Brain Science Behind Your Onstage Attire With Ellie Steinbrink

by | Apr 18, 2024 | Podcasts

Speakers Who Get Results | Ellie Steinbrink | Brain Science


What you wear when giving public presentations isn’t just fashion or preference. On a much deeper level, brain science is involved in your attire choices. Your clothes shape how you think, feel, and present yourself. Elizabeth Bachman delves deeper into this topic with Ellie Steinbrink, an expert in style psychology. Together, they explain the deep connections between our clothing choices and our inner selves. Ellie discusses the complexities of brain science on how our onstage wardrobe influences our behavior, performance, confidence, and overall attitude. She also highlights the power of mindset in crossing personal and professional barriers, as well as maintaining resilience throughout one’s career.

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Brain Science Behind Your Onstage Attire With Ellie Steinbrink

Ellie Steinbrink, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Elizabeth. I’m so glad to be here today. I am excited for this conversation.

I’m really glad to have you here. I particularly like it because we first started talking and you were talking about clothing and style and all of that, and then you started talking about mindset. The mindset behind what we wear and how our mindset influences what we wear. I said, “Okay, before we get tired of this.” Before I get into that and all the interesting brain science that you have around clothing, let me ask you about your dream interview. If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

I love this question by the way, because I’m not asked it often so it’s fun to kind of think about who you would want to speak with. My dream interview is with Betty White. She is an actress. One of the most well-known TV stars, producer, game show host, all of the above. One of the things I really love most about Betty White is Just how long her career has spanned. 1) That’s impressive in itself. 2) When you hear her speak in interviews, she talks a lot about her mindset as it relates to her age or as it relates to being the first female in many of these different realms being the first female to produce, first to be in the TV shows and have a starring role, the sitcoms.

It’s an incredible legacy. What I would want to ask her is what was your secret through all of those barriers that you were busting through not just from a career standpoint, but busting through those self-perception barriers? How did she keep herself going even through the ‘90s? She had a revival of her career in the ‘90s. How impressive is that? How did she maintain that energy, that stamina, that mindset to keep going and being successful all along the way?

You have to think that she started out as just another blonde. She started as just another one of those blondes and moved from that into continuing to get work, being accepted as a comedian, which was also not always easy for women, and then having the revival as she got older, and that everybody loved her. That’s the other thing is then she was beloved. How many people grow into someone who winds up being beloved especially after so often she was playing just the dumb blonde, and that’s a really hard role to move out of.

She did, and I just think we would have a great time talking and laughing. I know for sure she would make me laugh. That’s the other reason I think this would be a delightful dream interview.

That sounds like great fun. Ellie, why does style matter? You’ve been talking about the brain science, but behind what you wear. Talk to us about that, please.

The Brain Science Behind What You Wear

I don’t think style is something many of us think about beyond just going to the store and getting something in the last-minute emergency for a speaking gig or for a meeting you have. All these years of getting dressed even to the point when I was a little girl and I would get a new dress and I would twirl around in that dress. I’m telling you I would feel so much good energy. I would just feel lighter than air like I could accomplish anything. It wasn’t until recent years that I thought why is it that I felt like that and that continued into my my teenage years into my early working years.

When I put something on, that made me feel my best self that felt good on me, or maybe it was a color that I enjoyed wearing. Something shifted in me and I never really knew why. Until just recently, I realized there is actual brain science around what’s happening and that what you wear changes how you behave, how you perform, and how you feel. Very simplistically, we won’t go into all the details of brain science, but what is happening is that when you have a feeling your brain activates and sends chemicals throughout your body.

There is actual brain science around what you wear changes how you behave, how you perform, and how you feel. Click To Tweet

When you have a good feeling, your brain activates and sends good chemicals throughout your body. Of course, when you have a bad icky yucky feeling, your brain activates and sends bad chemicals throughout your body. There have even been studies showing that the repeated state of having a bad or negative feeling, your body being flooded with bad chemicals can lead in the worst-case scenario to depression and anxiety. Let’s take this in the context then of getting dressed. Okay, we’ve all been in these different scenarios in our closet.

One scenario is, I go into my closet and I am totally uninspired just maybe not excited at all about what I see in there. Maybe in some cases, I’ve heard a lot of women say, I walk in and I find that only a few things fit me. Maybe my size has changed over the years certainly over COVID that was the case for many people or maybe I’m just wearing what I’m supposed to for work settings or social settings, but I don’t feel a lot of connection to it. We’ve had those moments in our closets where we’re just frustrated, we’re uninspired, whatever those adjectives may be.

