Opinion: Dress well, do well

Several studies have proved that dressing up can have a positive effect on work and academic performance. (Ellen/ Flickr, Creative Commons)

We have all heard the adages “dress for success” and “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” but have we ever stopped to considered why? While appropriate workwear can be advantageous when meeting with future employers, is dressing well merely a formality? Or can it also have an effect on productivity and prosperity? In the age of Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie and the shift to increasingly-casual “millennial” office attire, more and more people are turning to comfort over professionalism in their style choices. Even in a college setting, many students roll out of bed and into class in sweats and pajamas. But is this level of casualty really a good idea?

An experiment conducted at the Yale School of Management distributed either suits or sweatpants to a group of young men instructed to pretend to sell real-estate at a target fair value of $20.5 million. While those in sweatpants made a hypothetical profit of $1.2 million less than expected, the men in suits averaged $2.1 million more than the fair value each, a $3.3 million increase in profit. Furthermore, the men dressed in suits were more confident and better able to negotiate, while the sweatpants-clad group tended to let their better-dressed peers take charge. Additionally, the sweatpants-wearers felt more nervous in these negotiations, as evidenced by an increase in heart rate.

Another study found that believing one is dressed formally increases one’s level of “abstract cognitive processing,” or tendency to see the bigger picture as opposed to getting bogged down by the details. This study showed that donning a more put-together outfit will not only project a more positive personality into the world, but it will also positively change the way that one thinks. These results may prove useful to a student searching for more focus during studying or while taking exams. If that student favors the comfort of sweats during test-taking, maybe he or she should look for an equally comfortable but more sophisticated exam “uniform.”

As a student who wore a uniform to school for thirteen years, I can personally attest to this fact. Although I disliked the blandness of donning the same attire day after day, I can agree that my uniform put me in the mindset to think. Wearing a skirt and a blouse signaled to me that it was time to work and is likely the reason why I still attempt to put effort into the way that I look during class, especially on days when I have an exam.

The psychological effect of clothing was directly analyzed by a group at Northwestern University, who coined the term “enclothed cognition” referring to how clothes influence one’s mental state. When subjects wore a lab coat, they performed better on mental tasks then those in their regular clothing. Moreover, when a subject wore a lab coat that was labeled as that of a painter, mental acuity did not improve. When that same coat was associated with a doctor and given by the subjects to wear, the subjects improved vastly on the same mental tests. This proved that the physical act of wearing specific clothes, coupled with their symbolic meaning have a definitive effect on their wearers, thus, “enclothed cognition”.

Clothes can instill you with the confidence that you are searching for to perform well in a host of situations. Beyond academic contexts, your style can change the way you feel about yourself and approach the world. Wearing sweatpants may put you in a sluggish mood, but taking the time to dress up can give you that extra feeling of togetherness you need to take on the day. Next time you have a big presentation or exam or are meeting someone new, think about what you are about to wear. Put on a well-coordinated outfit that makes you look and feel good and see for yourself the wonders it can do.


Veronica Eskander is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at veronica.eskander@uconn.edu.