Fashion Affects Fitness

Could donning expensive athletic wear incline us to work out? ‘Enclothed cognition’ proposes that the clothes we wear directly affect our mindsets and actions.

Athleisure clothing


If you’re having trouble following through with your New Year resolutions, the mere act of putting on some athletic clothes could actually motivate you to work up a sweat.

We all know that finding the willpower to make it to the gym or go for a run is challenging at best, and a downright battle on the rare mornings when the cool, rainy weather is perfect for snuggling under those covers.

But what if, when all else fails, the secret to that final kick up your ass to go out and exercise is as simple as getting changed into your fitness clothes?

Put on your thinking… clothes?

A 2012 study found that the types of clothing we wear have an effect on our behaviour and thoughts.

Researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that by simply dressing the part, one is more likely to get into the right frame of mind for a related activity. Doing so also makes one’s actions more effective.

Dr. Adam D. Galinsky, the professor who led the study, said that clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.

However, the effect only occurs if you actually wear the clothes and know their symbolic meaning, he said. For example, one experiment involving lab coats would have required participants to know that physicians who are usually pictured wearing such coats tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

In the experiment, 74 undergraduates were randomly assigned to wear a white lab coat or street clothes. Then they were given a test for selective attention based on their ability to notice incongruities, as when the word ‘red’ appears in the color green. Those wore the white lab coats did 75% better than those who wore regular clothes.   

Researchers have dubbed this psychological change caused by putting on certain clothing ‘enclothed cognition’. This means that we can use our outfits to direct our state of mind toward what we want to achieve.

Make your clothes work for you…

Enclothed cognition can be applied to everyday situations such as a day of university classes, or an exercise routine.

While loose tees and shorts are comfortable and increasingly seen as ‘socially acceptable’ for us exhausted students, they don’t exactly condition our minds and bodies to absorb the information drilled into us in 3-hour lecture sessions.

Instead, try clothing made of more rigid fabrics like denim. The material restricts you from slouching or getting into overly lax sitting positions, which also helps to frame your mind to work instead of sleep. Especially since we often wear loose tees and shorts as sleepwear, we would be more likely to feel sleepy when wearing them, because of their structure and association with bedtime.

And of course, try pulling on some sleek new athletic clothes to get yourself into your exercise routine. Granted, stocking up on those new Nike sport bras and 2XU compression tights isn’t directly linked to your motivation to gym. I mean, we see lots of people working out regularly in P.E. attire and worn clothes too. But if you need a mental nudge to get off the couch, enclothed cognition could be the answer.

But don’t be a slacker either!

At the end of the day, remember that enclothed cognition isn’t a substitute for intrinsic motivation. If your goal is to become fitter and healthier, you have to go and get it — not for anyone else, but for your own personal health and well-being.

You could have the most advanced gym equipment and facilities; you could have the best recommended diet and workout plan; but ultimately, the person who is going to follow through with it is you. Regardless of setbacks like weight fluctuations and lapses in your routines, the most important thing is to be patient with yourself and keep going.

When you enjoy the process and find motivation within yourself, one day you won’t need those new clothes to motivate you any more.