What is happening then is that feeling is activating your brain. That feeling you have in your closet activates your brain and it’s flooding your body with chemicals. Then when you think about those days, where your day starts off not that great, how does the rest of your day go? This could be an exercise that the listeners could do tomorrow without even changing a thing. When they go into the closet, just know how I feel and take note of how the rest of your day goes. For example, maybe you’re a little short with the people around you.

I know sometimes when I’m frustrated in my closet I just can’t seem to get anything to work or it just doesn’t feel right for what I need to be dressing for for the day. I may be a little snappy with my husband or my kids I know I definitely hide more. If I was going into an office or if I’m working from home, maybe I’m not turning my Zoom camera on, there’s all these little fallouts of that one act in the morning. Now, if you flip that scenario and you go into your closet and let’s say you do have something really great to put on, maybe it’s a color you love that really just lights up your skin or something that feels really good on, the material feels good or just your favorite outfit.

Now when you go put that on, it’s a completely different experience. There is that energetic high that I was talking about earlier back from the time when I was a little girl and experiencing this, that floats you through your day. When I’m working with women who are at a high level in their career and they’re looking to make these nuanced changes in how they’re showing up and how they’re performing, it’s things like this that do help them take it up a notch. Just noticing that there is in fact a connection between what you wear and how the rest of your day goes.

Speakers Who Get Results | Ellie Steinbrink | Brain Science

Brain Science: There is a real connection between what you wear and how the rest of your day goes.


It also has to do with how you are perceived, what’s appropriate for where you’re going, and what is the image that you’re projecting, Right?

Yeah, for sure. There’s an exercise I love to do with my clients that helps us really kind of get back in touch with maybe those perceptions because as you said, equally important is how you feel and what you wear, but also how others perceive you. What I always say is well, we can’t control what others are going to say about us or people will judge that it happens within a split second research has shown. While you can’t control what someone is going to think of you, you can at least control what you want that perception to be. You can say, “I want my clothes to communicate something,” just like you would pay attention to your body language or your speech on stage because you want those perceptions to be something you’re controlling as much as you can.

The question I like to ask is, imagine you were in a scenario where you went to a worker or social event, and in the last couple of years, I know when we’re having to stretch way back in their memory because there weren’t as many in-person settings. If you can think now maybe from the last year when you started to go back out to work or social events and think of a time when you spent a little more time getting dressed, maybe it wasn’t just grabbing something quickly out of your closet, but this is an event you wanted to show up for. Maybe it was a speaking gig, a time on stage, a big meeting where you really gave some thought to what you’re going to wear that day.

Then I asked them this question. How would the other people at this meeting or this event, how would they describe you? Write down a bunch of adjectives that you would think maybe they would use to describe you. It’s really interesting to see what their answers are. For many of my clients, I can just share one example of a client. She’s a senior Healthcare Executive, Sales Executive and she had said the words average appropriate I fit in. I think that’s eye-opening too just for you to be completely honest with what would somebody say about me. Then we flip it a bit.

You think of the same work event or social setting and now this time, you’ve had all the time in the world or time to think about what you would want to wear. Something that you imagine would best represent you, your personality, your leadership style. What is that perfect outfit? Let’s say we could just kind of live in a dream world. Okay. Now, imagine yourself walking into that same event, walking on stage or the meeting or what it may be. Ask yourself that same question. How now would people describe me? It’s impressive the difference. Approachable, confident, like a leader, polished, put together, professional. It’s like a total night and day difference.

Start With Awareness

Again, the reason we go through that is to help you sort of step outside yourself and say is what I’m trying to give off to others. The perception I’m trying to create wherever I go is coming off that way. Let me just take a moment to be real honest with myself about whether I’m doing a good job with that, it’s hard to answer that question because it’s hard to look inward and say, “Maybe that isn’t quite the impression I was hoping to get off,” but I think it’s such an important exercise. Awareness is always where I start. It’s just let’s take note and be aware before you can actually make a change.

Take note and be aware of what’s happening within you before you can actually make a change. Click To Tweet

I’m thinking about how awareness of the voices in your head, which might not be so helpful, is one of the things I know when I’m working with speakers and people say, “How do I practice?” even just your introduction. How you introduce yourself is to do it in the mirror, but recognize that at least the first three times, you’re not going to be objective because at least the first three times, you’re going to be saying, “Look, I’ve got wrinkles. Oh dear.” Do I like that? Things like all that chatter in your head, you have to go through it at least two or three times before you can then be objective. You just have to get past it. It’s gonna happen.

