Can wearing a custom suit actually help your performance at work? To answer this, we turn your attention to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which suggests there is some compelling evidence to this theory of dressing for success.
The Power of Dressing for Success
Essentially, several studies in recent years have shown that dressing more formally can lead to higher productivity in the workplace, whether you’re closing a deal, handling a negotiation or participating in a collaborative project with business associates. Other studies have shown that wearing more upscale attire can raise one’s confidence, influence how others perceive them and may even boost the level of one’s abstract thinking, the type of mindset used by executives and professionals in senior positions.
In one 2014 study produced for the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 128 men between the ages of 18 and 32 with a variety of backgrounds and income levels were put into a series of mock negotiations that involved the hypothetical sale of a factory. The idea behind the study was to gauge whether wearing attire of high social status had an effect on the outcome. In each case, the potential buyer came from one of three groups; one wearing business suits, one wearing sweatpants and t-shirts, and a “neutral” group, wearing the clothing they arrived in.
In this experiment, negotiators were offered a fair market value for the faux factory, along with other relevant information that would influence their decisions about initial bids. According to Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Yale School of Management who also co-wrote this particular study, members of the suit-wearing group proved significantly less willing to concede to the requirements of the seller. In fact, participants in this group shifted their initial offer by an average of only $830,000 compared with $2.81 million for Team Sweatpants and 1.58 million for the neutral brigade.
Kraus told the Wall Street Journal the study’s results show that in high-stakes, competitive situations, formal attire lets others perceive you as being “successful and real confident in whatever you’re doing.” Those wearing more formal clothing – like a crisp, custom suit for example – then become aware of the respect they are receiving and become more assertive, creating a positive – dare we say, stylish – feedback loop.
Subsequent research, like a 2015 study published in the Journal of Social, Psychological and Personality Science, shows that dressing for success can even affect the way one processes challenges. This particular study suggested that people in more formal attire demonstrate higher levels of abstract thinking, compared to those dressed more casually. 361 participants were asked to complete a series tasks and – surprise! – those dressed in high-end clothing demonstrated higher levels of this type of thought process, the thought process that someone in a position of authority, like a senior executive, would use.
Co-author Michael L. Slepian, a postdoctoral research scholar and adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia School found those dressed well were also quicker to see the big picture.
“People who wear that kind of clothing feel more powerful,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “When you feel more powerful, you don’t have to focus on the details.”
Of course this brings up other questions, such as, what does the term “formal clothing” mean? Naturally, it can vary by industry and context. Dressing for success for your job as a senior finance executive could look very different than dressing formally for a job in, say, a creative field. And though we at Michael Andrews Bespoke are unabashed proponents of the custom full suit, we also recognize that each individual has different needs and a different style. Either way, sounds like a great reason to get fitted for some custom formalwear, no?