Dress Code or Not, What You Wear Matters

The effect of your clothing choices might be much more powerful than you think. Fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress. For example, women dressed in a masculine fashion are perceived as better managers. And people dressed more formally are perceived as more intelligent.

Effect on Others

According to a series of studies published in the Evolution and Human Behavior journal last year, flashing designer brands can provide an advantage. When wearing perceived high-status clothing, people gained cooperation from others more easily, scored job recommendations and higher salary, and received higher contributions for charity.

  • Man wearing a polo shirt featuring a designer logo was rated as higher status as same man with logo photoshopped out.
  • A female wearing a sweater with a designer logo got response rate of 52% (versus 13% of female wearing sweater sans logo) when asking passerby’s to fill out a survey.
  • Participants watching a man interviewing for job on video rated the one with a shirt with a designer logo as more suitable for the job and deserving of a 9% higher salary than the same man without a logo.
  • Wearing a designer logo resulted in twice as many contributions when soliciting for charity.

The logo-versus-no-logo design eased drawing conclusions from the experiment, but you can see how these findings might also extend to a well-dressed/well-groomed versus average appearance. The researchers explain that designer labels communicate underlying quality—the subconscious thought pattern is that only the best can afford them so this person must be among the best.

Effect on Yourself

It may be obvious that what you wear affects others’ perceptions of you. But one interesting aspect of dress is that what you wear can affect how you behave. One study observed behavior at a roller rink. On nights with a strict dress code, there were fewer accidents and less noise. In an old article in the Academy of Management Review, scientists theorized that exhibiting actions not in line with the expectations of how one would behave when wearing that clothing creates a psychological conflict called cognitive dissonance. And to relieve the conflict, people will change their behavior to match their dress. Of course, this is all going on without us explicitly being aware of it.

Effect on Your Performance

What is it about clothing that has such a profound impact on our behavior and our self-perceptions? In a recent study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers ran an experiment and found that students who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat showed a heightened sense of attention than students who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat. It was really the same coat. The influence came from the symbolic interpretation of the article of clothing.

The clothes we wear—specifically, the meaning we have associate with them and the feelings they evoke in us—put us in a different mindset. We associate pajamas with lazing around whereas we associate a suit and tie with hard work and professionalism. This carries over into our work (for better or for worse).  So if you work from home or have a phone interview, dress in line with the image you want to portray. Even though your outfit will not be seen, its impact on your performance is worth the effort.

Women

One might say that men have it easier in terms of dressing for the office. There is a standard uniform of sorts for formal wear and business casual attire, while women have almost endless options, some of which may work and some not depending on the rest of the outfit (the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). In an old, but arguably timeless book, a very interesting list is printed. It is an ordering of the “most appropriate” clothing choices for women at work (with the most appropriate near the top), as was rated by male executives using extensive comparisons. Now granted this comes from research in the 1970s or thereabouts, but in more conservative offices or formal events, this might still be relevant (and if not–at the very least, interesting!).

1. Skirted suit
2. Dress/skirt with blazer
3. Dress with matching jacket
4. Tailored trouser suit
5. Simple dress
6. Skirt & blouse
7. Slacks & blouse
8. Skirt & sweater
9. Slacks & sweater

This is not to say that formal is always better. Dressing more casually can reduce stress and increase collaborative activity. Whatever you choose to wear, consider how it might impact what you do, how you perform, and how others interact with you.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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  • Penthesilea

    Sorry, this dies not pertain to the topic of the article, but you might like to know that your site is really hard to read on a mobile device. 60% of the screen are covered with the pop-up, which can’t be closed,, and there is a transparent gray bar on the keft.

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    Alex Hastings Reply:

    Thanks for the feedback! We’re working to get the site mobile-optimized. Regarding the pop-up, you should be able to close it out with the X button on the upper right corner, but it sounds like getting a popup on mobile is just not a great experience overall. Thanks again! ^Alex

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    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Thank you for your feedback Penthesilea! We’re working on making the blog more mobile-friendly as we speak. You should be able to close out of the popup by hitting the X button on the upper right-hand corner but it sounds like the mobile popup experience is not great overall. Thanks again! ^Alex

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    Normally dress code is business casual.. professional. Definitely don’t wear jeans or flip flops or things of that nature.

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  • i <3 fashion

    I am in 8th grade and im doing a science fair project on how fashion affects how we dress
    and your article gave me a lot of notes. it also gave me professional journals to go to.
    THANK YOU

    [Reply]

    Alex_IntuitQuickBase Reply:

    So glad to hear our article helped with your project. Eva is taking a little break from posting regularly for a while, but I’m sure she will see your comment and be thrilled. :)

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  • sarah

    I think its arrogant to say that its not ok to wear designer to work or at all…and that is above some people status. We all make money and make choices.

    for example..why its ok for you to spend few thousands on your hollidays kids household furniture car etc…and noone wont say a thing to you…but me having the same money i choose to spend them on designer clothes or accessories and i get teased for it..? Why its not ok for me to make that choice…why if you spend 2k on holiday trip and me 2k on a handbag i get teased and picked on. It’s my money and choice. We make our choices you choose to have a car and morgage and kids so thats where your money goes…i choose not to have all of above and preffer to spend money on my selm why people trying to make me feel bad about my choice???
    i think jeleousy comes from realizing that we made bad choice..or want to eat cake..and have cake.

    [Reply]

    WELLTHEN Reply:

    That’s exactly what it is. They are jealous that you chose to spend some money on yourself. You shouldn’t let their teasing get in the way of what you want to do. If you want to buy stuff that makes you look nice, then do it. Don’t listen to the haters cause’ they are just gonna try and bring you down. And if they get to you, don’t show it and eventually they will stop

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  • WELLTHEN

    This site helped me so much in getting the notes I need for my science fair project. would it be okay if I used this site as a reference?

    [Reply]

    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Absolutely, glad it helped. Please just provide attribution in your project for The Fast Track by Intuit QuickBase.

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