Those voices are really hard to ignore and put aside.

Let me skip ahead to one of my later questions. The voices are hard to ignore and just saying, “I don’t want to think that. I want to just love myself.” It doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for anybody, I know. How can we deal with that mindset as we are getting ready to go out and do a presentation within an organization or in public outside your organization?

Yeah, that’s a great question. When I’m working with my clients, we do a half-day session to start where we define their style brand. We cover a number of topics and style brands. I’ve spent 20 years in the marketing industry where I was working on brands for all sorts of companies and now my focus is working on the style brand for women. In this half-day session, we’re doing all sorts of things to help define their style brand in terms of their best colors or power colors, what their style words are, and understanding how to dress their particular body type.

The Mindset Around Style

One of the most important pieces of this session is exactly what you’re speaking to which is the mindset around style. I like to say that if we want to make really any kind of transformation, but in my world if we want to make a style transformation, which is what they’re coming to me to do is to make a real change. We have to peel back some layers on maybe what’s holding us back from stepping into that vision we have for ourselves. For example, we could go through this half-day style brand session and get into visioning exercises, and say walk away with, “Okay, great. This is what I want my style to be,” but the problem is then you go and either you go out shopping on your own or we do it together.

If we haven’t worked through those mindset issues, you’re going to run into the same behaviors and actions that you always have been when you have gone into the store. You might go into a store and say, “I can’t try any of this on because it doesn’t work for my body or I must always pick black because I believe that wearing black in a professional setting is always the most appropriate or maybe that’s all I see others around me wearing.”

One of the ways I help my clients sort of dig into this what’s holding them back, is an exercise that I do. There are lots of rules, lots of expectations, and lots of beliefs around either style or our bodies, and those come from a number of different places. I have many examples like and share personally, you may too, and also my clients it could be something someone said to you on a playground when you were a kid about your body or your style. It could be that you entered as a workplace and you saw everyone dressing and a certain way so then you felt like you had to dress that way in order to be professional or in order to be successful.

Here’s the exercise we go through and I think this starts to help you just again go back to the awareness. A lot of these things we don’t realize we’re hanging on to or that they’re kind of ruling our actions and our behaviors. Again, the first step is let’s just figure out what those things are so that we can work to change the mindset moving forward. First, we just name what is the rule or expectation that has been dominating us. I’m going to tell you if you guys end up doing this exercise for yourself, don’t be surprised many examples come up.

Figure out your behaviors first before working out to change your mindset moving forward. Click To Tweet

I mean because you’re talking about culture, maybe what have you been told about style or your body or about a woman in our society? What is patriarchy said what have familial rules or customs set about how you dress or how you don’t dress? Don’t feel like it’s a problem if you come up with a lot of different things. What I will ask them to do is after we go through a number of examples, I say pick the one that feels like it’s still very prominent for you. We just name it. I’ll work through this through one of my clients’ examples to kind of illustrate how this flows.

One of the clients was primarily only wearing black interprofessional. Now, I want to say there’s not necessarily anything wrong with wearing black. I mean if that’s your thing and that’s your style, great. In her case, what we uncovered is that she had adopted a belief that black is professional, black is just easier because I don’t have to figure out or think about what goes with black. If everything in my wardrobe is black, I don’t have to do much thinking. Black is a way that I can kind of hide in social situations instead of stepping up and standing out.

It doesn’t have to be a big statement maker, but she realized that I think this is a comfort because even if she were to put on a dress that was very colorful, she said, “I would always grab my black blazer because it was just like a comfort for me.” Then you asked for sure just naming, what’s the belief the rule, or the expectation that you feel is holding you back? Number two, is what fear is that belief creating? Her fear was, if I don’t dress in black, I may not be perceived as professional because all I see around me is people wearing black suits. There happened to be a lot of men in her industry.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that but they’re all wearing black suits. Then another fear it might cost a lot more money. If I’m trying to figure out different colors and it’s just so much easier with black I’m afraid I’m gonna waste all this money if I try to expand beyond black. Then I’m worried about how I might feel if I choose a different color. Maybe I choose the teal you’re wearing today, Elizabeth is beautiful like, “What if I came out in a teal suit instead of a black one, how would I feel because obviously maybe I’m gonna get a little more attention wearing that versus a sea of black?” The second thing is naming what fear.

