You constantly hear the phrase dress for success, and you wonder does it matter? It’s not a new idea that what you wear to work can benefit your career and wellbeing, but it’s still not something many of us are truly mindful of. Wearing clothes you feel confident and polished in at work can affect your posture, your mental wellbeing and how others interact with you. Regardless of your position and type of job, there are many effects your dressing have on your work.
Dressing for success isn’t just vanity, there is a science to the importance of dressing professionally and how successful you are at work, or at a job interview. A lot of research suggests that your clothes not only impact how others perceive you, but can also affect how quickly you move up the career ladder, how well you perform your job, and even how you perceive yourself and your abilities.
If you were not paying attention to how you dress every day to work, here some of the impacts of your dressing choice on your career;
- The right clothes can increase your confidence
There is a term derived from years of research called embodied cognition. Have you heard of that? No? You not alone. Embodied cognition is the thought that what we wear affects our thoughts and processes.
Several studies have been done on this, revolving around assigning groups to wear a lab coat and perform tasks, and a control group who did the same tasks wearing regular clothes. Those with the lab coats performed better each time. What you wear can influence how you behave so if you have an important meeting suit up or dress smart (wearing black is always a safe option) and give yourself the best chance of performing well.
Different types of clothing may provide different benefits, depending on the symbolic meaning you associate with them. As an examples, casual clothes may help you feel relaxed and calm, while formal clothes could help you feel more confident and intelligent. A study by Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire found that when students wore superman T-shirts, they rated themselves as stronger, more likable, and superior to other students.
In her book, Mind What You Wear, Professor Pine examines the cognitive, social and emotional consequences of what we wear. She explains that we not only are what we wear but also become what we wear. This makes choosing our outfits each morning all the more important.
- The clothes you choose your productivity
What we wear can affect our performance. Have you ever tried working from home wearing pyjamas? Clothes can either hinder or enhance your performance.
According to a research done from the Kellogg School of Management at North Western University, dressing well can enhance our performance. For one experiment, the researchers dressed half of the participants in lab coats and the other half in their usual clothing. They then asked them to perform a series of tests. Those who wore “doctor’s coats” made significantly fewer mistakes than those who wore their normal clothes.
In a similar experiment, researchers gave all participants lab coats to wear during the test. However, they told half of them the lab coats were painter’s coats, and told the others they were doctor’s coats. Funnily enough, those who thought they were wearing painter’s coats made a lot more errors.
Why? The researchers explain that while dressing a certain way can indeed help us feel smarter, it’s not just the clothes that matter. It’s their symbolic meaning. So, for example, if you associate business suits with positions of power, wearing one could help you feel smarter and more confident. As a result, your performance could improve too.
- The Right Clothes Can Increase Your Chances of Being Promoted
We’re hard wired to perceive those who are well dressed and groomed as important and more put together. These people appear more confident, successful and capable.
How you dress affect your chances of getting promoted. According to a survey by OfficeTeam, 80% of executives say an employee’s clothing choices will affect his or her chances of earning a promotion.
Of course, dressing well doesn’t necessarily mean wearing a business suit. One CareerBuilder survey found that only one in five executives consider business suits typical office attire. Instead, many opt for business casual. They tend to stick to neutral colors like black, navy blue, and gray.
There is a study that was conducted were a photo of a man in a tailored suit versus the same man in a similar high street suit were shown to over 300 people. The man in the tailored suit was perceived as more confident, successful and flexible. Whether conscious or unconscious our clothing can signify are capabilities so consider what you wear to work each day.
- Dressing a bit different from the standard dress code could help you seem more capable.
Although the concept of using clothes to stand out or send a particular message is certainly not new, most of us quickly learn to conform to the accepted standards of dress, particularly in the workplace.
However, a recent study by Harvard Business School researchers shows that in some cases, deviating from the standard dress code can actually make you seem more confident and competent. It signifies a higher level of autonomy and control.
This only works if it’s obviously intentional, though. So if you started wearing sweatpants to the office every day, it probably wouldn’t make you seem more competent. You might even get into trouble. But if you made a conscious decision to stand out in some way, for instance, by choosing to pair casual shoes with formal attire, it could send the message that you’re a capable and confident person.
The most burning question most executives and employees have is whether companies should have a dress code. The views usually differ by age groups.
Research discovered that more than one in ten people aged 18-24 said that they had considered quitting their job due to a strict dress code. Older employees, however, do not share the same strong views. Only 7% of those aged 55 and over said that they would think about leaving their employment because of the dress code. Compare this to 17% of 18-24s and it’s clear to see a divide. It might depend on which sector you operate in as to how your staff feel about uniform. Those working in the energy sector (32%), science and pharma sector (31%) and IT sector (29%) are most likely to leave their role due to dress code requirements, one study discovered.
Does every company need to be without a dress code to keep their staff? Quite possibly. Employers are aware of how high staff turnover can have great cost and productivity implications. Costs incur during the recruitment process as the position is advertised and time is spent by employers interviewing and selecting candidates. At the end of the day, it’s the decision of each company on how to deal with each.
Taking intentional command of how you dress and present is a good step in empowering yourself, accomplishing your goals, and living a more lucid life at the helm of your decisions. This is the same when you choosing dressing for your team. So pay attention! Remember, all the world's a stage.
Benjamin Sombi is a Data Scientist, Entrepreneur, & Business Analytics Manager at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm