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You Can, Actually, Dress For Success

We’ve all heard it more times than we care to count. ‘Dress for success!’ And, while it is a catchphrase, it’s actually much, much more than that. Not only does your appearance influence how people perceive you, but it also influences your own performance. Better news still, it’s not simply superficial, it’s also scientific!


There have been several studies published that prove there is value in dressing smart. This dates all the way back to 1955 in a study by Lefkowitz, Blake, and Mouton where they not only showed that business suits represent authority, but that more often people follow the lead of such people.

But business isn’t just about leading. In a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers found that the better dressed their male subjects were, the more likely they were to obtain more profitable deals during negotiations.

What’s more, expectations play a role. For example, you expect a nurse to wear scrubs and you expect a police officer to wear a police uniform. It’s also commonplace to expect a CEO or successful finance executive to wear a suit. But, what if that CEO or finance executive wore a suit, but with a daring patterned shirt or an unexpected bowtie? The Journal of Consumer Research found that people not only value this slight diversion in established norms, but they view people the people in the daring patterned shirt or unexpected bowtie as having a higher status and competence. Remember, it’s a slight diversion but still, risk often pays off.


While what other people think about you is important, what you think about yourself is equally important. We don’t need science to prove that… although we’ll get to the science of it all.

If you wake up late and are forced to rush out of the house without taking a shower and are forced to put on a wrinkled shirt, unpressed trousers, and a haphazardly chosen tie-jacket-shoe combination, you’re probably not going to feel good about yourself. On the other hand, if you wake up, shower, put on a new, tailored suit with smart shoes and a matching tie, you’ll radiate self-respect, self-confidence and self-worth. It’s palpable!

This phenomenon is called enclothed cognition and there are two factors at play according to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology: the symbolic meaning of clothes and the physical experience of wearing them. In layman’s terms, when you put on a piece of clothing, we can’t help adopt some of the characteristics associated with it. Casual clothes will encourage relaxed behavior while a smart, 3-piece suit will encourage you to walk, talk and hold yourself more professionally.


As we’ve said, your clothes dictate how you feel and how others feel about you. But, what about when it comes to actual work? Research psychologist Jeffrey L. Magee surveyed over 500 firms to find out and concluded that relaxed dress leads to relaxed manners, relaxed morals, and relaxed productivity. What’s more, in 2015 Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people wearing formal business attire performed better on abstract thinking tests, an important factor in strategizing.

With that, it’s only fair to conclude that not only can you dress for success, but you can also dress for the job you want.


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