“The Clothing Makes the Self” Via Knowledge Activation1


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    The research reported here was supported by Grant #HA 2381/3–1 of the Deutsche Forschungs-gemeinschaft (DFG).

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ulrich Kühnen, University of Mannheim, Lehrstuhl für Sozialpsychologie, A5, 6, D-68131 Mannheim, Germany.


This study tested the hypothesis that different clothing styles can influence self-descriptions by priming certain trait categories. We used a cover story to tell our participants to appear for the experiment dressed in either formal or casual wear. When participants arrived for the experiment, they were asked to describe themselves as quickly as possible by endorsing or rejecting trait adjectives. These adjectives were selected in a pilot study as either a trait typically ascribed to a formally dressed person (cultivated, accurate) or a trait typically ascribed to a casually dressed person (easygoing, tolerant). Results show that participants who were dressed formally used more formal adjectives than casual ones to describe themselves. The opposite was true in participants wearing casual clothes. In addition, formally dressed participants responded faster to formal than to casual adjectives, while this difference was reversed in casually dressed participants. Implications for applied settings (e.g., achievement vs. social situations) are discussed.