Here’s the scene: It’s Friday night, and the laundry hamper is overflowing with the past week’s attire. Instead of tackling the chore right here and now (as your inner adult tells you to), you opt for the rest of that leftover pizza and the latest episode—or seven—of House of Cards, promising yourself you’ll get to those dirty clothes later.
Fast-forward to Sunday night, and the dirty clothes are still piling up. You think to yourself, “It’s fine. I can just re-wear that blazer from last week. It’s not that dirty anyway.”
We’ve all been there. In fact, we take no shame in occasionally delaying daily chores in order to enjoy some satisfying self-indulgences. But what if I told you that this seemingly harmless decision to skip laundry and simply wear a pre-worn—cough, dirty, cough—article of clothing has more repercussions than you might realize?
In a recent study entitled Clean Clothes Matter conducted by P&G, researchers tested the relationship between the cleanliness of clothes and the wearer’s cognitive performance. In the study, a hundred participants were asked to come to the experiment with two sets of clothes, one they didn’t mind sweating in and a similar spare set. Researchers then asked subjects to sit in a portable sauna for ten minutes. After participants worked up a good sweat, they were asked to undress and wipe off their sweaty skin with hand wipes. Now here’s where it gets interesting: Half of the participants were asked to change back into their sweaty clothes, whereas the other half was instructed to put on their unworn set of clothes. Both groups were then given attention, perception, and memory tests.
The result? It might not be as bad as putting back on post-sauna gear, but all signs point to the fact that re-wearing that dirty blazer might be a bad idea after all.
“What we’re seeing so far in preliminary indications is that people who wear the clean clothes report themselves as happier, as more relaxed, and also as having more energy,” says Dr. Lawrence Rosenblum, a cognitive psychologist working with P&G on the study. He also notes that wearing clean clothes “unconsciously primes our emotional concepts,” such as the ever-important feeling of comfort.
“This is important because we know that how comfortable our clothes feel can influence how well we perform on tests, specifically those that require memory and problem-solving skills,” he notes. “In one study, students attending an hour-long graduate statistics exam were asked to describe the clothes they were wearing and rate the level of comfort in those clothes prior to completing the exam. The exam results showed that the students wearing comfortable clothes performed better on the exam.” Looks like that guy wearing pajamas to the 8 a.m. sociology class might have been on to something after all.
This idea of “enclothed cognition” is actually part of a greater study of psychology called “embodied cognition.” It’s the idea that the state of our bodies—what we’re wearing, how we’re sitting—has an effect on our perceived concepts. But it’s not just our clothing’s cleanliness or our sense of comfort that matters. It’s what is associated with the clothes we wear that impacts performance and mentality as well.
Dr. Rosenblum cites another study called Enclothed Cognition in which subjects were given a lab coat to wear during a series of tests. Those who were told it was a doctor’s coat demonstrated better analytical skills, while those who were told it was a painter’s coat demonstrated stronger creative skills. “It’s this idea that what’s going on around you physically, what you’re seeing and thinking is going to affect you as well,” adds Mary Johnson, fabric care principal scientist for Tide and Downy.
We hate to break it to you, but it looks like science is making a serious case for doing laundry and appropriating our clothes with our inner selves.
And really, this idea makes a lot of sense. Ever put on workout clothes and felt instantly more athletic? Or conversely, worn the same sweatshirt and sweatpants for two days straight after a bad week at work and felt even more lethargic and down than when you started? Just as your “good jeans” can give you the confidence boost you need for that first date, the condition—or lack thereof—of your clothes can unknowingly sabotage your mood, attention span, and overall cognitive experience in everyday life.
Bottom line: If you’ve got a big day coming up or simply want to put your best face forward—physically and mentally, don’t let your clothes be an afterthought. From a clothed cognition standpoint, you’re only hurting yourself by not wearing your best—and cleanest—clothes.
So the next time you’re stalling to do laundry, just remember that it’s not only your inner adult you should listen to but science as well. Trust us, when you’re wearing your favorite outfit, feeling fine and fresh, your mind will thank you.
Photo Credit: Sara Kerens