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Can clothes really make you more confident?

You know that saying, “The clothes make the man?” Well, the same concept goes for us gals. And while it’s no secret that women love their clothes for their figure-enhancing properties, can they really make us more confident? Taking my lifelong fashion obsession and a little bit of help from Marshalls’ industry experts, I set out to find an answer.

Woman shopping for clothes

Photo credit: gradyreese/iStock/360/Getty Images

A girl and her clothes

So maybe I’m a little bit biased — I do work in the fashion industry, after all — but I have always had a special relationship with my clothes. Ever since I was a little girl wearing dresses to school every day (and getting questioned by the mean girls for it), I felt that my clothes helped me express my personality and better yet, they made me feel more confident.

Sure clothes can be outwardly pretty, and they can even make your physical body look great. But the way clothes make you feel on the inside can be even more important than the way they make you look outside. And as superficial as it may sound, that killer dress or stunning pair of heels can be just the extra boost you need to rock that first date or boardroom presentation.

The double-edged sword of fashion

Every story has two sides, though, and while the clothes the fashion industry creates can certainly boost confidence, a lot has been said about the negative impact the industry has had on women’s body image. After all, when little girls grow up seeing waifish models cover the pages of magazines, a certain message gets ingrained in their heads: If you want to be successful and happy, you need to look like this, too.

The fashion industry still has a long way to go when it comes to positive body image messages, but it still possesses an inherently great goal: the empowerment of women. So how can we learn to love our bodies and boost confidence in a culture that’s constantly sending us mixed messages? That’s easy: learn to celebrate your shape with clothing that makes you feel confident and unique without conforming to stereotypical societal standards.

It’s up to us as educated women to filter out all the negative images and stereotypes saturating the industry because if we can do so, we can see fashion for what it should be: a beautiful way to help us all add a boost of confidence to our daily lives.

Researching the issue

I’ve always been fascinated by body image and fashion’s role in our lives. So when I got the chance to meet up with the folks at Marshalls, celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart and body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass to explore confidence and clothing during a private styling session, I jumped at the chance.

A recent survey conducted by Marshalls revealed that 75 percent of women have said “no” to an activity or opportunity due to a lack of confidence. With the help of Stewart and Glass’ expertise, they’re hoping to change that.

As someone who works in the fashion industry, I’ve definitely learned a lot about highlighting my assets and boosting confidence with clothing, but I was ready to take things a bit further and find out just how useful fashion can be in the quest for increased confidence.

My first goal? Talking about vanity sizing. Ask any woman what size she is in a few different stores and you’re sure to get varied answers. A size 8 in one store might be a 12 in the next and whether we admit it or not, that can take a toll on how confidently we approach the task of dressing. But when we let vanity sizing rule our view of ourselves, we sabotage the way we interact with clothing. And when we fail to arm ourselves with useful knowledge about our body type we can also become our own worst enemy. “Learn your body, learn what looks good on you. One of the tips I’ve been giving today is [to] find a celebrity icon that matches you, that has your body type or a style you like and use them as an example,” Stewart says.

Another way to tackle dressing in a more self-assured way? Find your signature look and the clothing items that make you feel the most confident, Stewart says: “Pick your go-to pieces. Again, learn from yourself. There must be something in your wardrobe that you always go to and I really believe in getting repeats of those things — getting your favorite things in variations.”

I personally subscribe to this last piece of advice and it makes a big difference. Whenever I find a dress or a top that really makes my body look good, I love to pick it up in multiple colors because I know I’ll wear it to death and know it’ll boost my confidence.

Owning your look

If you’re still not feeling confident in your clothes or your skin, you can always pretend. Body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass says habits like poor posture, fidgeting and picking at your outfit can reveal a lack of confidence. And really it’s no surprise because when we wear ill-fitting garments, they can lower our confidence.

“Quality pieces fit better, and that affects your posture, which then affects the overall impression you make every day. More than half (58 percent) of the women [surveyed] agreed that the higher quality clothing they wore, the more confident they felt,” Glass says. “Quality designer pieces from Marshalls can help you look and feel confident by providing the great fit you need, at an amazing price that you’ll love even more.”

For those days when you’re just not feeling your best, Glass recommends boosting your look with certain tricks like rolling your shoulders back and focusing on a strong core to improve posture. When all else fails, a smile will always do the trick: “Always wear a smile. A pleasant expression makes your clothes look even more beautiful on you.”

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