The Scientific Reason Why Dressing for Success Works (With a Twist, Of Course)

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You always hear the phrase “dress for success,” and think, sure, I’ll step it up a notch today when I get ready. And it probably works, right? You sit up taller, you receive compliments on how sharp you look, and you feel important because your attire is so much fancier than what you wear on the weekends.

And now you’ve got the science to back that feeling up. As a recent Science of Us article points out, there have been past studies on how clothing affects performance. For example, the Scientific American highlights studies proving more formal outfits lead to higher abstract thinking, that wearing a lab coat like a doctor can make you focus better, and that wearing the color red leads athletes to lift a heavier amount of weight (as opposed to wearing the color blue—who knew?). The point is, what you wear matters.

So is that it, always dress up when you need an extra boost?

Not exactly. Science of Us also cites a study stating that dressing downwhen your office is a normally formal setting can also lead to higher productivity and give off the impression that you are better at your job than others.

This study’s based on Harvard Business School research that analyzed students’ opinions of college professors:

[T]he authors described two male college professors—one clean-shaven and dressed in a suit, the other with a beard and a T-shirt—and asked college students to rate each man’s skills as a teacher and researcher. True to what the authors had observed in their field study, the students thought more highly of the casual professor—but only when the descriptions mentioned that the professors worked at prestigious universities with formal dress codes. In other words, it wasn’t the casual dress itself that inspired more confidence; it was the nonconformist attitude that the casual outfit signified—which, in turn, is seen as a ‘reflect[ion of] high levels of autonomy and control.’

Before you rush off to take off your blazer and throw on a pair of sweats (or stop reading studies altogether because they contradict each other), the article emphasizes the importance of intention —if you’re wearing informal clothes because you’re lazy or because you read this article, that doesn’t exactly help boost your respect around the office. But, if you make the conscious decision to break the status quo every once in a while because it’s important to you, people notice and admire it.

Only you know what is and isn’t appropriate in your office, but if there’s one thing this study emphasizes, it’s that clothes matter when it comes to howyou feel. So, if you have a bit of flexibility with work attire, choose your favorite accessory or outfit when you need a confidence boost , even if it’s not “typical” in your office. It could make all the difference.

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