How dressing for success actually leads to success

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At some point before an interview or other important event in your life, you’ve probably heard that you should ‘dress to impress’ or ‘dress for success.’ And while it may sound cliché, that advice may actually be a lot more important than you think.

According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, studies have found that dressing for success does in fact often lead to success — at least when it comes to a job interview or general business environment.

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Power of the suit

One study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014, found that wearing clothing associated with high social status (aka a business suit instead of sweatpants) can ‘increase dominance and job performance in ‘high-stakes’ competitive tasks.’ Basically, after analyzing men in the same situation wearing different types of clothing, researchers found that dressing in a suit or blazer can make employees more productive — whether going into a negotiation, making a sales call or even participating in a video conference with associates. 

Dressing well for an interview or meeting not only projects competence, but also confidence. It gives the potential employer or business partner an idea of what kind of person they will be working with. A professional, tight and clean look can not only give others confidence in you, but it can bring out some confidence you may not have even known you had. When it comes to an interview or important meeting, the first impression is critical and you always want to put your best foot (or suit) forward. 

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As part of the study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, a group of men between the ages 18 and 32 participated in role-playing exercises — a mock negotiation over the sale of a hypothetical factory. And who came out on top? The men who wore suits or were more dressed up had better luck than those who weren’t.

Check out this graphic that breaks down some of the numbers from this particular study.

Dressing for success leads to success

How your clothes can improve creative thinking

How you dress not only affects your potential negotiating skills, but it can also lead to higher levels of creative thinking, according to a study published last year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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After analyzing 361 study participants, researchers found that people engage in higher levels of abstract thinking when they dress up, compared to when they dress in casual clothes. According to the study, when people are more dressed up they are more likely to engage in the kind of abstract thinking that someone in a position of power — like an executive — would display. On top of that, when people are dressed up they are quicker to see the big picture, while casual dressers tend to ‘sweat the small stuff.’

“When you need to think creatively, about the bigger picture, that’s when dressing formally will increase your productivity,” says co-author Michael L. Slepian, a postdoctoral research scholar and adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School. “People who wear that kind of clothing feel more powerful. When you feel more powerful, you don’t have to focus on the details.”

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The takeaway

If you want to get that dream job, you have to dress like you’ve already got it! 

And just in case you were wondering, it’s probably a bad idea to go the Mark Zuckerberg route — i.e. a hoodie and jeans. According to Michael Krause, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management and co-author of the Journal of Experimental Psychology study, ‘People like that are playing around with their status symbols. For most of us, high status means suit and tie.’ 

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