The Psychology Behind How We Dress and Why it Matters

I’ve debated for some time about writing this post.  There are strong feelings on each side of the debate on how people dress.  There is the camp that believes that dressing in more traditional business attire leads to an increase in productivity and being heard.  And there is the camp that believes wholeheartedly it shouldn’t matter what we wear, and that others should respect our work product for its merit.

I can totally see both sides of this one, and I will admit, I fall squarely into the former camp…for certain situations.  I firmly believe that there are circumstances where our choice of clothing can make a positive difference in the outcome.

What’s the psychology?  Researchers have been studying this phenomenon for some time.  One recent study found that more formal dress positively impacted the way people process the world around them, and that participants felt more powerful, exhibited more inclusiveness, and experienced increased global processing.  All the competencies of many successful leaders.  In short, when we dress up, we feel differently about ourselves and our work, and so do those around us.

The counter arguments are strong, and often center on the idea that being concerned about what we wear is elitist.  This is not about brand names and excessive spending.  It is about dignity, and respecting ourselves and our work product.  Upping our game doesn’t have to be a budget buster.  There are many ways to dress professionally at any price point.  Adding a blazer to pants and a shirt is an easy way to give you a finished look, and get you in a powerful mindset.

What you wear is only one variable in the total equation.  Your work quality matters.  And when you put your best effort into something, deliver the whole package by taking a few moments to think about the impression you want to make, and determining if a professional look is best.

Before I dress, I think about what’s called for in my day ahead.  Weekends are all about comfort and practicality.  I never think extensively about what I’m wearing to the grocery store (presentable is the bar here), but during the work week?  I definitely make a point to think through my schedule, and choose classic, professional clothing for important meetings and presentations.

Putting It All Together

Our choice of clothing matters in certain circumstances.  Deciding to dress professionally for important meetings is not elitist, it is saying our work is important, and that we believe in what we are delivering.  Before getting ready for the day, ask yourself, “What’s called for today?”

I’m curious.  What are your thoughts on this topic?



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