Dress for Success: How-to Achieve Your Unique Look | Part 1

Updated: Mar 21

We know we feel sharper when we dress up; we feel the impact instinctively. Dressing success is as much of a mental investment as it is a physical decision.


How Your Wardrobe Influences Your Performance

Whether we are traveling on a business trip, having coffee with a partner, or relaxing at home after a long day, we are a product of our environment, however, who we are is never set in-stone. We are defined by the effort we invest into our own progression.

The experiences we have daily and the quality of our interactions contribute to our growth as individuals. It is no secret that dressing for success and highlighting your personality on a daily basis, wherever you happen to be, creates cohesion between your own goals and the way others perceive you. This harmony between your external environment and internal goals is bridged by the way you style your wardrobe and interact in any situation.

There is a clear distinction in our ability to focus when we are wearing a well-curated suit that we like as opposed to wearing sweatpants and a henley that almost begs us to lie down on the couch.

Why Dressing for Success is a Savvy Investment

We are aware of how an essential custom capsule wardrobe, and specifically pieces that compliment a man’s personality, not only contributes to a better personal experience day-to-day, but also sets the stage for a man to heighten his performance in all dimensions of life.

The old adage that calls us to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” stems from deep cultural roots that reflect how we achieve success and grow throughout our careers. More than simply how others perceive you—various studies show that the clothes you wear have a profound impact on your mental and physical performance. Although such findings about so-called “enclothed cognition” are still being explored actively in modern experiments within the fashion industry, a growing body of research suggests that there is real merit to dressing sharply and investing in our own appearance and being cognizant of how our choices affect others’ perceptions.

By curating your appearance using sartorial symbols of social class, you can expect consistent positive responses and more fluid negotiation experiences when interacting with peers in the workplace and outside of the office. According to a 2014 sartorial study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, “wearing upper-class, compared to lower-class, clothing induced dominance—measured in terms of negotiation profits and concessions, and testosterone levels—in participants.”

Said differently, if you want to be a big-ideas person at work, suit up.

How can you continue to show your ability to bring new and refreshing ideas to the table? It’s not rocket science - dress for success. Wearing formal business attire is shown to increase your ability to think abstractly—an essential aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. Further, the sartorial experiments suggest that the effects of dressing up are related to feelings of power, and being comfortable with responsibility is a determining factor for being considered for leadership.

What happens when we do not dress for success?

Be very aware that informal clothing may hurt you in negotiations. They also demonstrated this outcome in the sartorial experiments mentioned earlier in this post. In the research, male subjects were also asked to wear their usual clothing or were placed in a suit or in sweats. When they engaged in a game that involved negotiating with a partner, those who dressed up obtained more profitable deals than the other two groups, and those who dressed down were shown to have lower testosterone levels.

The Red Sneakers Effect: Why Challenging Norms Works

It's not news to anyone that we form impressions of others based on their clothes and style. In general, studies that investigate these impressions, or judgements, find that people prefer clothing that matches expectations—surgeons in scrubs, little boys in blue—with one notable exception.

Some may argue that success and status are not as important as other things in life. They may cite how “caring about clothing and first impressions can be perceived as ‘shallow’ or materialistic.” However, groups of scientists have shown that the way we feel about ourselves, which is of massive internal consequence for regulating our mood and emotions, is often directly linked to our appearance, whether or not we realize it. Dressing well is an intelligent and recommended way to take advantage of this finding and allows us to dress for success literally.

A series of studies published in an article in June 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Research explored observers' reactions to people who broke established norms only slightly. For instance, in one scenario, a man at a black-tie affair was viewed as “having higher status and competence” when opting for a red bow tie instead.

The researchers in the study also discovered that demonstrating uniqueness increased audience members' ratings of the status and competence of a professor who wore red “Converse” sneakers while delivering a lecture.

“The results suggest that people judge these slight deviations from the norm as positive because they suggest that the individual is powerful enough to risk the social costs of such behaviors.” —T.R.

Coined as “The Red Sneakers Effect,” the observation that sartorial uniqueness and risk taking has a positive effect on the impression you make on an audience has also motivated further sartorial studies that have been published in the Harvard Business Review. The literature is a fascinating read if you are interested in digging deeper into how clothes influence our performance.

Why Dressing for Success is Influences Charisma

It is established that dressing well increases your performance and heightens others' impressions of you. Wearing clothes that make you feel important or intelligent can change the way you interact with others and your cognitive functioning. It can even make the difference securing a promotion or earning a new position in a company.

Also, other people will be open to changing assumptions about you based on the way you dress. This means you can make yourself smarter or more powerful based on your clothes alone. A refreshment of wardrobe can be the deciding factor in getting the job you want, closing the deals you want, and commanding the respect you deserve. The result of all of these positive reinforcements is heightened and long-lasting charisma that never goes away.

The symbolism behind what you wear has more of an impact on your behavior and charisma than the clothes themselves. The studies that have been mentioned within this post show that when you wear an outfit that you associate with intelligence and power, you are more likely to do better and feel better than when wearing clothing that you associate with low-productivity work and deliverables that fall short of excellence and perfection.

We are called to strive for perfection. You don’t wait for life to come to you, you seize the opportunity of each day with strength and optimism. Your clothing speaks to you as a man who knows what he wants.

Proven Tactics to Maximize the Influence of Your Attire

Beyond showing off your personal style, there are a few other things you can do to help you dress your best and increase your performance:

  • Wear clothes that fit you perfectly - take the time to measure yourself properly and try on your clothes before you buy. Have your clothes altered by your tailor for a perfect fit, if you have the means. Well-fitting clothes are flattering for your figure and help you operate efficiently whether you are in the office or on-the-go. The last thing you need to be worried about is how your clothes fit on a daily basis. Invest in perfect fit.

  • Dress tactfully for the season - Always dress with style for the season. Regardless of your city or seasonal considerations, you want to command your wardrobe for any situation. This keeps you comfortable and shows that you are a thinker and someone who pays attention to detail. On that note, ensure you have a quality jacket for winter, a collection of sweaters for spring and fall, and appropriate pieces and accessories for summer.

  • Dress for all occasions - When you’re closing deals, come prepared with options to look your best in relation to your organization. If you're required to present at a meeting, wear whatever makes you feel sharp and charismatic. Likely, this would be a suit or other business attire, but it could also be a more minimalist and functional uniform such as scrubs and a lab coat. For a unique situation, for example, if you are running a divergent brainstorming session, wear clothing that makes you feel open-minded and innovative. Always pay close attention to the details and attributes you apply to your wardrobe before you put them on and start your day. Every decision matters.

The Bottom line

To learn more about how to dress with intentionality and confidence, we recommend checking out our other pieces on tactics for dressing for reaching your goals and cultivating a growth mindset.

At Kahana, we live and breathe content creation. We love learning new concepts, exploring emergent trends, and writing about topics that foster creativity and wellness. If you're interested in writing with us or would like to collaborate for your dream business blog, we'd love to hear from you!


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