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Does ‘dressing the part’ impact work performance?

Sanjana Ray
24th Apr 2017
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The proverbial saying ‘Dress good to feel good’ isn’t just the motto of a shopaholic’s life. We have been told time and again to ‘dress right’ for our first interview. This is because how you dress tends to affect your performance at work.

According to a recent study conducted by the Scientific American, those sporting formal outfits tend to exhibit a greater level of abstract thinking. The study is based on a list of compiled experiments that researchers from different industries conducted with their teams. For instance, based on the knowledge that the winning combat fighters in the 2004 Olympics had worn red more often than blue, researchers investigated the physiological effects of wearing these colours. Pairing 28 male athletes of similar ages and sizes sporting red jackets and blue jackets, researchers found that the former group was able to lift a heavier weight before the match.

Image : shutterstock

Image : shutterstock

At the same time, researchers from Yale University in 2014 conducted an exercise wherein 128 men aged between 18 and 32 had to partake in mock negotiations in buying and selling. They found that those dressed casually (in sweatpants and plastic sandals) managed to round up a theoretical profit of $680,000 while the group dressed in suits amassed an average profit of $2.1 million.

“People who wear that kind of clothing feel more powerful. When you feel more powerful, you don't have to focus on the details,” Michael L Slepian, co-author of the study and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School, told WSJ.

While success doesn’t necessarily depend on what you’re wearing, there are of course the scruffy bearded and sneakers-clad employees who work as the power-houses of the company. Generally speaking, it is true that when we dress a certain part the role becomes all the more believable. It is important to note that the clothes we wear do impact our physical and mental performances by a large degree.

However, a study conducted by Science of Us counters the above findings with their ‘red sneakers effect’. These researchers found that people who flout the workplace dress code are actually seen as more competent at their jobs.

The experiment backing up this claim included a survey conducted among college students to rate two of their male professors on the prowess of their independent teaching skills and researching abilities. One of these professors was clean-shaven and dressed in a suit, while the other sported a beard and t-shirt. In this particular instance, the researchers found that the students thought more highly of the former. His dressing style signified a ‘nonconformist attitude’ that appealed to the students.

So it appears that while ‘dressing for the part’ may almost always work in your favour, challenging the norm and daring to be a bit different may sometimes be worth the risk. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below!

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