal angst – what landed us there – is on some level generated by the existential gap created when who we really are is different from who we wish we were.

The inverse of that is happiness – when we feel authentic, and truly ourselves, we are calm and content.

It’s the same with our clothes.

This is what Dawnn Karen, Fashion Psychologist, tells me as we are discussing the arm of psychology that she has helped bring into the 21st century.

“What I do is help people understand their relationship to fashion from the inside out.”

Karen is a professor at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology and investigated the idea of focusing on authenticity in dress to help people feel better about what they wear and empower them with new ways to think about why they wear certain items.

“We wear clothes every day and it’s a huge part of our existence. We think we have to care about what others think of our clothing choices. We wear a sort of ‘uniform’ based on what we think is expected of us and it’s a kind of performance. It’s hard.”

fashion psychology

It’s why ‘retail therapy’ is a short-lived fix. Or why your closet full of cute clothes doesn’t always produce the effect you’d hoped, and ends up in a pile while you wear the same black-on-black combo you can’t seem to break away from.  “You throw on something and don’t feel good, or go alleviate the frusration.”  The problem, she explains, is that we focus on the external.

The Substance of Style

She tested her theory in a series of case studies where she had clients dress according to how they authentically felt and recorded their feelings over several months. Some clients claimed it was life changing.

The mindful approach is, before you get up, to “Lie in bed and say, ‘How am I feeling today?’ If I’m tired, or in a shitty mood, I’ll dress to illustrate that mood and as a result I feel authentic.”

Sounds simple, but generally, we dress to be appropriate not to be authentic.

The idea is that dressing according to how you feel and not to conform to expectations creates an authentic expression of yourself. Authenticity breeds content.

Case in point, on top of her regular schedule, Karen had been prepping for a Ted Talk and remembered she had an event to attend that evening. “I just wanted to be my introverted self, stay inside in my sweats and keep working.  I found a way to honour my feelings and still show up. I wore my sweats… with heels.  I felt very comfortable and most importantly, I didn’t feel like a fraud.” (Scroll down to see the a photo of her outfit.)

The Emergence of the Fashion Psychologist  

In London, UK, Dr. Carolyn Mair, takes Fashion Psychology much further. Until recently, Dr. Mair was Professor of Psychology for Fashion at University  of the Arts, London, launching the only Masters program in the world that brought together the scientific study of human behaviour and fashion. She now works as an industry consultant on the subject.
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“Fashion psychology is about the understanding of human behaviour within the entire context of the fashion industries. It’s not only about clothing as a form of communication and enabling us to negotiate our identity, it’s also about using fashion as a form of good across the swath of industries from production to consumption to disposal.”

Carolyn mair fashion psychology london

Dr. Carolyn Mair, Professor of Psychology for Fashion

“When we are choosing which item to wear, what our clothes look like is barely scratching the surface. It’s more complex than it appears to be. And, one of the reasons is that human beings are different. There really isn’t a one size fits all.”

fashion psychology

For instance, the red jacket that makes you feel confident and powerful, might make me feel garish. That nose-ring you think is tacky might be her secret to confidence.

Whether it’s magazines of past decades, or today’s social media influencers, brands and celebs – fashion exists in a singular one-style-for-everyone vacuum. ‘Teal is the colour of the year!!’   ‘Millenial Pink is in!!’ Fundamentally, this flies in the face of what fashion is, and how we’re wired.

“When we talk about how our clothes portray and effect us we need to take into account the individual differences of the wearer and also the context of which garment is worn.”

Increasingly, the context – where and how a garment is made – is on consumers’ minds.

Would knowing that your perfectly fitted jeans were made in a sweat shop and will live in a landfill long after your gone make you feel icky? Maybe.

It ‘s pressure from cash-strapped Millenial’s, not the middle-aged consumer that’s behind this growing awareness. They’re demanding transparency from brands in exchange for their patronage.

