You’re Going to Work, Not a Backyard Barbecue

Maybe, Who Knows?

The oft-used phrase “dress for success” is much more than a catchy slogan. A growing body of research suggests there is something biological happening when we put on a nice outfit. What you wear can influence your thinking and negotiating skills, and even your heart rate. Dressing up, however, is not something you do to impress the people around you, it is something you do for you.

In one study, subjects who donned lab coats scored higher on attention-related tasks than did those who did not. The lab coat attired subjects made half as many mistakes as their non-lab coat wearing counterparts. On another attention task, those told their lab coat was a doctor’s coat performed better than those who were told it was a painter’s smock. Mr. Norwood (my sixth grade teacher) passed on this story about dressing for success, “I used to wear a coat and tie when I took my anatomy exams at ECU. I got a rare A on the course based solely on my test scores. Yes, I did it to give me more selfconfidence. I took two pencils and left my notes behind. ‘I’ve got this,’ I told myself.”

Want better ideas? Suit up. A recent study had subjects change into casual or formal clothing before a series of cognitive tests. Wearing formal business attire was found to increase abstract thinking—an important aspect of creativity and longterm strategizing. The results suggest the effect is related to feelings of power.

Informal clothing may hurt in negotiations. In another study, male subjects wore their usual clothes or were placed in a suit or in a set of sweats. Then they participated in a game that involved negotiating with a partner. Those who dressed up obtained more profitable deals than the other two groups, and those who dressed down were found to have lower testosterone levels.
I know I sit up straighter and am more focused when I am wearing a collared shirt and slacks than when I am wearing a tee-shirt and jeans. I have also noticed that I get better service when I am dressed for success than when I am dressed for a backyard barbecue.