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The Psychology of Fashion Week

How can fashion help or hurt mental health?

Key points

  • With the biannual events of Fashion Week, an influx of style influencers will appear on social media users' feeds.
  • Following fashion influencers can both help and hurt onlookers' mental health.
  • Creative art therapy can be helpful for some mental disorders, but may not work for all.
Source: Freestocks/Unsplash

With the end of Fashion Week, the media rounded up some of the flashiest pictures to grace the headlines of places like GQ, Refinery29, and Vogue, featuring some of today’s biggest street style influencers.

As a fashion fan myself, I got to attend my first show at Collina Strada last Friday, a brand that makes some of my own values like sustainability, inclusivity, and eccentricity a part of its style and label.

I’ve been embracing the small crop of designers who combine loud patterns, bold colors, and complex layering techniques that I feel match the complexity I feel having a schizophrenia diagnosis. The complex outfits that I’m able to play and experiment with give me a feeling of freedom of expression to represent the unique neurodivergence that I live with.

But I didn’t always draw inspiration from fashion models. At one time, I was very jealous of these influencers and their ability to access this culture that seemed so out of reach to normal people, let alone “some schizophrenia girl."

Fashion can help but also hurt us. In what ways does it do both?

The impact of fashion influencers on mental health

A study released in 2021 done at the University of Dehradun-Uttarakand in India published in the International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation revealed some key findings about just this topic.

The study studied 50 participants aged 17-22 and 35-50 who had active accounts on Instagram to investigate how following fashion influencers affected their mental health. The participants completed a self-esteem self-report questionnaire that indicated the lack or presence of healthy self-esteem.

Of the 50 participants, only 10 of the women (5 from the 17-22 group and 5 from the 25-50 group) revealed low scores on the self-esteem inventory and were pulled aside for further interview.

In a qualitative interview, these girls reported a feeling of a “shrinking self” while looking at the pictures of online fashion influencers. They reported feelings of inadequacy, and the act of comparing oneself to others resulted in a reduced sense of self-acceptance, higher rates of envy, and lack of motivation.

However, participants also reported positive feelings. Women reported feelings of admiration, inspiration, and motivation when it came to how they perceived their bodies.

The authors emphasize that fashion influencers can also positively impact people to be highly motivated to pursue trends and express themselves creatively, which results in a more positive outlook for growing an influencer’s brand. The culminating result of negative self-esteem can be rooted in social comparison theory, which is a theory that a person determines his or her own worth based on comparisons of how they perceive themselves to be better or worse in fare to others.

Creative expression can also be beneficial to one’s mental health; however, one study that looked at 417 patients with schizophrenia split the sample into groups which either received art therapy or didn't, and found that exposure to art therapy might not differ between control groups and individuals with a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Make of the fashion industry as you will, but there might not be anything that will kill this very large industry for a long time.


Panjrath, M. Y., & Tiwari, S. (2021). “Why Them, Not Me?”: A Study Exploring The Impact Of Following Fashion Influencers on Instagram on Body Image Satisfaction of Adolescent Girls and Middle-aged Women. International Journal of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, 25(02).

Crawford, M. J., Killaspy, H., Barnes, T. R., Barrett, B., Byford, S., Clayton, K., ... & Waller, D. (2012). Group art therapy as an adjunctive treatment for people with schizophrenia: multicentre pragmatic randomised trial. Bmj, 344.

Schouten, K. A., de Niet, G. J., Knipscheer, J. W., Kleber, R. J., & Hutschemaekers, G. J. (2015). The effectiveness of art therapy in the treatment of traumatized adults: a systematic review on art therapy and trauma. Trauma, violence, & abuse, 16(2), 220-228.