The Science Behind Dressing for Success

  • Published on:
    April 10, 2019
  • Reading time by:
    6 minutes
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We’ve all heard of the age-old adage, “dress for success.” But what does it actually mean? Does it simply entail a “fake it ’til you make it” mindset, or an actual strategy you can use to propel you forward in your career? (Let us know your thoughts in the comments on Women On Topp!)

According to psychology professor Abraham Rutchick, the clothes you wear can actually affect your performance. In an experiment, Rutchick found that formalwear made people think more abstractly and leader-like, while those in more casual clothes tended to focus on more immediate concerns.

Of course, this isn’t to say that clothes define character, but it does have the potential to create a positive ripple. Putting on your snazziest outfit can have the power to make you feel like a better version of yourself. Scientists from Northwestern University call this phenomenon “enclothed cognition,” describing how clothes can have a notable influence in their wearer’s mental processes.

Now as for the types of clothes themselves, these can vary greatly across industries and cultures. Not everyone feels comfortable in a Wall Street-esque suit and tie. Just look at Steve Jobs and his signature turtleneck and trainers, or Mark Zuckerberg and his trademark grey shirt. Generally, however, the positive cognitive effects stem from being dressed better than those around you.

Surprisingly, what’s on the inside and invisible to others can matter just as much. Ask any woman with a pair of expensive lingerie, and she’ll likely tell you that it’s more for her than it is for a special lover. Fashion is Psychology argues that lingerie can be a form of self-expression and a way to break new boundaries for women. It provides a surge of empowerment, where women are free to take charge of their own sexuality.

This operates under the same logic behind modern shapewear in today’s era of body positivity. The shapewear on Woman Within shows that it can give you a much-needed confidence boost under your clothes by enhancing the body you already have. Instead of hiding problem areas, many modern designs aim to flaunt. In that sense, it certainly pays to invest in clothes that make you feel great, even if no one else sees them.

In addition, a 2014 study by Yale University Professor Michael Kraus reinforces this further. In a mock real estate negotiation, Kraus paired men in suits against peers in sweatpants and flip-flops. The ones in casual clothes negotiated, on average, about 10% lower profits than their suited up counterparts. Not only were they at a loss, but they also exhibited nervousness and a lack of confidence. Unsurprisingly, the effect goes both ways, affecting the observer just as much.

As a result, people changed their judgments accordingly, viewing the casually-clothed in a more negative light. Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking—an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. The experiments suggest the effect is related to feelings of power. Informal clothing may hurt in negotiations.

The Science Behind Dressing for Success womenontopp women on Topp

Given all these factors, it’s important to take a step back and examine what sort of clothing will work well for you. Wearing nice clothes in the office can affect the way people perceive you, how confident you’re feeling, and even how you’re able to think abstractly. Like we previously emphasized here on Women on Topp, it is easy to fall into the trap of adjusting one’s self to gain approval. Instead of fishing for compliments, the best kind of confidence boost is still the one that comes from within. So take it from science — put on your favorite shirt, and be ready to seize the day.

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