There’s a common misconception that dressing well means dressing up. They’re two different things and not necessarily exclusive of one another. You can dress up and still look like a slob if your suit’s too boxy, your tie’s too wide, and you’re wearing black sneakers. You can also dress well even if your outfit consists of a hoodie, shorts, and sneakers.
I despised the idea of dressing well until I was 25 years old. I always believed I should wear what I wanted to wear, that I would never let anyone dictate my wardrobe, and if people didn’t like it, they could get bent. Well, I still believe all of that, but my outfits today look far different than what I used to wear, and I’m happier for it. My issue was that I was conflating dressing well with dressing up, and I thought “being presentable” meant adopting collared shirts and blazers and dress shoes.
In reality, dressing well comes down to one thing: wearing clothes that make you look your best. There’s a lot to unpack within this idea of “looking your best,” but for now, I’d like to present four reasons why you should consider leveling up your own sense of personal style.
1. It’s Important to Treat Yourself Well
Developing a great sense of style doesn’t have to be about vanity and swagger. There’s a huge psychological component to what we wear—our mood affects what we choose to put on, but the opposite is true as well: our attire can affect our thoughts and mental state.
According to Professor Karen Pine of the University of Hertfordshire, there’s a very real effect where we tend to become more like the clothes we wear. She explores this in her book, Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion:
When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.Professor Karen Pine
The going term for this is “enclothed cognition,” which was coined by professors Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky in their study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology:
“In Experiment 1, physically wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing a lab coat. In Experiments 2 and 3, wearing a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter’s coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat.”
More research needs to be done, of course, but the key takeaway is that what you wear affects how you think—and for a lot of people, dressing better leads to more self-respect and confidence.
Dressing better makes you feel better about yourself, and we all deserve a little of that. Plus, once you know the basics of style, you’ll never have to worry about whether you fit in or stick out or what you should or shouldn’t wear to a special occasion, and that alone will increase your confidence many times over.
In this sense, dressing better is a lot like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, trimming your nails, eating a healthy diet—except instead of physical well-being, we’re talking about mental well-being. Dress better, think better, feel better.
2. Personal Style Is Great for Self-Expression
If your style repertoire is limited to track pants, jeans, graphic t-shirts, and running shoes, there really isn’t much room for self-expression. You might argue that this wardrobe is yourself expressed, but I’d implore you to ask: Is this your style because it actually makes you look your best, or because it’s all you have and you’re too nervous to try something new?
There’s so much to explore in the world of style, and I don’t mean chasing after fashion trends. There are different cuts of jeans that flatter different body types, and different jean materials that are more or less comfortable around the year. Wearing the same outfit but switching up your shoes can have a dramatic effect on how you look and feel, so why limit yourself?
Colors, patterns, cuts, materials—all of these can be mixed and matched to express yourself to the fullest, and this lets you exercise your innate creativity in new ways. And you don’t have to fit into a certain “kind” of style. Come up with your own, one that fits your personality!
3. Your Style Affects How Others Treat You
This isn’t the same thing as caring what other people think of you and allowing their opinions to dictate how you live your life, although there is definitely a thin line here.
First impressions matter. In an ideal world, people wouldn’t judge books by their covers—but the truth is, the way someone takes care of their appearance (or doesn’t) says a lot about them. When someone sees that you put effort in how you dress, even if it’s just to buy t-shirts that fit well instead of hang loosely, they’ll subconsciously take you more seriously. You’ll seem more mature, your words will hold more weight, and you’ll seem more likable.
You’ll land more jobs and promotions. First impressions matter, which is why a strong sense of style can help you land jobs (for the reasons stated above). But ongoing impressions matter, and if your boss sees that you’re responsible with your outward appearance, they have more reason to believe you’ll take care of whatever responsibilities they hand you. Between two equally qualified candidates, the one who dresses better has an advantage.
Style is a big factor in attractiveness. Who doesn’t want to be attractive? We all want to look and feel our best without compromising who we are. Dressing well is not about changing who you are, but allowing who you’ve been all along to shine through via a style that honestly represents you. Clothing can make you look more attractive or less attractive. Don’t settle for the latter.
4. You’ll Learn a Lot Along the Way
First, you’ll learn all kinds of common knowledge. Are your clothes sized properly? What is twill? How many kinds of leather are there? What’s so great about wool? Why is it bad to wear brown and black together? When is it OK to wear plaid patterns, striped patterns, or solid colors? Which colors are more versatile, and which ones are riskier to pull off?
Second, you’ll learn plenty of life skills. It’s rare for someone to enjoy chores like washing clothes, ironing pants, getting a smart haircut and styling it a certain way, exercising skin care and even beard care, and all the other “adult” activities that come with growing up. But it’s important to know how to do these things, and the more you do them, the faster you’ll get. Life skills are necessary to be a well-rounded individual, and you’ll pick these up over time on your personal style journey.
Third, you’ll learn a lot about yourself: what you like, what you dislike, and how you feel about the various colors, patterns, materials, and whatever else you’ll encounter along the journey. Knowing yourself on a deeper level is one of many steps toward personal growth and maturity, and more importantly, you’ll feel more comfortable in your own skin. I guarantee it.