Its been said that you should be wearing a suit every day of your working life and not only for interviews – if you want to be successful. That’s according to a new study that analysed the psychological effect dressing sharply has on people.
Psychologists at California State University, Northridge, put subjects through a series of experiments to gauge the relationship between clothes and cogency. In the first experiment, participants were asked to show up, rate the formality of the outfit they were wearing, and then complete tests to determine how they processed information.
The second experiment followed the same progression, except this time the participants were instructed to turn up informal wear. The data collected showed that when the subjects dressed formally, they were more adept at abstract processing – which means that they are more likely to see the big picture rather than obsessing over minor details.
Abstract thinking is held to be useful when solving problems and therefore a key attribute for the successful businessman. For example, abstract thinking is helpful when receiving criticism, as the thinker can take a step back from the negative feedback rather than letting it affect their self-esteem. It can also be useful when making financial decisions. An abstract thinker is more likely to avoid being tempted by impulse purchases, instead making astute, long-term investment calls.
The psychology of the suit
“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” Abraham Rutchick, said one of the authors of the study.
What’s more, Michael Slepian, another of the paper’s authors and a professor at Columbia Business School, postulates that putting on a suit has a positive impact on your ability to see the big picture whether you wear one every day or not: “No matter how often you wear formal clothing, if you are wearing formal clothing, then you are likely in a context that’s not the intimate, comfortable, and more socially close setting with no dress code.
“Thus, whether you wear formal clothing every workday, or only every wedding, my prediction is that we would find a similar influence because the clothing still feels formal in both situations.”
Why is wearing a suit important
When you wear a formal suit, you give off an increased sense of being competent, assertive and professional. At least that’s the general thinking when it comes to how a suit can alter the way others think of you. Not only that but wearing a suit can also change the way you think about yourself and can even alter the way you see the world around you.
In a study carried out by researchers at Columbia University and California State University, it was found that wearing a suit changes the way you perceive objects, events and other people. “Clothing formality was associated with abstract processing, including higher levels of action identification, greater category inclusiveness, and more favoring of global over local perceptual processing,” the authors concluded.
In simple terms, this means that you’ll have an increased ability to view a situation more broadly. Essentially, you’ll be more likely to look at a complete scenario in its entirety, rather than focusing in on the small details.
To reach this conclusion, a series of five experiments were carried out involving a group of students. The first set of experiments asked students to grade the formality of the clothes they happened to be wearing that particular day. The second set of experiments specifically asked them to come along in more formal wear. In each case, a number of cognitive tests were conducted to assess the students’ processing style. What the researchers identified was that there was a noticeable shift in the way the test subjects were thinking and processing information.
So, in a very real sense, the way they were dressing altered the way their brain was responding to the world.
Only one in 10 employees now wears a suit to work, according to a study
Researchers who polled 2,000 workers found that the modern British office is more likely to be staffed by professional gentlemen dressed in jeans or chinos, long-sleeved button shirts and a smart blazer or jacket with a pair of loafers or smart trainers.
It also emerged that seven out of 10 dress casually for work, as it makes them feel more comfortable and more than one fifth said they felt more able to express their personality. Over half of workers believe a casual dress code is more affordable and takes less upkeep, whilst one in four said it takes the pressure off having to look good all the time.
Forty three per cent of workers believe the business suit no longer has a place in the office and if they saw a colleague wearing a suit to work they would stick out like a sore thumb. Since the 19th century, the staple lounge suit has been classed by workers as the dress code for success and power, when city streets and public transport was awash with smartly dressed workers in power suits. Today, more than three quarters of British workers dress down for work with casual Friday happening every day.
Professor Karen Pine, psychologist at Hertfordshire University, said: “Over the last three decades, we have experienced a big movement in the workplace, where traditions and protocols have fallen enormously.
“The biggest changes have included the decline of the hierarchy, the boss being less of an authoritarian figure and more of a coach, all colleagues being called by their first name and the biggest change, the transition from a formal dress code to a casual one. “Having a dress-down Friday every day enables workers to be independent, and showcase their personality and attributes by how they dress rather than the position they hold, which leads to stronger bonds between co-workers and removes barriers, enabling everyone to get on with their jobs.”
When quizzed about dying work fashion trends, 42 per cent of workers believe the tie has fallen out of favour. perhaps only wearing one and having one stored in their drawer for ‘important business meetings’ and certainly not wearing one all day as protocol.
For men, a traditional shirt, a smart jacket and a pair of formal shoes have survived as office dress in the work place over the last three decades.
Respondents were also asked which business figures have influenced the change in work attire over the years:
- Virgin founder , Sir Richard Branson, took the top spot as the smart casual style guru, Branson, now 67, famously ditched a suit and tie in the mid nineties in favour of an open neck shirt and pair of Levi jeans.
- In second place was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, with his ‘stylised blandness’ of casual grey T-shirt and jeans. He famously said that by wearing the same outfit each day, he had much more time to think about more important matters.
The suit has definitely fallen out of favour in many a workplace, however its not yet dead. Professions such as Lawyers, Barristers, Politicians and CEO’s would certainly look out of place wearing a sports jacket and chinos. There is no doubt that by looking at the psychological effects, that in certain professions, its proven that the suit still makes a real impact. The suit is a classic, work staple and sales are still increasing. Men are also choosing to wear suits with more of an edge for social occasions, so the rise of the smart/casual/off duty suit is also on the rise. Although the classic suit may becoming less popular, it seems suits with more personality are on the rise…
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