You are what you wear: a conversation lesson

I have a student who is majoring in psychology at university. Every now and then I try to find texts that talk about psychology but that are general enough that I can understand and take part in the conversation.

For a while, I have had a video activity to talk about clothes and dress codes and I finally managed to find an interesting text to match with it (from Forbes, of all places). This lesson can be used with adults to discuss the importance of appearance in a work context but could also be adapted for younger students, mainly those who are about to go to university.

[EDIT]: Sabrina Braga has kindly sent me slides for this lesson. You can download them here or here.

You can start by telling students about the dress code of the school where you work (if there is one) or how you choose the clothes that you wear to work. Ask students if they think people’s clothes can tell things about their personality and profession. Board their opinions, as they are going to be used later.

After the initial discussion with the whole group, put students in pairs to answer these questions. It’s probably a good idea to check if students know the meaning of the word outfit.

  • Do you think looks are important in order to be successful? Why?
  • What kind of outfit do you usually wear to work? Are you in favour of companies having a dress code? Why?
  • How important is it to be well dressed at work? Does it depend on the profession? Why?
  • Do you think people ever judge you by your appearance? How so?

Elicit answers from the whole group and focus on whether they think people’s clothes can have a positive/negative effect on their careers.

Now show them the image below and ask students if they are familiar with the show.


You can either ask students these questions in an open discussion or get them together in pairs/trios.

  • Have you ever watched “What Not to Wear” or a similar show?
  • Why do people take part in such shows?

Tell students they are going to watch a snippet of the show where a woman named Sarah goes through a style transformation.

Tell students to pay attention to these things as they watch the snippet.

  • What is Sarah’s future profession?
  • What kind of clothes does she usually wear? What does she look like?
  • At first, how happy is Sarah to take part in the programme? How does she feel at the end?

Afterwards, elicit answers from students and get them to discuss these follow-up questions.

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much more professional does she look at the end of the show?
  • How do you think Sarah’s clothes might have affected her professionally if she hadn’t taken part in the TV programme?
  • Have you got any co-workers who should be nominated to a programme like this? Why?

Now tell students they are going to read a text entitled ‘What Your Clothes Say About You’. Go back to their ideas from the beginning of the lesson and ask students to read the text quickly (40-60 seconds) and see if any of the things they said appear in the text.

The original text can be found here and my adapted version is below.

What Your Clothes Say About You (Forbes)

After checking the gist question, give students more time to read the whole text and answer the questions below.

  • What are shopping and spending behaviours based on?
  • How can clothes be used as weapons?
  • What kinds of clothes can help people have a positive image?
  • What were the results of the study from Northwestern University?

Get students to compare their answers in pairs and then check with the whole group. To wrap this up, ask students to discuss the following questions:

  • To what extent do you believe the results of the study mentioned in the article?
  • Do you have any go-to clothes that you wear when you need to be cheered up?

 Alternatively, you can go back to the text and explore the vocabulary highlighted in bold.

to overcome


be rooted in

to rely on

to fit in

to put someone down

to come across (as)

Either give students definitions for them to match or ask them to guess the meaning of the words/expressions in pairs (which works better with higher levels). Either way, concept check the expressions before moving on to practice exercises. You could also focus on the catenation in ‘come across as’, ‘rooted in’ or ‘fit it’.

For some contextualized practice, you could get students to discuss the questions below.

  • Was it easy for you to fit in at school/university?
  • Have you had to overcome any problems recently?
  • Who among your friend do you rely on the most if you need advice?
  • Do you have any friends who might come across as arrogant but who, in reality, are quite friendly?
  • Have you ever had any professors or bosses who like to put people down?
  • Is there anything that your friends do that you think is fluff?


Thanks for reading

3 thoughts on “You are what you wear: a conversation lesson

    The bimbo look is really amazing….and obviously inappropriate to go to court……
    as an Italian I would never date a woman who dresses like her.
    The lesson will be a success. thanks a lot again


    • Thanks, Andrea. I think the point of the lesson is exactly how your clothes can get in the way of your being successful. The transformation at the end was amazing, though, wasn’t it?


  2. Pingback: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish | ricardo barros elt

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