Is dressing up for work a smart career move? Or is it just an old fashioned habit that is wearing thin in the modern world of work?
On the face of it, there is a growing body of research that suggests power dressing is the way to a powerful career.
The British Physiological Society cites recent research on first impressions that suggests dressing smartly communicates success.
Researchers asked participants to rate the same man who was shown either wearing an off-the-peg suit or a bespoke suit. When seen wearing the bespoke suit, the man was rated as more confident and successful.
Other research has shown that people assume that the same job candidate in formal wear will be more likely to earn a higher salary and win promotion, as compared to when he looks more scruffy.
Meanwhile, research from the Business is Great campaign suggests we are a nation who judge colleagues by what they wear, with only 1 in 10 of us feeling comfortable enough to wear what we like to work.
Big work fashion disasters included ripped jeans, branded t-shirts and short skirts.
With 44% admitting that they judge their colleagues on what they wear, the Welsh and South East Englanders are the most sartorially self-conscious.
Dressing up could even make your smarter at work in more ways than one. Research from Northwestern University reveals that what you wear could affect how you think and even perform.
Researchers found that students wearing white lab coats performed better on cognitive tests than those who didn’t sport any jackets. The phenomenon is called ‘enclothed cognition’ or the influence your clothes can have on the way you think, feel, and behave.
Clothes really do make the man according to a US study by Kelton Research which suggests well-dressed men are viewed as sexier, smarter, more successful, and more well-liked – and even fare better in relationships.
Other studies have shown than 75% of Americans think well-dressed men are more successful in the workplace than their casual colleagues, and more than a fifth of men actually believe they would earn more money if only they dressed better than they currently do.
So appearances appear to matter in the workplace…and there is plenty more research where this came from. If you wear anything from a luxury branded shirt through to high quality shoes, you appear to improve your job prospects.
But why are we seemingly so quick to judge a book by its cover? Scientists have recorded the gentle flicker of activity that lights up the brain when we form our first impressions of people.
The study shows how age-old brain circuitry that evolved to make snap decisions on the importance of objects in the environment is now used in social situations. Meanwhile, the Association of Psychological Science suggests that it only takes a blink of an eye to make (or break) a first impression.
Of course, in the modern workplace the question of what you wear for work is more complicated than that. A lot depends on the job or environment we are in. If you turned up at Google wearing a suit you would stand out like a sore thumb, but a hoodie doesn’t go down well in most British boardrooms.
The reality is most people adapt to their environment. Every work place has subtle signals about what to wear to fit in. Just as first impressions can be formed in milli-seconds, most of us pick up these sartorial signals very quickly. In other words we try and fit in the tribe, rather than become a fashion outcast.
If you fail to pick up the signals, there are plenty of big businesses willing to give you a helping hand. A few years ago, Swiss banking group UBS launched a 44-page dress code, covering everything from the colour and size of suits to dietary tips, the length of toenails, appropriate underwear and hair dyes (yes they actually produced this – as have numerous other financial and law firms).
Outside of the stuffy banking world, there does appear to be a move towards the less formal work attire – especially among younger companies and younger staff.
This in itself may herald more of a fashion swing towards the individual rather than the work collective. Although anybody who has witnessed a dress down Friday – with men decked in uniform chinos and t-shirts – may disagree.
But fashionistas don’t despair. As was always thus, there is still room to dabble with dress in the confines of a professional environment. Perhaps some daring socks, cutting edge cuff links or earrings, a splash of colour around the collar – but please no Mickey Mouse ties.
And remember it is not just clothes that matter. Everything from eye contact, your handshake, how fast you speak (not to mention the more obvious tattoos and ear piercings)….go to make up that blink of an eye first impression.
More than that, let’s not forget even if you judge a book by its cover it doesn’t mean it’s a great read. Whatever anybody wears on the outside, the most important thing a boss really wants is a blockbuster employee.