“It’s not just enough to look at the profit, brands need to think about explaining to customers where their product comes from,” says Mair.

It’s no coincidence that wrapping our heads around modern fashion calls for analysis of our behaviour. Makes perfect sense that now is at a time when Mindful Fashion is gaining momentum.

Read more about the Mindful Fashion movement.


dawnn karen fashion psychology leopard coat, burgundy sweats pumps woman model

Dawnn Karen Photo :Frank “Augie.1” Fraley

Dr. Carolyn Mair‘s website.






Nine Fashion Lessons I Learned From French Women A trip to France is an opportunity to check yourself in the fashion and confidence departments. I spent a lot of hours on trains, walking for miles and dining in several French cities and towns,including Nantes, Bordeaux and Paris, carefully studying what French women are wearing these days. Here’s what I brought back with me to share with you. De Rien.

  1. Women dress like women 

    Sometimes when I look in the mirror at my hoodie, ripped jeans and Converse, I wonder, what exactly sets me apart sartorially form the 12 year old boy I sat across from on the bus yesterday? I get it, it’s comfy. The weeks that I was traveling, staying in towns, villages and cities of France, traveling by bicycle, metro and on foot, there was something that struck me. Regardless of age, women dressed like adults. The styles varied wildly, it could be feminine, masculine, edgy, sophisticated.. but, I got a clear sense they were not trying to dress like a teenager.  They did not dress like a 12 year old walking home from school. Their clothes spoke of a personal standard.

  2. Your clothes and make up should be flexible enough to do anything

    Not just one thing (like sit in an office). You should be able to bicycle through traffic, run to catch the bus or have spontaneous afternoon drinks (Did I mentioned it was France?)

  3. Tight isn’t always right

    The coolest looking women I saw were wearing loose, semi-structured, skimming togs – snug was less common; tight, rare  Surprising? If one were to hypothetically get sucked into the infinity scroll of Instagram, and see beautiful women of note, e.g. your friends on a night out, models, magazine spreads and influencers, you’d logically deduce that sexy = tight.  This is not the rule in France. See #2.

  4. Leggings are mostly not a thing

    Sure they’re in every store you can name and Millennials are stockpiling them. They are much harder to find on the streets of Paris than you’d think. At least on their own, passing as outerwear. My conclusion, French women are better than me.

  5. Shape is Embraced not Hidden

    The shape of your body (or your age for that matter) need not stop you from rocking the fashions. The confidence of the French woman, combined with an innate style and knowing means that large small, lopsided, flat chested, big-booty – they manage to make it all look good.  (Side note: Our friends at Smithery are rockstars at dressing for your shape.)

  6. Skinny jeans and booties are everywhere

    In the words of one my most fashionista friends “skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere,” and France is proof positive (Nantes in particular, what’s up ladies of Nantes?). The skinny jean trend has been with us well over a decade and it refuses to die. It will be the embarrassing fashion flashback of the future. Booties became the go-to skinny jean combo and now it’s an endless parade of skinny-jeans-and-booties-wearing soldiers everywhere. Even guys.  Perhaps we’re about to reach our saturation point?

  7. The secret is in the shoes

    Having said that, booties are not everything. This might be my favourite observation, not least of all because I love shoes.  Fancy shoes can change everything- fancy sparkly tennis shoes with a shift dress; silver flats with ankle jeans,  high-heels, biker boots  with a skirt. And obviously, #6. The French woman’s shoe game is on fire.

  8. Less is more

    Edit, edit, edit.. When I was casually stalking the street style of French women, young and old, it was easy to take it all in with a glance. It’s a simple aesthetic. A great scarf, a cute overcoat or sparkly flats – just one of these items was enough to elevate a look. Make-up was the same. Barefaced with a pop of colour and easy hair is their MO.

  9. Cold weather is just another fashion season

    I was there when the temperature was starting to get chilly. All the same  fashion rules applied, just in chic layers with nary a puffy coat to be seen.