How clothes can inspire confidence – and the dilemma of casual Friday
Focus on Image
What are you wearing right now? How does it make you feel? Does it make you feel good? Empowered? Ready for any challenge?
How is it that certain clothes give us more confidence, so much confidence that we find ourselves performing better when wearing them?
The way you present yourself can have a profound effect on the way you act. A little effort put into your clothing can make you think a certain way and have a positive on your performance.
A recent study* in the US demonstrates how we act differently based on what we wear – or even what we think we're wearing.
In the study, participants dressed in everyday clothing but half of them wore white lab coats. The people in lab coats made far fewer mistakes than those without. In another experiment, both halves were given lab coats but one half was told they were actually (white) artist's smocks.
Again, the people with lab coats outperformed those in the 'artist smocks'. The findings point to a simple conclusion: when we dress smart we think we are smart. If we don't, we become more error-prone.
The term for this is called 'enclothed cognition' – basically the influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes. So, what is going on here?
Researchers believe that clothing holds a symbolic meaning.
Does wearing a police uniform give the wearer a greater sense of power? It is interesting to consider that both athletes and military wear uniforms.
Think, for instance, of our national soccer or rugby team and the 'wearing of the jersey'. How does wearing a jersey representing your country instil a feeling of pride and honour?
Presumably, wearing a 'uniform' enhances that sense of teamwork, cohesion and enhanced performance.
How can you use the 'enclothed cognition' finding to your benefit in your work life?
Let's assume you would like to use this to your advantage. Think about the meaning each article of clothing in your wardrobe holds for you.
Do your killer heels make you think of a confident woman ready for any challenge? Does your favourite business suit make you feel confident and powerful?
Ask yourself, how you could feel better today? Or, what message do you need to give out today?
Once you've named the intended state, choose the article of clothing that symbolise that desired psychological state. For women, additionally it's the make-up and accessories. For the men, it may even be the tie you choose.
In your career, think about how you would like to be perceived. How are you going to achieve this?
Just imagine that with a little thought and effort, you could manage your brand – your personal brand. We all have one, whether we like it or not.
On a related note, I have found over the years that many organisations struggle with the concept of 'dress-down Fridays'. (Indeed it often presents challenges for the employee too.) Many companies indicated that they experienced a decline in productivity and professionalism on 'dress-down' days.
Whilst many employees argue that they feel far more comfortable working in their 'casual' clothes, my own experience is quite the contrary.
So, the next time you are chairing your board meeting, pitching to a new client or simply want to feel or perform better, throw on your favourite outfit – something you know you look and feel great in and you're good to go. The world is your oyster!
Frances Jones is an image consultant and stylist at Image Matters. www.imagematters.ie
*Adam & Galinsky, Northwestern University, Chicago, USA.