Fashion, by Oxford’s definition, is a popular or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration or behavior. Wikipedia defines fashion as a popular style, distinctive and often constant trend in the style which people present themselves.

It is Wikipedia’s definition which hints at the notion that there is more to fashion than popularity and trends. Fashion, without question, is a way in which we present our outer selves to the world. What we wear, whether we realize it or not, speaks to those around us; fashion is without a doubt, communicatory.

We’ve all heard that it takes seven seconds for someone to form a first impression about us, some emerging research suggests it takes even less than that. What we wear, our "sense of style" is an unspoken language. It is a non-verbal tool in which we put together a story which tells people who we are, how we might be feeling, and about our personality in general. For example, wearing leggings and a zip up hoodie, paired with flip flops or tennis shoes speaks to a casual vibe, a relaxed state or the feeling of comfort. Wearing a dress and heels, inside of a weekday; one may interpret that the individual works in an office, a bank or some type of professional setting. One might say, "She looks polished, on point and ready to take on the world." So, if fashion speaks to the outside world on such a level as to tell a story of where one works simply based on an outfit, does it stand to reason, that what we wear has an impact on how we see ourselves; is there a correlation between fashion and our psyche?

There is an emerging field of study, Fashion Psychology, an applied discipline examining color, beauty, style and imagery and its effect on human behavior and self-perception extending into cultural sensitivities and norms. One Columbia University graduate is paving the way for this relatively new, and cliché yes, fashion forward discipline is Dawnn-Karen, M.A., Ed.Mc. She is the founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute in New York. Karen, who holds a Master of Arts Degree in Counseling Psychology from Columbia University specializes in "styling from the inside out and by bridging the gap between perception and reality."

Karen, albeit a trailblazer in the Fashion and Psychology world, isn’t telling us anything we fashionistas didn’t already know. Fashion. Is. Powerful. Just think of a time when you had to dress for an interview, you didn’t pick out your most comfortable jeans and tee; you were intentional in picking out something that spoke to your professionalism, timeliness and dependability. As much as that interview outfit sent a message to your potential employer, it most definitely sent a message inward. What verbs comes to mind in describing how one might feel dressing for success, confidence, focus, poise and self- assurance. Our choice in clothing, as in the aforementioned scenario has an impact on so much more than an interview. It directly impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we see ourselves. In fact, there is a term for this, it is "enclothed cognition’. We’ve all seen what that looks like, we maybe didn’t know there was a scientific term for it; exciting! Examples of enclothed cognition; think of that proverbial "sharp dressed man," the one ZZ Top said "every girl was crazy ‘bout."

Research shows that what we wear has a direct correlation to our mood and how others perceive our mood. Karen J. Pine of the University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) writes, "when we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it."

There is no one fashion formula that is guaranteed to cultivate self-esteem, confidence and poise. Fashion is afterall, complex and as personal as we are all unique and one of a kind. The key, is to dress in what makes you feel your best. Embrace that fashion has the power to reflect all that you are and experiment with color, accessories and even makeup. Explore your local boutiques and engage with their stylists. We’re here to help bring out the best in your sense of style!

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Patty Dusing is a business owner and serves on the board of directors for the Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.