What I buy, why I buy, how I buy: Fashion is Psychology

Interview with Shakaila Forbes-Bell, fashion psychologist and author of the book Big Dress Energy, in which she reveals how fashion psychology can transform wardrobe and self-esteem: Fashion is Psychology


In 2016, Shakaila Forbes-Bell became the first ‘black person’ in the world to earn a master’s degree in Fashion Psychology. This was her starting point. She then created the platform Fashion is Psychology and worked with many brands to unveil the psychological impact of style and beauty. She wrote the book Big Dress Energy, in which she reveals how fashion psychology can transform wardrobe and self-esteem. We interviewed her.

The relationship between fashion psychology and sustainability 

You claim that when we buy a dress, we reward ourselves and feel good: how should this also be the case with regard to sustainability?

There is a release of dopamine once we make a purchase which is rewarding and makes us feel good. However, it is important to not continuously buy more to chase this high as we risk damaging the environment. Instead, it is better to make more mindful decisions which in turn will leave you feeling even more rewarded as the item becomes more meaningful and you have made a conscious effort to consider sustainability.  Buying second-hand can help solve this issue as it is better than buying brand new. It’s a way of combining personal satisfaction with a sense of responsibility and contributing to a better world.

According to studies, the very young Gen Z declare themselves sensitive to sustainability, but then buy fast fashion: why?

There is an attitude-behavior gap whereby Gen Z are expressing concern for sustainability but engaging in fast fashion consumption. This gap can be attributed to several factors. This goes hand in hand with social media and instant gratification Gen Z want to buy new things that align with trends and get a rewarding feeling and sense of belonging. Fast fashion is also more affordable and widely accessible than sustainable alternatives. Greenwashing is also an issue, consumers may be misled by marketing tactics, believing they are making a sustainable choice when, in reality, the brand’s practices may not align with true sustainability.

Less possession, more experience

Today, the possession of a good is considered less and less important: experience is preferred. Twenty years ago, people bought CDs; today, they listen to music on Spotify. Or, one used to purchase a new dress, whereas today, the dress is rented or bought second-hand and then resold: how do you explain this?

The shift from ownership-focused consumption to experience-oriented consumption, especially among younger generations, can be attributed to several societal and technological change. The sharing economy, characterized by services like Airbnb and ride-sharing platforms, has influenced the way people think about ownership. Instead of owning physical items, there is a growing preference for sharing or renting, driven by economic considerations, sustainability concerns, and a desire for flexibility.

Why does this phenomenon mainly affect young people?

Younger generations, such as Millennials and Generation Z, often express a heightened awareness of environmental issues. Social media has played a significant role in shaping consumer behavior. Young people may place a higher value on unique and individualistic expressions of identity. Buying second-hand clothes and engaging in resale markets can be a way to curate a distinctive style and share that identity with others. The fast-paced nature of trends, especially driven by social media influencers, can make it challenging for individuals to keep up with ownership. Resale platforms offer a way to stay on trend without the commitment of long-term ownership.

Why do some people spend so much on looks and others less?

The amount of money people spend on their appearance can be influenced by a variety of factors, including personal values, financial priorities, social influences, cultural norms, and individual circumstances. For some individuals, investing in their appearance contributes to their self-esteem and overall well-being. This may lead them to allocate a higher budget for personal grooming. Others may find contentment and confidence regardless of their appearance, leading them to spend less on beauty products and clothing.

Why leather, why heels

Are those who prefer leather products and garments influenced by psychological factors?

Yes, there can be psychological factors that influence an individual’s preference for leather products and garments.

  • Status and Luxury
  • Sensory Appeal
  • Durability and Longevity
  • Fashion and Style Preferences
  • Cultural and Symbolic Meanings
  • Environmental and Ethical Considerations

The tactile and sensory qualities of leather can be appealing to many people. The smooth texture and distinctive scent of leather can evoke positive feelings and sensory pleasure. Leather has been historically associated with luxury and status. Choosing leather items may be a way for individuals to signal their taste, affluence, or desire for quality.

A banal question: can you explain why a woman wears heels even if her feet hurt?

Heels can contribute to an elevated posture, which some individuals associate with increased confidence and empowerment. The psychological impact of feeling taller and more assertive may outweigh the physical discomfort for some women.

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