Clothes make the man—and they might also reflect his mind. A recent study of London teens reveals that choice of clothing style may affect mental health.

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, queried Bangladeshi adolescents attending London schools about their fashion preferences and, two years later, assessed their mental health. The scientist reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in May that the girls who wore traditional Bangladeshi clothing were less likely to suffer later from psychological problems, such as depression, than were those who wore Western-style garments. “We were expecting to find that people who were able to mix with new cultural groups would be better off,” says Kamaldeep Bhui, the lead researcher. “I was really surprised to find that traditional identity expressed through clothing was protective.”

The trend was reversed, however, in boys; those who preferred integrated clothing had better mental well-being. Bhui believes this gender difference may result from the greater pressure that most societies put on women to conform to traditional cultural practices. And the girls who do wear Bangladeshi clothes could benefit in a number of ways. The expression of identity could itself be psychologically beneficial. Additionally, traditional clothing could keep these girls in a more insular, protective environment than that of more assimilated adolescents. Bangladeshi boys, on the other hand, typically have more freedom to move about the world and, as adults, are expected to enter an integrated workforce, Bhui says.

Note: This article was originally printed with the title, "Dressed for Distress".