This might surprise you.
Can the way you dress make you more successful, help to close more deals and improve your status?
Whether you love it or hate it, there are psychological factors at play when it comes to how you should dress for work. And research shows that the right clothes can, in fact, increase your confidence, help to close more deals, and improve your status.
Table of Contents
- John T. Molloy – The Robert Cialdini of Style
- How One Accessory Could Increase Your Perceived Net Worth by $13,000
- Why It’s Important to Dress For Success
- The Social Psychology of Clothing and Self Esteem
- The Science of Clothing and Abstract Thinking
- Dressing for Success Can Lead to Improved Negotiations
- Is Mark Zuckerberg an Exception to Dressing Well?
- Professional Tips to Dress for Success
John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success Book – The Robert Cialdini of Style
What sets Molloy’s book apart from style books is that he bases his advice not on fashion trends, but on scientific research and studies.
When IBM required employees to wear white collared shirts, some of their competitors laughed at them.
Molloy decided to run a test to find out how people would respond to IBM salesmen wearing the white collared shirt. He discovered that people who wore white shirts are seen as more credible, intelligent, successful, powerful, and honest.
Turns out IBM was able to close more deals, and laughed their way to the bank.
Does that mean you should wear a white shirt in your next presentation?
Like most advice, it needs to be applied in the right context. When Molloy consulted for an IBM competitor, he suggested that everyone should wear white shirts. Unfortunately, sales did not improve as expected.
With a follow-up study, Molloy discovered that IBM positioned themselves as the company with white shirts. So when his client wore white shirts, customers felt that the salesmen were copying IBM.
Equipped with this new information, Molloy found the right clothing to convey trust without copying IBM.
How One Accessory Could Increase Your Perceived Net Worth by $13,000
If you really want to improve your status, John Molloy suggests buying a tie. In his studies, Molloy discovered that the right tie could make you look like you earn an extra $13,000 to $18,000 a year.
Molloy took two pictures of the exact same man. In one photo, the man wore a gray suit and tie, and in the other, he wore a gray suit and open collared shirt.
Over 100 people were asked to estimate the yearly income difference between the “twins.”
The “twin” wearing the tie was generally awarded an extra $3,000 to $4,000 (or $13,458 and $17,944 when you account for inflation).
But picking any random tie won’t magically increase your perceived success either.
In a follow up study, Molloy surveyed 212 random people in downtown Chicago.
This time, the participants were asked to compare three men. One man wore an upper class tie, one man wore a lower-class tie, and another wore no tie at all.
Not surprisingly, the man wearing the upper class tie was thought to have earned the most money, ranging from an extra $17,944 to $26,916.
The more extraordinary finding was that most people assumed that the non-tie wearer earned more than the man wearing the lower-class tie.
Not sure what tie conveys success?
John Molloy found that 100% silk ties had the greatest effect on one’s perceived success.
As for patterns, Molloy suggests starting with no pattern at all, as a solid tie goes with any suit or shirt. But if you do wear a tie with a design, ties with small patterns were perceived as more successful than ties with larger patterns.
Why Is It Important to Dress for Success?
There are four reasons that dressing for success can improve your business:
- The right outfit will make you appear more confident, trustworthy, flexible, and successful.
- Dressing well will help you think more creatively and see the big picture.
- Dressing for success will improve your -and other people’s- perception of yourself.
- By dressing the part, on average, you may gain an extra 10% in profit when negotiating.
The Social Psychology of Clothing and Self Esteem
In a 2011 study, 306 participants were asked to rate the appearance of four males and four females.
Two men wore made-to-measure (or bespoke) navy blue, herringbone suits, in individual poses. The two other men wore off-the-peg navy blue herringbone suits, in individual poses.
The women, on the other hand, wore skirt suits and trouser suits, all navy and made of the same fabric, in individual poses.
Each picture was shown to the participants for three to five seconds. Participants rated each person based on perceived confidence, success, trustworthiness, flexibility, and salary.
The men who wore bespoke suits were thought to have higher confidence, success, salary, and flexibility. The scores for trustworthiness were also significant.
The Science of Clothing and Abstract Thinking
People often perceive someone in a business suit as stuffy. But research suggests that wearing good quality clothes can improve your abstract thinking.
In another study, 361 participants were asked to complete a list of assigned tasks. Those who dressed more formally had higher levels of abstract thinking than those who dressed more casually.
When asked to switch from wearing casual to formal clothes, another 88 participants were quicker to see the big picture after making the change. On the other hand, those who dressed more casually were more likely to notice the small stuff.
This isn’t necessarily better, just different. Abraham Rutchick explained, “It’s not that formal clothing makes you better, [it just] shifts you from looking at the details to broader themes.”
- The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing (Social Psychological and Personality Science)
- How Clothes Influence Our Performance (Scientific American)
Dressing for Success Can Lead to Improved Negotiations
Why is it important to dress for success? Perhaps the most important reason is that dressing up may also put more money in your pocket.
Yale professor Michael Kraus examined how clothes can play an advantage in negotiation situations.
Kraus paired 128 men together and split them into three groups.
One group was asked to wear upper-class clothing consisting of a black suit, white long-sleeve button-down collared shirt, black socks, and black leather dress shoes.
A second group wore lower-class clothes: white, short-sleeved t-shirts, blue sweat pants, and plastic flip-flops from Walgreens.
