May 31, 2020

The Dress Doctor Is In

Whereas a fashion business class may teach students how to design and market a product based on demographic trends, Ms. Jung’s students explore the psychology behind consumer behavior. “We talk about perceptions and standards of attractiveness,” she said. “Where these come from and how we use them to judge others.”

The London College of Fashion offers what may be the field’s most comprehensive academic program. In 2014, the school introduced graduate programs in applied psychology in fashion and in psychology for fashion professionals. Last year, the school started an undergraduate major in the psychology of fashion.

“The fashion industry speaks so much about memory, problem solving and nostalgia,” said Carolyn Mair, who founded the programs and now runs a consulting firm. “And yet in the industry, these psychological concepts lack academic rigor and training.”

Ms. Mair gave the example of sustainably produced clothes. Brands have been good at raising awareness of the issue, she believes, but not at influencing our purchasing decisions. “If the fashion industry was to work with psychologists who understand human behavior,” she said, “they could implement scientifically based behavioral change programs” to influence what consumers buy.

Ms. Mair, a psychologist with a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience, is careful to call herself a “psychologist who works in the fashion industry,” because the term “fashion psychologist” isn’t recognized by any official academic or licensing body.

Ms. Karen has a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Columbia Teachers College, but she is used to skepticism. Some people think she made up her name for the attention. (Though she did drop her surname, Brown, during a modeling stint in graduate school, her mother named her after the designer Donna Karan and Dawnn Lewis, an actress from “A Different World.”)

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