What you're wearing every day does matter—here's why
Most people accept a correlation between successful people and people in suits; however, recent evidence suggests this may be a causation, not just a correlation.
The Yale School of Management conducted an experiment placing over 120 men with multiple clothing styles into mock negotiations with other willing subjects. As transactions were finalized among the groups of men, a trend was revealed—those dressed professionally left the table with more monetary returns than those dressed casually.
So can one really “dress for success” and expect returns?
Dr. Allison Pierce, Lee assistant professor of business, insists that you can. “Someone with khakis and a nice shirt is more management material. You will automatically think that person has more capability and talent when they are dressed like that,” said Pierce. “When you see someone dressed more professionally, you think they have more potential. It shows that they care more, that the employer is important enough to dress up for.”
Discussing the mental association between apparel and effectiveness, psychology professor Dr. Jeffrey Sargent observed, “Dressing can and does affect our behavior. People are always presenting themselves, whether conscious of it or not. We always want to present ourselves in the most authentic, consistent and positive way.”
Not only do workers present themselves with their ‘best foot forward,’ but the human psyche also adjusts to fulfill the presented image. “If I wear a suit, I know I am wearing that suit to act a certain part,” said Sargent. “When I act that way, I begin to feel that way and think that way.”
The question is then raised: should one always dress to the max to set the bar high?
There is the common adage: “When in doubt, always overdress.” Pierce, though, thinks that's oversimplified. “You want to understand the culture and the company before you go,” Pierce said. “Dress the way they are dressing. Overdressing may give the impression that you don’t want to get your hands dirty.”
Sargent argues for a middle-line of professionalism. “There aren’t necessarily faults in over-dressing—just dressing inappropriately. There’s a continuum with organizations where you don’t want to be underdressed, but you also don’t want to be overdressed,” said Sargent.
Tim McLauchlin, a current Lee freshman, recognizes the limits of dressing up. “When you're hanging out with friends, dressing too formally may deter your ethos and ability to connect with them; you may seem unapproachable,” said McLauchlin. “There is a correlation to the idea that when you dress nicer, you feel more compelled to act professionally. On the flip side, when you are by yourself, dressing formally is not the best option to get your work done—comfort has a lot to do with it.”
According to Sargent, when dressing up, you want to meld with the culture. “Humans look for consistency. We ask ourselves, ‘Does this behavior, does this action fit in a context?’ Things get our attention when they don’t fit,” said Sargent. “When dressing for an interview, you don’t want that thought. You want them to accept you.”
So what's the protocol college students can adhere to when dressing for success?
First, watch your tones and colors.
“Don’t wear purple,” said Pierce. “I don’t know why, but research shows dressing in purple doesn’t lead to a job. Also, conservative color is important. You want to be conservative and not wear the outrageous earrings and piercings either.”
When you wear bold colors, Pierce argues, you cause the employer to notice the color and not you.
Second, make sure your visual message is consistent.
Sargent references the tension that is created when one’s presentation, including apparel, is not matched internally. “You can only for a while have a disconnect between behavior and attitudes,” said Sargent. “You can pretend not to be yourself for a while, but eventually you are going to stop behaving that way or you are going to change your attitude. Otherwise, you get stuck in a cognitive dissonance.”
Not only should one align their behavior and attitudes to gear up for success, but the consistency must also be externally noticeable, according to McLauchlin.
McLauchlin suggests, “Have [your] outfit uniform across the whole attire. As in, I don’t want to wear a nice shirt with nice pants and then wear sloppy sneakers.”
Third, conform to the environment.
“If you want to be successful in an environment, you need to know the environment,” said Sargent. “You may need to change your behavior to match the environment so you can gain entry into that culture. Millennials don’t like that. They think, ‘I want to be authentic; I want to be who I am.’”
However, according to Dr. Sargent, this Millennial penchant for expressing oneself is not worth turning off or distracting the employer. “Unexpected dress makes [employers] ask why. You don’t want them asking why; you want them focused on you,” said Sargent. “Ideally, they don’t focus on your clothing at all.”
In the end, according to Pierce, following simple guidelines can gain you an edge in the business market. “To the question of can you dress for success?” Pierce said. “Absolutely.”