The third thing is understanding, when you’re believing disbelief and you’re carrying it around with you, how does it then impact your actions? How does it work to self-sabotage you essentially? Her answer was, “When I go shopping, even though like deep down inside I kind of wish,” because she told me, “I would see other women at conferences and they would be wearing standoff colors or these really beautiful garments and they were embracing coloring with so much confidence,” and she would kind of think to herself, “I really wish I could do that.” She secretly wanted that.

She wanted to step out of her shell, but every time she would go shopping because she had this belief that was so deeply rooted, wouldn’t even consider black. I mentioned before if she did wear a color in a dress, she would always add her black blazer on top. In that way, her disbelief that was so deeply rooted is self-sabotaging. I’ll just stop there because I know I’ve been doing a lot of talking, but you can really work this scenario through whatever rule or belief is holding on to you so tightly and you mentioned body image things. There are a number of my clients who have had body image examples. I have my own personal one in that regard, too. The very powerful exercise is because it’s really just taking maybe something that is unconscious into the conscious.

Awareness is everything. I’ve been to so many factors. Would you then recommend maybe doing one thing differently? I can imagine somebody wearing black all the time and then buying a bright red dress and hangs in the closet or a suit that hangs in the closet.

Yeah, you know what we did for her actually in this example is her color palette she was able to wear beautiful burgundy colors and actually the teal that you’re wearing today, we ended up buying her suit. She felt really good in a suit. She wanted to keep wearing that in that teal color you’re wearing and then we also bought one in burgundy. The reason I suggested that is sort of a next step is because it is a color but it doesn’t feel so in your face like maybe a hot pink. It still felt like a nice move toward the color she wanted to embrace in her wardrobe and it didn’t make her feel so exposed.

Actually, what ended up happening is once we made that step, we bought some other pieces to go for her work wardrobe and there were some other brighter colorful pieces and we ended up trying on a lot of colors and mixing and matching them in different ways. Her taking the one step and it may not be this way for everyone but her taking that next step almost gave her that little bit of confidence that, “I can do this. This isn’t as scary as I think.” Then led her to take several more steps forward and gave her more courage to say, “I really like this. I like how I feel. I like that this is giving me more confidence in those work in social settings.”

Can you talk a little bit about color in terms of one’s personal color palette? I just tell you a quick story. For many years, I did wear black and I do still wear black from time to time. Until I had my colors professionally done, I was regularly on stage when I really started being serious as a speaker. I met somebody who was a color and analyst and I said, “Here I am. I’ve got my red and my black and my gold,” and she said, “What if you try a softer patterned sort of blue with patterns.” She called it a watercolor. We were doing this in a group and everybody saw the softer blue and the grays and said, “Wow, you look so much better,” but the other one, that’s my whole closet over there. I actually did change everything I was wearing because it was better for me. It wasn’t what I thought I was supposed to wear.

Yeah. There are a couple of things in what you’re saying there is one is we do have beliefs about colors that we should or shouldn’t wear. I have even had clients tell me that they’ve had a parent say, “Yeah, you don’t look good in orange so don’t ever wear that color or don’t wear yellow.” When I’m working with my clients, we do a color analysis and they will get their 35 best colors, their best neutrals, and their best metals so as silver, gold, or platinum. It can be very eye-opening just as you shared even for me personally. If you guys are familiar with the seasons, I’m an autumn which means I’m a warm tone, which also means that black is not in my color palette.

Same as you, I had plenty of black pieces in my wardrobe that I was not ready to part with. My approach, I know that a color and analysts may say something different. I know I’ve heard them say we do exclusively only wear the colors that are in your color palette and never straight for men because it is going to warm up your face. I do believe, I’ve seen that difference even in me wearing white versus Ivory, which I’m wearing today, makes a huge difference when to warm up my warm skin tone.

That said, when I’m coaching my clients, I think it’s important to know which colors are best for your skin, but secondly, I don’t want to completely negate what colors you really love and feel your most confident in. We take some time to talk about well, let’s say I really do love hot pink but that is definitely not in my color palette. There are ways you can incorporate that. Maybe in a pair of shoes or a belt or a scarf or an accessory. You wouldn’t have a purse on stage but a belt certainly or shoes.

Speakers Who Get Results | Ellie Steinbrink | Brain Science

Brain Science: It’s important to know which colors are best for your skin. However, do not negate what colors you really love and make you feel the most confident.


