Opinion | Break out the bowties: your clothing habits are reflective of your mental health

By Grace McGinness, Staff Columnist

College is supposed to be the greatest years of our lives, though mental health statistics certainly don’t reflect that.

There’s been a rising prevalence of mental health issues among college students in recent years. The increase in diagnosis of major depression and anxiety disorders could be a natural outcome of spreading awareness and acceptance of mental health, but the trend has become significant enough that some medical professionals consider it a crisis. Many stressors can pick away at a person’s mental health, but an unexpected factor may just be lurking in our own closets. And it’s not skeletons.

Research has found that clothes are not only a good tool for self expression, but also have subtle effects on their wearer’s mental health. Donning a Superman T-shirt can make a person feel stronger and more likeable to others. And wearing uncomfortable clothes — like jeans that are too small — leads people to perform worse at stressful, high-performance tasks like taking a math test. As someone who proudly wears pajama pants to 9 a.m. lectures, I know that even putting on leggings is often easier said than done. Still, students should consider the ways in which they dress — not because of what others may think, but simply because it could help them feel a bit better on a day-to-day basis.

While it is certainly clear that stained sweatpants are not the cause of depression across the nation, students shouldn’t underestimate the power that griminess can hold over one’s mood. Our clothes contribute to our self-image, or how we view ourselves as a person in comparison to others, and our self-image heavily impacts our self-esteem. If we don’t like our self-image, we have lower self-esteem, which is one of the contributors toward developing a depressed mood.

This is not a call for making model-runway, conventional fashion the norm across campus. There shouldn’t really be any standard that people stress over to achieve, but students should put some more thought into how their clothes really make them feel and what feels good to them. But don’t worry about your wallet — taking control of your clothes doesn’t necessarily mean buying an entirely new wardrobe at all.

Most people are secret hoarders when it comes to their closets. We only wear about 20% of our clothes regularly, according to the Wall Street Journal. While there are certainly pieces packed away in there for specific occasions, there are probably more items that are just wasting away. Curating your closet is a small routine that can reap large rewards. Go through the closet and get rid of the clothes that no longer fit — or more importantly, that you don’t like to wear anymore, or never really liked in the first place.

Rather than fashion, students should consider what style of clothes makes them look and feel the best in their day-to-day life. If we feel insecure over how we are presenting ourselves to other people, then maybe it’s time to keep the clothes we don’t feel comfortable in — whether that’s sweatpants or dresses — at home. Better yet, we should just get rid of the non-essential clothing we absolutely don’t like to wear regularly.

But we still can’t wear what we want if its not appropriately clean enough to be in public. College students despairing over their ever-unfinished laundry is an ever-present, cliche meme on the internet, but it really isn’t such an overwhelming task once you get started on it. It can be hard to drag ourselves down to the laundry room, but there are ways to help get it done like setting alarms and phone reminders throughout the weekend. Even more helpful would be to mark laundry as a priority in whatever daily or academic planner you may use to keep track of meetings, deadlines and events.

Make laundry a priority and carve out the time it will take you to do it on your official list of things to do so that it can’t be so easily forgotten about or ignored. It doesn’t have to be a battle to overcome every two weeks, and putting it off just increases the stress over doing, which further tanks someone’s mood.

Developing routines into your life and wardrobe can bring about many benefits both psychologically and physiologically. Bringing order can reduce the small, daily doses of stress we experience when things don’t quite go our way, and laundry can become a mountain-made-out-of-a-molehill type of stress that students can avoid. If we’re only working with 20% of our clothes anyway, then every sock needs to be clean and accounted for when we’re rushing out the door.

What we put on our bodies can seem like a small hang-up in comparison to all-important life decisions, but exercising control over the small things can help us feel more prepared to tackle the big things. Taking some of the most important tests you may have in your life, like the MCAT, LSAT or GRE, in a crusty workout shirt snatched off the top of the laundry pile won’t have you feeling like yourself. You may not want to show up in a suit, but whatever you wear should be something you wanted and decided to wear.

Once your closet is curated with pieces that you’re actually excited to wear out in public, it won’t take any extra time at all to put together a more, well, put-together look. Unless, of course, you feel the most comfortable starting at square one by just rolling out of bed and bouncing in your pajamas.

In this difficult, extremely transient time of our lives, there is a lot that is spinning outside of our control that can leave us feeling depressed or anxious. Anyone can be affected by the stress of college life, and there is an equal amount of daily routines that can be established to help reduce the amount of uncertainty plaguing us everyday. Style is a personal choice that allows us to take charge over our self-image and project what we want to become. By taking control over our clothes, we take the first steps to look and feel like the best we can be.


You can contact Grace with any comments or concerns at [email protected].