If you’re like me, since the response to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to begin working at home, you’ve been wearing yoga pants or sweats with a t-shirt and hoodie (maybe even pajamas!) to work. A friend of mine has been working from home since March, and she’s taken a different approach. Every day she wears her business clothes skirts, dresses, and dress pants with a blouse, sweater or blazer.  She says dressing for success puts her in the right frame of mind to tackle her day at the (home) office.

And it seems that she’s on to something: How we dress can affect our confidence, productivity, and performance (whether we’ve already returned to working at your office or whether we’re still working from home).

Lab Coats = Confidence

Studies have shown that dressing for success can raise your confidence, affect how others perceive you, and boost your abstract thinking. These are all good things!

In 2012, Psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University studied the effects of wearing specific clothing items on the person wearing them. They called this “enclothed cognition,” which describes the influence of clothing on the wearer’s psychological processes. In other words, dressing well can make us feel smarter.

They conducted three experiments in which participants performed tasks while:

  • Wearing white lab coats versus street clothes
  • Wearing white lab coats that were identified as either doctor’s coats or painter’s coats (exact same coat)
  • Wearing or looking at coats that were identified as either doctor’s coats or painter’s coats (exact same coat)

The participants who wore the white lab coats or the coats identified as doctor’s coats fared better in all of the tasks than the other participants. This is attributed to increased confidence they felt associated with the symbolic meaning of the doctor’s coats.

Therefore, if business suits make you think of powerful people, wearing one could help you feel smarter and more confident. And if you wear one this could result in an improvement in your performance.

Superman = Super Results

A survey of more than 500 companies measured the effects of different types of clothing. Carried out by research psychologist Jeffrey L. Magee, the survey found that repeatedly wearing more casual clothing can lead to relaxed attitudes, which can result in relaxed productivity.

Conversely, when you’re dressed in more professional clothing, and you feel good, this will motivate you to accomplish more.

Karen Pine, a professor in the psychology department at the University of Hertfordshire, wrote the book Mind What You Wear, based on her research of how clothing affects the wearer. In the book, she illustrates how people can be influenced by symbolic meanings attached to clothing. For instance, when students wore a Superman t-shirt, they thought of themselves as more likeable and superior to other students, and they also thought they were physically stronger than students not wearing a Superman t-shirt.

Suits = Success, Increased Performance

A study undertaken at Yale University in 2014 was designed to find out whether clothing worn affected the success of a negotiation. Professor Michael Kraus asked some of the participants to dress in suits and the others to wear sweatpants and flip flops and then engage in mock real estate negotiations.

And what do you think happened?

It turns out that the men in suits averaged a profit of $2.1 million, while those who were casually dressed made an average profit of $680,000.

Researchers noted that the casually dressed participants acted nervous and displayed a lack of confidence, while their suited counterparts behaved more dominantly, compromised less, and garnered more respect.

Psychology plays a role here. Dressing like a professional can make you act more professionally, and this can maximize your opportunities for success.

Dressier Clothing = Professionalism

Not only can your clothing affect how you feel about yourself, it can also affect how others perceive you.

“Few places are more important for dressing appropriately than the workplace, where a professional appearance is crucial,” says Susan C. Young in The Art of Preparation: 8 Ways to Plan with Purpose & Intention for Positive Impact.

Research has shown that how you dress strongly influences how others perceive things like your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and whether you are suitable for a promotion.

The Take-Away

Your work clothing has an impact on how you see yourself, on how others see you, and on a company’s reputation.

And although it helped the research participants, it might look a little strange if you wear doctor’s coats and Superman costumes at work, so maybe keep them for at-home attire.

For additional information, Velsoft offers two courses that explore this topic in more detail — Business Etiquette and Personal Brand. Both courses contain sections about dressing for success, offering tips for maintaining a professional image. Check them out here: www.velsoft.com/products.