Fashion Psychology


When you hear the words Fashion Psychology, you might ask yourself questions like: how can clothes have feelings? Do they get upset when I’m too lazy to separate colours, or forget to run the delicate cycle?

In fact, fashion psychology isn’t so much about clothes as it is about how they make you feel – and it’s a brand new term coined by twenty-five-year-old model, designer and fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen.

“I’m bringing the brains to the fashion industry,” says the Columbia University Counselling Psychology graduate, who says she was inspired to start something new by another Ivy League graduate who exploded the world, Mark Zuckerberg.

Fashion psychology, says Karen, “is the study of how colour and style, or colour and fashion, affect human behaviour while addressing cultural norms and cultural differences.

“[I]t’s all about the internal, which is how you feel, and the external, which is how others perceive you.”

In her studies, Karen looks at what she calls ‘Mood Enhancer’ clothing – or clothes that we dress up in to make us feel awesome – versus ‘Mood Illustrator’ dress, where we chuck on a pair of sweatpants after waking up feeling groggy, or depressed, or like a giant bird has shat over our dreams. Mood Illustrators accentuate a feeling of low esteem and sleepiness, while Mood Enhancers work to uplift us.

While the idea of clothing affecting our mood is nothing new, Karen – who has recently returned to New York after working with clients throughout the Middle East and Asia – said the idea had never been taken seriously before as a field of study.

“I think fashion psychology has always been around, but people didn’t label it.”

Naturally, we had to ask Karen what effect denim has on the unconscious.

While denim in the eighties and nineties was associated with subcultures like rock’n’roll, grunge and hip-hop, she says denim today has evolved into something classier.

“Denim has become more sophisticated compared to the 80s or 90s, or just in the past. If you wear denim it’s not like you’re defying the norm, it’s much more sophisticated in this time period and era.

“Different brands give a different style,” she adds.

Karen stresses the importance of selecting the right fit of jeans to ensure they work to your favour – uplifting the spirits rather than bringing them down.

“If you wear denim and it’s restraining you, [then] that’s the feeling [that’s] going to come across.”

“[P]eople will perceive you in a certain way based on how you rock your denim wear, so I would just say to check in with yourself to see how the denim makes you feel. If it makes you feel elegant, if it makes you feel sophisticated, if it makes you feel badass, [then] just make sure that’s the feeling you want to go with.”

With guest television appearances lined up, book ideas on the go and preparations made to commence a tour of nineteen universities and fashion institutes across the United States, as well as plans to take the tour Down Under (to Whitehouse Institute of Design, among others), Karen has a lot on her plate. And it’s all thanks to fashion.

“I think what’s intriguing is that people are starting to see that fashion is no longer [just about the] surface, it can be taken seriously,” says Karen.

“It’s not all about fashion blogging or fashion selling, it’s really getting to the depth of the inner psyche, and I think that’s what’s intriguing to people.”