“I love the idea of trying to figure out why, when we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role and how that might affect our basic abilities.” says Joshua I. Davis, an assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College who studies embodied cognition.
Clothing and Performance
We’ve all heard the advice that it’s better to dress for the job you want than the job you currently have. But can what you’re wearing actually make you better at your job? Most of us can relate to the experience of feeling more motivated and focused when we’re dressed up for work – whether that means donning a suit or simply getting out of pyjamas. Turns out you truly can dress for success as science suggests that what you wear can systematically influence the wearer’s psychological processes and improve an individual’s focus and performance in the workplace.
Psychological effect of Clothing on Performance
A recently published study from professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows that when research subjects wore a scientist’s or medical doctor’s white coat, they performed better on a test known as the “Scoop test,” which asks participants to say the colour of a word being shown on a flash card, rather than the word itself. The group who wore lab coats described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention compared to those wearing a lab coat described as a painter’s coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat. Proving the influence of clothes depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning.
“Let’s be clear: In the big picture of ultimate reality, what you wear
neither defines who you are as a person nor determines your value as a human being. However, in the temporal realm of mere mortals, fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress. Especially in the workplace, clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond toward you,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.”
Perception is Reality
Your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion. And, because perception is often reality, what you wear not only communicates who you are in the minds of others, but also influences your level of performance and scope of career advancement. Research has also found that when you combine your appearance with communication skills, not only is others’ perception of you affected, but their behaviour toward you is also influenced.
“Clothing plus communication skills determine whether or not others will comply with your request, trust you with information, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary or fee for contracted business, hire you, or purchase your products and services,” says Price.
Here are some tips to dress for success and leave a positive impact:
- Don’t show too much skin. We all know its best to avoid a lot of skin show, cropped/strapless tops, short skirts, pants with 1 inch button plackets, anything vinyl or sequinned or shoes that barely cover your feet.
- Never wear dirty clothes. This seems obvious – but plenty of people think they can get away with wearing that dirty shirt just one more time before bringing it to the dry cleaners. Never make this mistake.
- Don’t wear wrinkled clothing. Most men and some women wear sloppy creased clothes appearing like you slept in your clothes. If you want to leave a positive impression at work, make sure to wear a well pressed garment. A better option might be to have your shirts, pants and suits dry-cleaned.
- Wear clothes that fit you well. “Tailoring is a simple way to make clothes way more flattering – BI’s retail editor Ashley Lutz. Wear minimal make up. It’ll give you a polished look, and those around you will perceive you differently. So, stay away from clothing that is too tight or too baggy.
- Wear appropriate shoes and accessories. Don’t wear jewellery that is too flashy or obnoxious – and always wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for work. Women doesn’t necessarily have to wear heels everyday. Wear what’s comfortable and formal.
- Don’t wear shorts. In some workplaces it’s perfectly acceptable for men and women to wear shorts but this can go south in a few bad ways very quickly. If you really want to portray yourself as a professional, steer clear.
“You never know who you’re going to run into. And remember, you’re setting the look for the whole company What you are wearing should be reflective of that and how you want the company to be viewed” says top Wall Street stylist Jacci Jaye.