Last week saw the 3rd annual Fashion Matters Gala which raises much needed funds for student scholarships and bursaries. To highlight what the funding means to the students LCF News is interviewing a series of Fashion Matters student recipients.
Nida Ehsan, MSc Applied Psychology in Fashion graduate was one of the Fashion Matters Awards winners of 2015. She received a bursary to research further the psychology of the fashion industry. Nida’s dissertation focused on designer well-being in the fashion industries, using Alexander McQueen’s life and career as a case study. She noted that designer burnout is becoming a severe and malignant issue, suggesting corporate culture has been evident in the recent departures of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz.
The course is the first MSc in the world (with the MA Psychology for Fashion Professionals) to apply the scientific study of psychology to fashion. The MSc is also first in the world that applies psychology within fashion to improve understanding of human behaviour by using predominantly quantitative methods. Since graduating, Nida has continued with her research whilst working as an intern at Dover Street Market. We recently caught up with Nida to discuss the power of fashion, psychology of dress and her time with course leader Dr Carolyn Mair.
What course did you study, and why did you choose it?
Before my master’s at LCF, I did my undergrad degree in psychology. My career was set in the direction of clinical counselling but I always had this extreme interest in fashion that I couldn’t shake. While studying psychology, I realised how intrinsically related the two fields are, but noticed that there was hardly any research relating the two. I wanted to find a way to merge the areas of study and was lucky enough to discover that LCF offered a Master’s in Applied Psychology in Fashion and applied straight away.
What made you want to study a postgraduate at LCF?
I’ve always dreamed of living in London, and studying fashion here was more than I could ever ask for. LCF is the only university in the world that offers a Master’s in Applied Psychology in Fashion, so that settled it.
Do you believe the clothes you wear express your true personality?
It’s hard to say really – I find this topic opens a Pandora’s box. It’s hard to say anyone really expresses their true personality. There is research that supports that people make consistent assumptions on personality traits based on footwear. They found that participants correctly assumed which footwear may indicate levels of agreeableness. Practical shoes indicated a higher level of agreeableness whereas branded shoes are negatively correlated with agreeableness.
But I think it is difficult to say really. As fashion is based on obsolescence and wearing trends to “stay in fashion”, it is hard to tell whether people are wearing what they like, or what they think they are supposed to like. I think it would be extremely interesting to research the motivation of clothing choices, as I think we have all deliberately worn something to achieve a certain persona or agenda.
Do clothes and fashion have the power to change our minds, does dress/fashion effect behaviour?
I definitely believe so, and there are a few studies that support this idea. This is what fascinates me the most about clothing, is that it provides us a framework in which to perceive ourselves and others. Clothing can employ social comparison theory, and can make us feel insecure, but it can also bolster our confidence. Additionally, it may affect our ability to perform certain tasks.
One of my favourite studies, showed that when participants were asked to put on a white coat and told it was a doctor’s coat, they did better on a test than people who put on the same coat and were told that it was a painter’s coat. To me, this study makes the intrinsic link between perception and fashion very clear.
Why is it important for more people to study the psychology of fashion?
Carolyn, (Mair, course leader for MA and MSc Psychology) says that fashion is psychology and I couldn’t agree more. To me, they are inherently related. I think it is important for people to study the psychology of fashion to see fashion for what it is, a vehicle of self-expression and a business – not as a shallow industry. There is quite a lot of thought, creativity, emotion that goes into the industry. Whether we would like to participate in fashion or not, it is an intrinsic part of everyday life, as we all have to get dressed in the morning. It is important for people to realise the subconscious ways that clothing affects the way we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.
What are the primary areas of fashion that you have researched?
I’ve researched quite a few areas. My dissertation focused on designer well-being in the fashion industries and was a case study on Alexander McQueen’s life and career. It is important to note that designer burnout is becoming a severe and malignant issue, as evidenced by the recent departures of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz. Instances such as these are only increasing, and the fashion industry needs make these issues a priority in order to sustain itself. From my research, I found that corporate culture can be conducive to stress and burn-out and that solutions need to be put in place so that designers can work in harmony with their business partners to create a successful working relationship.
I’ve also researched how vanity sizing affects confidence and self-esteem of consumers. As there is no universal size chart, and with the advent of globalization of commerce it is becoming increasingly harder to know what size you actually are. This can make shopping quite an emotional experience for some, as weight holds high importance in many societies. Researchers have found that perceiving yourself as a smaller size bolsters confidence, whereas perceiving yourself to be bigger reduces self-esteem. Additionally, the discrepancy in sizing can actually be dangerous for men as male waist size is directly related to risk of heart disease.
What area of fashion, behaviour or society would you dream of researching in the future?
I find perception immensely interesting. I would love to do more research on the transformative power of clothing, and how it affects us subconsciously. I think it would be amazing to see how we could use findings to better the lives of people. I would also like to research sustainability and how to curb the fast pace of consumption. I am quite interested in luxury and conceptual retail environments as well as I find luxury deeply rooted in psychological principles.
What are the most important reads in fashion psychology, and how has Dr Carolyn Mair helped develop you as a student?
Carolyn has been brilliant this past year. I couldn’t have asked for a better course leader to explore this field with. Carolyn is adamant about students researching their own interests and pushes students to be independent researchers. I’ve definitely expanded in my ability in both fashion and psychology. I would say the most important thing for me is a study called “Enclothed Cogntion” by Hago Adam and Adam Galinsky. While it is about how uniforms affect our perception, I think it provides a clear link between fashion and psychology. It is a great read to discover the connection between psychology and dress.