Dress the Part

Dress Quote

“Fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress.” – Eva Rykersmith, The Fast Track

All of us have uniforms – or a way that people expect us to dress based upon our profession. To prove it, visualize a college professor. Did a brown tweed blazer with leather elbow patches come to mind? What about a stay at home mom. Right or wrong, yoga pants probably just popped into your brain. It’s obvious that uniforms, however stereotypical, are not limited to policemen, UPS drivers, and school crossing guards. When you think of a certain profession or position, you have a mental image of what that person should look like.

Did you know that women dressed in a masculine fashion are perceived as better managers? Did you know that people dressed more formally are perceived as more intelligent? Does it make it so? No. But people’s perceptions are their reality.

According to its statistics, perceptions about a person’s confidence, intelligence, and authority are developed within seconds of meeting them – and it’s all based upon visual impressions. So, first impressions matter and the way you are dressed has a lot to do with that.

According to a series of studies published in the Evolution and Human Behavior journal, flashing designer brands can provide an advantage to you and your career. When wearing perceived high-status clothing, people gained cooperation from others more easily, scored job recommendations more frequently and earned a higher salary. The researchers explain that designer labels communicate underlying quality—the subconscious thought pattern is that only the best can afford them so this person must be among the best.

So, what other things are communicated through the way you dress?

  • Trust and Credibility – The reptilian part of our brain tells us to trust what we see more than any other sense. And trust what a person is wearing. If you boarded a plane and the pilot was wearing a jogging suit instead of a pilot’s uniform, you would probably question their credibility as a pilot. Uniforms can lend an air of authority and can persuade us to accept what people in uniform say and trust what they do.
  • Competence – Being underdressed for a profession that demands more formality in its dress code (like being an attorney) makes you look like you don’t take your job seriously enough to be any good at it. And for women, dressing too sexy will make you appear less competent.
  • Success – If dressed appropriately people will see you as being successful. There was a study done involving MBA students and the impact of business-casual days in the workplace. The study found that those who participate in casual dress days were unfairly stereotyped and evaluated as less hard-working and professional than co-workers who did not participate.
  • Respect and Popularity – An informal study collected by the site, theragtrader.com, polled 3,000 workers. Fully two-thirds of the participants in the study felt that being smartly dressed gained them respect from colleagues. Here’s another interesting fact: Dress can impact your popularity as well. A study from the folks at Science of People revealed speakers wearing clothing marked as “casual” typically had lower popularity ratings than people wearing clothing that was considered “formal business attire.”
  • Earning Potential – A study by the University of Texas shows that appearance can make a 12% difference in earning potential. Another study shows that number jumping to 40%-60% difference in earning potential for women over their lifetime. That’s a huge difference – and it’s just based on the way you are dressed and if your dress matches how people expect you to be dressed for your profession.

If the way you dress sends messages to others, can it send messages to our own minds, as well? Certainly!

  • Confidence – Shakespeare writes in Hamlet, “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” There is no secret that there are direct links between personal style and a positive self-image. When you choose high quality, well-tailored garments that convey professionalism you feel confident and powerful. They don’t call it a power suite for nothing!
  • Performance – Research confirms that the way a person dresses affects their workday, and that “dressing up” made that day a better performance day for them as well. In a recent study researchers ran an experiment and found that students who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat showed a heightened sense of attention than students who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat. It was really the same coat. The influence came from the symbolic interpretation of the article of clothing. We associate pajamas with lazing around whereas we associate a suit and tie with hard work and professionalism.
  • Productivity – Just like confidence and performance, productivity is influenced by what you are wearing because how you are dressed changes your state of mind. So, dressing in a powerful way that builds self-confidence also increases productivity.  Think about the days you either go to the office over the weekend or work from home and don’t have your normal work attire on. Is there a difference? Of course there is.

Dressing for the job you want, not the job you have turns out to be a great piece of advice based upon real science and research results. Dressing the part conveys important messages to others, but also important messages to our own subconscious minds and can make the difference in how well we are respected, how confident we feel, and how much money we make.


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