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Here’s Why Dressing For Success Actually Works

It's more than just a formality.

Man with suit and watch
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash
Photo by Ruthson Zimmerman on Unsplash

“The clothes make the man.”

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

“When you meet a man, you judge him by his clothes; when you leave, you judge him by his heart.”

Civilized society has placed a strong emphasis on clothing as far back as anyone can remember. In the 1600s, King Louis XIV showed off his status and opulence through his fashion choices. His clothes often exuded luxury with bells, laces, pearls, ribbons, and gold embroidery.

He enforced strict fashion codes for all in the court of Versailles. Anyone who wished to merely be within the king’s presence had to don specific high-status clothing. For men, it was a silk or velvet coat called the habit habillé. For women, it was an embroidered gown called the grand habit de cour. Furthermore, King Louis XIV permitted only himself and up to fifty nobles to wear the justaucorps à brevet – a light blue silk jacket.

These clothing choices drew firm distinctions between nobles and ordinary people. Wearing these items not only proved that you in the king’s good graces, but also that you had enough disposable income to spend on such things.

Even in today’s age, clothes still play a significant role in determining your status and wealth. Wearing luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci are a statement within themselves: “I’m rich enough to afford these items.”

But you don’t need to buy $2,000 handbags to make a statement about yourself. Just about anything you wear says something about you. People dress up to make an impression on others. You want to look nice to make yourself look good, not just because it feels nice, but because you want others to view you positively.

Dressing up also dramatically impacts your future success and job performance. It affects not just how people perceive you, but your ability to get hired and move up in business. While you won’t need to buy a $3,000 Prada suit – though it might help – you do need to mind the way you dress.

Here are just a few ways of why you should dress for success:

1. Better Creativity

Wearing formal attire makes you feel more powerful, which leads to better creativity. A 2015 study by the journal Social Psychological and Personal Science performed five small experiments to test how well-dressed participants thought differently than their casually dressed peers.

One experiment had participants choose their preferred definition of a word. One definition was “abstract” and the other “concrete.” For example, the two descriptions of voting were “marking a ballot” and “influencing an election.” The second definition is far more abstract and represents looking at the big picture instead of small details.

Another experiment focused on the participants’ ability to creatively fit words into categories. For example, an abstract thinker might put “camel” into the “vehicle” category as people can ride camels for transportation. A concrete thinker wouldn’t do the same.

After concluding all five experiments, researchers noted that those wearing formal clothes felt powerful and were better able to think creatively and see the big picture.

2. Formal Clothing You Help You Negotiate for More Money

Suits and ties may be expensive but might pay for themselves the next time you’re negotiating salary or payment.

One Yale study in 2014 had 128 men between ages 18 and 32 take part in fake buying and selling transactions. Those dressed in sweatpants and sandals made an average hypothetical profit of $680,000. On the other hand, their suited counterparts earned an average of $2.1 million – over three times more. Participants who dressed in neutral clothing earned an average of $1.58 million.

Researchers also noted that the casual dressers tended to back down more than the well-dressed men. Such behavior instilled a sense of respect and authority in the suited participants.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

3. Luxury Brands Make You More Hirable

Try wearing a high-end luxury brand next time you’re going to a job interview. A study in the Journal of Business Research found those who wear luxury brands get treated better in almost every single way.

In the first experiment, researchers asked 180 participants to rate a woman’s wealth and status based on her picture. Participants saw one of three pictures, all of which were identical except for the brand logo on the women’s shirt (luxury, non-luxury, or none). When the woman had a luxury brand logo, participants were more likely to believe that she’s wealthier and higher status.

A second scenario had 150 participants watch a video of a woman interviewing for an internship. The woman looked and behaved exactly the same in each situation save for her brand logo. Once again, participants gave the highest marks to the woman wearing the luxury brand. They saw her as the most qualified for the job and deserving of the highest pay.

The luxury brand bias held true even for charity. Researchers discovered that people were willing to donate higher amounts to a charity when the solicitor was wearing a luxury brand.

However, this study does come with a few caveats. First, people must be able to instantly recognize the brand logo. Brands are meaningless when people don’t know them. Second, many observers don’t like “loud” or “gaudy” outfits. Even luxury brands need to have some degree of subtlety.

4. The Wrong Clothes Will Hurt Your Chances of Being Promoted

Many modern companies, especially startups, don’t have strict dress codes. It’s not uncommon to walk into a tech company and see senior executives donning hoodies, shorts, or graphic tees. While it’s certainly nice to dress casually, it can hurt your chances of moving up the corporate ladder.

Research from OfficeTeam surveyed over 1,000 American workers, 300 senior managers, and 300 HR managers and found that nearly everyone emphasized dressing well. In fact, 80% of managers and 86% of employees said that what you wear to work can influence your ability to get a promotion. Furthermore, 32% of managers said they had to send someone home due to improper attire.

Interestingly, the study also found that men take longer when choosing what to wear. The average man spends about 12 minutes picking out clothes, while women only spend an average of nine minutes.

5. Being Attractive Makes You More Money

Good-looking people seem to have all the luck. There are many studies about the supposed “beauty premium,” which states that attractive people get paid more money only due to their looks. The most famous study comes from 1994, where economists looked at American and Canadian salaries and discovered that attractive people earned 12-14% more than their unattractive peers.

This number seems to vary depending on the study with the “beauty premium” being as high as 20% and “ugly penalty” being as low as 14.9%.

Source: IZA – Institute for Labor Economics

That’s not all. Various studies show that attractive people get more votes, get hired more, get less prison time, and are seen as more intelligent. Colleagues are also more likely to want to work with attractive coworkers. A study in the Journal of Economic Psychology found that participants said that 39% of beautiful men and women were helpful. Only 16% of plain-looking people and 6% of unattractive people were judged the same way.

This is called the “halo effect,” where people judge an entire person’s character based on a single trait. Do you have supermodel looks? Well, congratulations. You’re automatically seen as healthier, friendlier, smarter, and more successful than your Average Joe.

But don’t fret just yet. A study in the Journal of Business and Psychology discovered that most “beauty premium” studies weren’t accounting for factors such as intelligence, extraversion, health, and conscientiousness – all which correlate with higher earnings. In fact, the study found that “very unattractive” people outearn merely “unattractive” people.

While you unfortunately can’t change your genetics, you can change your clothes. It’s well worth the time and effort to dress your best every day to make a good impression on your peers.

Conclusion

Much of your success depends on what other people think of you. You want to be the kind of person that others want to work with, pay, and promote. Lucky for you, you have a say in determining how others perceive you. It all starts with how you get dressed in the morning. Spending a few minutes each morning to pick the right outfit and groom yourself can pay off big time.

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