Women have always used fashion as a means of expression and innovation.

By Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.Sc., Ph.D.(c); Feature Photo by Jennifer Marquez

American fashion designer and founder of Hope for Flowers Tracy Reese once said, “Fashion is a mirror, reflecting the culture.” From the corseted silhouettes of the Victorian era to the power suits of the 1980s, women’s fashion has been a reflection of societal shifts and feminist movements. Each epoch in fashion has not only mirrored the changing status of women in society but also influenced their psychological and emotional states. It is a vibrant expression of identity, culture and personal narrative, particularly for women and girls.

The Neuropsychology of Fashion in Women’s Lives

Fashion’s allure for women lies in its visual and sensory appeal. This sensory engagement is rooted in the evolution of the female brain, emphasizing detail and nuance in visual stimuli. Clothing is a tool for navigating social landscapes, influenced by self-esteem, media portrayals of beauty and societal expectations.
From an early age, girls face media pressure with airbrushed models and unrealistic beauty standards impacting their self-esteem and body image. The male-dominated fashion industry exacerbates these pressures by promoting unattainable beauty ideals.

Reframing Fashion as a Power Tool

Illustration courtesy of Shonté Jovan Taylor, M.Sc., Ph.D.(c)

The way women dress can be a personal narrative, reflecting their heritage, beliefs and experiences. In many cultures, traditional attire is a celebration of identity and a symbol of belonging. For the modern woman, fashion choices can be statements of individuality and empowerment, enabling them to assert their place in the world.

The Science of Decision-Making in Fashion

When it comes to fashion, women often navigate a complex decision-making process encompassing considerations for context, comfort, personal style and societal expectations. Psychological studies suggest that women, in general, tend to possess a keen eye for detail and are attuned to social cues, greatly influencing their wardrobe selections. However, the unjust societal judgment and pressure on women to conform to certain ideals often muddles this process, leading to a clash between personal preferences and perceived norms. Moreover, this can potentially deplete mental resources more than in our male counterparts.

Fashion, Technology and Mental Health

The intersection of fashion and technology opens up exciting possibilities. Wearable technology in fashion, such as smart fabrics that monitor health and augmented reality interfaces integrated into clothing, are rapidly advancing. For women, this integration of technology in fashion could be particularly empowering.
Michelle Washington, a fashion stylist in Austin, offers a profound insight into the intersection of fashion and mental well-being. “Experiencing a complex interplay of emotions…the tactile experience of wearing comfortable and aesthetically pleasing fabrics may stimulate sensory regions, heightening comfort and satisfaction.”

Fashion Addressing Social Issues

Clothing lines that bring attention to causes like homelessness, bullying and gender inequality can transform fashion into a platform for advocacy and change. North Texas designer Jennifer Stanley uses her fashion line, Nurturing Bond, to address social issues. Her collection advocates for women’s rights and social justice, with a focus on breastfeeding- and postpartum-friendly designs. This aspect of fashion reflects a growing consciousness among consumers and designers alike about the impact of their choices beyond apparel.

“Does This Dress Have Pockets?”

For too long, fashion design has overlooked practical aspects of women’s clothing, often prioritizing aesthetic over utility. However, there is a growing demand for designs that combine both, reflecting the real-world needs and desires of women. These innovations also signal a shift toward a more inclusive and practical approach in the fashion industry, which historically has been guided by an idealized notion of the female form.

Empowering Women in STEAM Through Fashion

As STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education gains traction, the inclusion of the arts, which encompasses fashion, opens new avenues for women in fields traditionally dominated by men. For example, The University Fashion Group at UT Austin’s mission is to fuse apparel design, retail merchandising, textile science and textiles conservation. Integrating fashion design with AI and computer science enhances clothing functionality, providing a platform for women to innovate and lead in these fields.

The Future of Fashion, Health and Wealth of Austin Women

Looking to the future, the possibilities of wearable technology and fashion, are boundless especially in Austin. Pauline van Dongen, a Dutch fashion designer who specializes in wearable technology, showcases the potential of merging tech and fashion to enhance body performance. Her presence at SXSW and Austin Fashion Week highlights Austin’s role as a hub for fashion innovation.

Women in Austin’s fashion industry will play a crucial role in shaping the future, driving innovation that is technologically advanced, empathetic and inclusive. From smart garments that adapt to the environment to interactive clothing, the potential is enormous.



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