The final group wore neutral clothing, specifically the clothes they were wearing when they had entered the lab.
They each entered a room and began a mock negotiation over a manufacturing plant. With both shared and confidential information, they spent six minutes in an intense debate.
What was the outcome?
On average, the casually dressed men lost $1,000,000 below the fair market price of the plant. The neutrally dressed group averaged $1.58 million in profit. The upper-class group received an average profit of $2.1 million.
But the way each person dressed affected more than their take-home pay.
The poorer-dressed individuals felt more nervous and even felt like losers heading into the debate.
“You behave more dominantly, you compromise less, and part of that is because your interaction partner is allowing you to get away with more,” says Kraus, of the men in suits.
Is Mark Zuckerberg an Exception to Dressing Well?
When it comes to fashion, Mark Zuckerberg is a man of simple taste. In case you have not heard, Zuckerberg’s wardrobe comes in two flavors: a gray t-shirt and a gray hoodie with jeans.
His reasoning is simple:
“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” (Source: Here’s The Real Reason Mark Zuckerberg Wears The Same T-Shirt Every Day).
By wearing casual clothing on Wall Street, Zuck’s controversial style became the talk of many journalists. Of course, just because it works for Zuckerberg, doesn’t mean it will work for other successful entrepreneurs.
“Mark Zuckerberg is in a creative enterprise,” Yale’s Prof. Michael Kraus says. “People like that are playing around with their status symbols.”
And Zuckerberg’s clothing may be less casual than we may be led to believe.
GQ fashion blogger Jake Woolf believes Zuck could be sporting cashmere clothing. That means he may be wearing $900 tees and $2,000 hoodies, not cheap threads from Walgreens.
Professional Tips to Dress for Success
As the old saying goes: “Perception is reality.” Research shows that how you dress says a lot about you, and your personality.
Here are four tips to guide you as you dress for success:
1. Start by wearing clothes that fit.
The difference between looking unprepared and confident starts with the right fit.
Getting your measurements is easy, and free. Clothing and shoe shop worth their salt will be more than happy to measure your body. Even for a suit, you can ask your local tailor to measure you free of charge.
Not sure how your clothing should fit? I recommend reading Shujin’s Comprehensive Fit Guide.
2. Dress a step above what’s expected.
Dressing well is often relative. What works on Wall Street looks out of place in Silicon Valley. Your day-to-day clothing will look plain compared to what you wear on stage.
Dress up too much, you will look out of place. Dress up too little, and you will look boring and plain. To dress for success, you should dress a step above everyone else.
“Put it up a notch, but not such a big notch that you’re going to make everyone else in the office uncomfortable,” says Annie Brumbaugh, founder of AB Wardrobe Works, a personal-wardrobe consulting firm.
Do you work in an environment where suits are the norm?
For women, dressing a step above could mean a tailored jacket, a tailored skirt, or heels. For men, a suit, white collared shirt, and a silk tie can give you that professional look.
What if your dress code is business casual?
Men might invest in quality oxford cotton button down or polo shirts, chinos or dress slacks, and quality dress shoes.
Women might opt for a conservative dress, blouse or sweater with a skirt or dress pants, and dress shoes or boots.
Dressing a step above can be a matter of wearing higher quality clothes. It does not mean you need to dress more formally.
3. When the situation calls for it, dress the part.
If you need to dress the part for negotiations or for a speaking gig, here are a few suggestions from a former Big Three consultant to help get you started:
You do not need more than one suit. Seriously.
Buy one suit, solid navy. You will wear it five times a year. Buy one blazer, you’ll be wearing this more often.
Get two pairs of shoes with real leather soles (AE, Alden, C&J will do).
Three ties, only because you need a red power tie in some situations and a couple [of] quieter ones in others.
Get at least three pairs of trousers, and 15 good shirts (really, shirts and shoes are the crown jewels of the consultant wardrobe). You need 15 so [that] you can travel [for one] week, have a few at the drycleaner, and still have inventory.
Get a really good laptop bag.
The most important two things: Buy the bare minimum until after you start work and see what you need. I wasted a lot of money on suits before I started that I never wore. Second, cheap shoes make you look like a charlatan. Nobody will take you seriously with rubber soles.
4. You can go against the grain, but be careful.
The right clothing can showcase your personality and set you apart from the crowd.
In some situations, bold clothing will bring the attention you desire. However, if you are new to dressing well, it’s important to learn how to walk before you run.
Redditor jaxmeh shares ways of adding personality to your outfits:
My advice to add personality with as little effort/time as possible is to build a wardrobe of very muted, neutral colored basics. Then have a few statement pieces: a salmon colored dress shirt, a crochet tie, some slick sand colored suede chelseas, a royal purple sweater, stuff that stands out.
Only wear one statement piece with an outfit at a time, and the muted neutral tones of your other clothes will work with the more noticeable pieces. People will remember you as that guy with the cool sweater, or the nice boots, etc.
It still takes some time, but less than building an entire wardrobe from scratch.
It may seem silly, but people treat you based on your appearance. And the right clothing changes how you see yourself too.
By investing in the right clothes, you can feel confident, impress clients, and improve your productivity.
Over to you: Have you noticed how your clothing changes the way you respond to others and the way others respond to you?