Everyone has heard the old adage ‘dress not for the job you have, but the one you want’ and it turns out that might have more truth to it than you’d thought. A study by Abraham Rutchick, a professor of psychology at California State University, has found that wearing formal clothes doesn’t just make you look smart, it actually makes you smarter.
The test was surprisingly simple. The psychology professors had two groups of students turn up to university; one dressed normally and one dressed formally. The casual set had to rate how smartly they were dressed before taking a test and the study found that the more formal the students thought they were, the better they performed. The second group of students were told to dress as they would if they were going to an interview (it turns out students don’t wear suits unless you force them to) and took the same test. They found that those students demonstrated more ‘abstract processing’ than the group that just wore what they usually would. In real world, non-academic terms, this just means that we’re quicker on our feet (mentally speaking) when we’re suited and booted than when we aren’t. So next time you’re faced with a work decision that isn’t just which sarnie to get from Prêt you’ll come to a better decision faster if you’re dressed for the occasion.
Rutchick and his team came to the conclusion that this happens because putting on formal clothes makes people feel more powerful, which in turn drives them away from things like taking criticism to heart or making rash decisions. And, because we associate wearing a suit with a formal context, this effect doesn’t become any less powerful whether we’re wearing a suit every day or just on special occasions.
So next time you’ve got an interview, a presentation or you’re just going into work, it might be worth thinking about putting on a suit instead of your normal threads. It’s easy to forget when you’re wearing one you’ve put on a piece of technology that has been developed over hundreds of years by countless artisans with one express endpoint in mind – making you look and feel great.
If that hasn’t changed your mind about formalwear, maybe looking at our suits will.