Can you add that pop of color that makes you so excited and energetic and most yourself? Can you still incorporate that in a way or even like how you’re doing it today, Elizabeth, is another recommendation is maybe black isn’t your color but that nice teal is so close to your face. I can’t tell if it’s a scarf or a shirt.

It is a shirt but I am also wearing a jacket that looks black but it is actually blue. It’s a very dark blue. It’s a very dark navy. If you put it next to something, it’s black. You can tell. I can see on the camera it looks sort of dark navy but I also have a blue background. Part of it is I wanted to wear this turquoise shirt and I knew that if I wore it against the background, I would disappear. It would be too much the color of the background. I needed the jacket to go with it. Just a quick question as we’re coming to the end of this. Do you work with men as well?

I have worked with men. However, my passion is working with women. I am working exclusively with women at this point.

Because I’m wondering if you found the same sorts of body issues with men. Certainly, many of the men I know have the same sort of body issues.

Body issues, and I think just doubting their skills and trying to figure out does this actually work together and I find you know with women or men, you get into the closet and even if you have an idea of what you want to do, you might hold yourself back because you’re not sure, “Wait, I’m not sure these two colors go together. I’m not sure what shoe to put together with this whole thing.” They kind of just lean towards playing it safe. There’s that aspect of it. Yeah, I think all of that exists no matter if you’re male or female. The exercise we went through is valuable no matter who you are and what your experience is I think it’s beneficial.

Ellie Steinbrink, this has been really fun to have you on here to talk about the mindset behind what we wear since it’s so important to something that we don’t pay attention to. For someone who’s listening who’s saying, “She’s speaking my language.” What’s one step you could start with for those of us who are perhaps not the world’s greatest shoppers? I hate shopping. Having someone like me who’s not so great at shopping.

Peeling Back The Layers

I would say I’m gonna go back to what we talked about earlier, Elizabeth because one of the things I always tell my clients is we’re not going to jump straight to shopping because we gotta figure out first what makes us excited. What is a reflection of our insides on the outsides? What is true for you and to go through that exercise of peeling back the layers because, after years and years of working and being in different careers and in different settings, we kind of lose sight of what makes us tick and what makes us feel our best selves.

I would say that the biggest mistake women make is to run straight to the stores. I know often we’re rushing at the last minute to find something. The most helpful step is to first step back and say, “What is it that I like?” You can even do an exercise of, I have around me or public figures or influencers or even work colleagues that I look at them and say, “Wow. I’m so inspired by their style.” Start to get curious about what you admire.

Speakers Who Get Results | Ellie Steinbrink | Brain Science

Brain Science: The biggest mistake women make when it comes to fashion is running straight to stores and rushing to buy clothes. However, the most helpful step is to step back first and identify what they really like to buy.


When you think of the highest version of yourself, how do you see yourself dressing? Take a step back to think about that first before you step into a store to figure out what feels good to you. Then what maybe is holding me back as I try to make that step from my dream style vision into putting that into reality what’s holding me back.

I love that. Thank you so much. Ellie Steinbrink, thank you so much for being on the Speakers Who Get Results. For those of you who are listening, our listeners, and watchers, if you enjoyed this, please follow us, tell your friends, follow us on YouTube, and follow us on whatever app you’re on. We really appreciate it if you could do us a favor and leave us a good review on Apple Podcasts, that’s the one that matters. Have a good time. Listen to Ellie. Enjoy being somebody who really stands out and looks awesome. This has been Speakers Who Get Results. I’m Elizabeth Bachman, and I’ll see you on the next one.


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About Ellie Steinbrink

Speakers Who Get Results | Ellie Steinbrink | Brain ScienceEllie Steinbrink is an Expert Stylist and Personal Brand Coach, and owner of Style Decoded, working virtually out of her home in Omaha, NE. She’s a Midwest born fashion lover on a mission to help professional women show up as the bosses they are, without all the hassle. She started her business to help women embrace an authentic style, aligning their insides with their outsides, all while feeling 100% confident in their own skin. Styling is her passion, but it hasn’t always been her job.

Ellie spent 20 years of her career in client service, advertising, developing brands, blogging, podcasting, and creating marketing and social strategies for clients, ranging from Fortune 500 giants to individuals building their personal brands online. To say she knows a thing or two about marketing and branding is an understatement! In 2020, she had the opportunity to merge her professional experience and her passion into a personal styling business. Now, Ellie loves teaching women how to define and own their unique personal brand through style.