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Fashion Instinct

Author: Celeste Nachnani


Fashion has been used as a tool by many people to express their identity, culture, lifestyle, profession, and more. As the fashion industry is constantly evolving to innovate new styles that uplift many types of people, what drives people to gravitate towards new trends and participate in consumer behavior? Fashion has been prevalent since before the 1800s. The first designer known on record is Charles Frederick- who utilized the art of creating patterns. With the rise of fashion coming about in the 20th century, trends would come about from well-known fashion hubs such as Paris, in which “haute couture” was created and people could dress themselves to their taste.


When we observe new things (such as a new outfit going viral on tik tok), the gray matter in our brain tends to react fondly and induce a reward system. The ventral tegmental area of our brains, a group of neurons in the middle area of our brains responsible for controlling the reward system, is activated when we are exposed to new stimuli, and it is in our evolutionary traits to analyze these new stimuli. When experiencing a rewarding experience such as partaking in a social trend, dopamine centers- which release feel-good hormones, in the ventral tegmental regions in our brain release dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Fashion trends that may be new to us, whether it be the reemergence of Y2K fashion or wearing oversized blazers, inspire us to analyze these styles and whether they suit us while influencing us to participate more in trends to release more dopamine. Author Hans Kreitler and Shulamith Kreitler believe in “a cognitive theory of aesthetics based on the idea that a stimulus such as an artwork—visual arts, poetry, dance, and architecture—and the structure of and characteristics of its corresponding components stimulate certain cognitive processes that produce an art experience.” (Tinio) Like art, visually appealing clothes can trigger these processes.






Image of Ventral Tegmental Area Retrieved from: https://openbooks.lib.msu.edu/neuroscience/chapter/motivation-and-reward/


Fashion is also tied to ideas such as self-reinvention and cultural association, a concept about people feeling connected amongst another group of people. As another evolutionary trait, bonding is important to people; fashion can easily enhance bonding amongst others. This is known as fashion identification assimilation.


Dawn Karen, a brand consultant, and therapist at FIT describes fashion as allowing people to have a sense of control over their attire and attitude. Dawn has developed a Mood Enhancement Theory in which a consumer attains an item that they want to amplify positive emotions. People can also develop a repetitious wardrobe complex where clothes are used for emotional comfort. Dawn is cultivating a study of fashion psychology, the study, and treatment of how color, image, style, and beauty affect human behavior while addressing cultural norms and cultural sensitivities.


Demographic trends have always dominated the psychology of consumer behavior. Additionally, social media has heavily influenced people’s tastes. When we are being inundated with images of new clothes daily, the dopamine centers in the brain are activated (as mentioned earlier). To keep attaining this dopamine release, people may partake in overconsumption- one of the negative effects of overproduction due to its detrimental effects on the environment and labor standards. However, with more awareness raised about our behaviors- we can understand how to avoid giving in to the gray matter of our brain and purchasing something every time it lights up. Rather, we can understand what trends best define us and our culture.


Works Cited

Baumgartner, Jennifer. “The Psychology of Fashion.” Psychology Today, 23 February 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-psychology-dress/201202/the-psychology-fashion. Accessed 16 May 2022.

Brenner, Michael. “5 Consumer Behavior Trends Marketers Are Watching.” Marketing Insider Group, https://marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/consumer-behavior-trends-marketers-are-watching/. Accessed 16 May 2022.

“Fashion Designing History | Evolution of Fashion Designing | Growth of Fashion Design Industry | Fibre2fashion.com.” Fibre2Fashion, https://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/3730/fashion-designing-the-then-and-now. Accessed 16 May 2022.

“Know Your Brain: Ventral Tegmental Area.” Neuroscientifically Challenged, https://neuroscientificallychallenged.com/posts/know-your-brain-ventral-tegmental-area. Accessed 16 May 2022.

Lasko, Megan Elizabeth. “The Science Behind Fashion! | SiOWfa12: Science in Our World.” Sites at Penn State, 18 October 2012, https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa12/2012/10/18/the-science-behind-fashion/. Accessed 16 May 2022.

Miller, Jennifer. “The Dress Doctor Is In.” The New York Times, 12 April 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/fashion/fashion-psychologist.html. Accessed 16 May 2022.

Tinio, Pablo. “Psychology of Art and Aesthetics - Psychology.” Oxford Bibliographies, 30 March 2017, https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199828340/obo-9780199828340-0002.xml. Accessed 2 June 2022.


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