We all know we react to others differently depending on their appearance and that what we wear causes others to react differently to us. Have you noticed that service people often display an entirely different attitude to you when you’re dressed professionally than they do when you’re dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt?
An interesting study conducted by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Norwestern University found a related but unexpected phenomenon: not only do others react differently to us depending on the way we dress – we feel differently about ourselves. We even tend to adopt the persona suggested by the clothes we wear. Adam and Galinsky found that study participants who wore a doctor’s lab coat tested higher in focused perception than subjects who wore the same coat but were told it was painter’s garb. Researchers speculated that the subjects unconsciously adopted traits they associated with doctors, e.g., attentiveness and careful observation.
The article that quoted this study posed some interesting questions, such as whether the subjects “became” doctors, mentally, when they wore a doctor’s coat. Would we adopt characteristics associated with other professions if we wore that profession’s style of dress?
I posed a few questions of my own – when I buy clothes, am I sometimes motivated (even unconsciously) by the desire to transform my self-image? If I am feelingdowdy, do I seek out something sleek and stylish to give myself an emotional makeover? If I am feeling powerless over a situation, do I head for the navy blue suits to gain a sense of control? If I am feeling low, do I hunt down bright colors or clothes that reflect a happy time in my life for a mood boost? Guilty as charged!
There’s certainly nothing wrong with having these motivations when we head to the stores to buy clothes, especially if we’re conscious of them. The problem arises when we shop to avoid facing our troubles; when we shop in an attempt to disguise or to change our self-perception.
A shopping compulsion is not about the lift we can get when we make a good purchase that fits that day’s motivation for shopping. A shopping compulsion is about making a purchase to get a lift and then making another purchase to maintain the lift, and then making another purchase and another and another to avoid dealing with whatever situation causes us to be in need of that lift in the first place. Compulsive shopping is about trying to change who we are externally without dealing with who we are internally.
What are the moods or the life situations you’re faced with? Do you feel powerless to change them? When life throws you a curve ball, do you sit down to work out a plan to get through the difficulty you are facing or do you overcharge your credit card?
Let me encourage you to stop and feel the feelings that are motivating your next trip to the mall. Then trace those feelings back to their source. If you find a challenge that needs to be faced, pick up the phone and call a friend or family member, journal about it, go on an online group for shopaholics and post, or talk it through with a therapist. When you’ve got the problem out in the open and on its way to being resolved, you may find that you don’t need that new outfit after all and that there’s no need to shop for a new persona…there’s nothing wrong with the one have.