Dress for Success: How-to Achieve Your Unique Look | Part 2

Updated: Mar 21

Only you know what is and isn’t appropriate in your office, but if there’s one thing we would like to emphasize, it’s that clothes matter when it comes to how you feel.


In our previous post about dressing for success, we focused on how the nuances and cornerstones of your character and personality translate to creating uniqueness and individualism within your wardrobe. We establish why dressing for success actually allows you to be more successful. In this post, we will deepen our conversation and discuss why properly exercising intentionality and confidence are also important considerations for dressing with success.

How to Dress with Intentionality and Confidence

Everyone is acutely aware of the aphorism, "Don't judge a book by its cover." While a man must aspire to refrain from snap judgments when meeting new people, he should never assume others will always show him this same courtesy.

Studies have long demonstrated that all people make a judgment based on their first impression of within the first seven seconds of interaction. Modern psychology research has shown that this time frame may be shrinking—along with our attention spans—to approximately five seconds.

What does this mean for your goals of making a lasting impression?

A well-dressed woman and man shake hands and smile, while two other people smile and watch.

This means that whether you’re interviewing for a new role or position, orchestrating a business meeting, or conversing at a networking event, you really have just a few valuable moments to make a perfect first impression and establish yourself as the successful person you strive to be.

With every challenge comes a new opportunity. The next time you are running errands or frequent an airport, pay attention to your surroundings and look at how others are presenting themselves. Dress standards have evolved to become so low today that simply wearing a nice suit in any setting can have a profound differentiating impact on how you are perceived in comparison to your peers.

Dressing with Intentionality Heightens Levels of Respect

Elevating the way that you dress will inherently elevate the way that you feel. Almost immediately, you will feel significantly better about yourself and your circumstances

If you are intent on earning a promotion or securing a new position within your career arc, dressing for success is an essential consideration.

According to a sartorial article published by Wall Street Journal, a number of recent studies suggest that dressing up for work in a suit or blazer can have a profound impact on any employee’s productivity and success, whether the individual is driving a negotiation, orchestrating a sales call or even running a videoconference session with business associates.

A strategy meeting is in session within an aesthetically designed office with office plants and large bright windows, as a woman holds a marker and communicates next to a whiteboard, while a man sits at a desk and listens.

The aforementioned study included simulated business meetings in which subjects wore both formal and more casual clothing. At the culmination of the experiments, the studies yielded indications that wearing formal clothes translated to increasing one’s confidence level, affected how others perceived the wearer, and in some cases even boosted the level of one’s abstract thinking, the type of strategic and theoretical thinking in which leaders and executives engage.

Furthermore, the article discusses how Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, co-authored a study for the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014 which demonstrated that clothes with high social status can increase dominance and job performance in “high-stakes” competitive tasks.

The study in focus placed 128 men, ages 18-to-32, from diverse backgrounds and income levels in various role-playing exercises—mock negotiations over the sale of a hypothetical factory—to ascertain whether wearing specific kinds of clothing had an effect on the outcomes.

In each situation, the “buyer” in each case came from one of three groups. One group wore business suits and dress shoes. One group wore sweatpants, white T-shirts and plastic sandals. A third group, referred to as “neutrals,” kept wearing the clothing they arrived in. A neutral played the role of “seller” in each negotiation, but no seller also played a role as a buyer.

The results?

It turns out dressing for success actually makes you more successful.

Those dressed poorly (in sweatpants and plastic sandals) averaged a theoretical profit of $680,000, while the group dressed in suits amassed an average profit of $2.1 million. The group dressed neutrally averaged a $1.58 million profit.

According to a co-author of the study, this finding is supported by the “poorly dressed” participants’ tendency to defer to the suited ones, and how these suited participants could sense this heightened respect, and thus backed down less than they might have otherwise. This shows that the poorly dressed participants would often defer to the suited ones, and these suited participants could sense this heightened respect, backing down less than they might have otherwise.

"People who wear that kind of clothing feel more powerful," Michael L. Slepian, co-author of the study and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia Business School, told the WSJ. "When you feel more powerful, you don’t have to focus on the details."

Why Your Unique Personality Completes Your Wardrobe

Dressing well and within established social norms is only one side of the coin when it comes to having an intentional strategy and style for your wardrobe. It is essential that you artfully invent your own style and twist classical sartorial approaches with your own values and preferences.

Becoming your own sartorial alchemist demonstrates attention-to-detail, discipline, and creativity to push boundaries.

As you contemplate and consider options for formalwear like a blazer or suit, be critically aware that dressing for success also involves the integration of your own personality and self into your own ideal wardrobe. In all the workplace situations previously mentioned, you should also feel free to make the conscious decision to break the status quo every once in a while because it’s important to you - people notice and admire bravery and courage to challenge norms.

We recommend that you incorporate versatility and performance with work attire, choose your own favorite accessories in an artistic manner to reflect your own charisma and energy for life, even if it’s not “typical” in your workplace. Accentuating your personality always makes a profound impact.

Embodied Cognition: Dressing with Intentionality

If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, it has been shown that your ability to pay attention will increase sharply. However, if you wear the same exact white coat and treat it as a “smock,” as if it belongs to a painter, you will show improvement in other cognitive areas such as creative thinking.

So scientists report after studying a phenomenon they call enclothed cognition: “the effects of clothing on cognitive processes.”

“It is not sufficient to see a doctor’s coat hanging in your doorway,” said Adam D. Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study on enclothed cognition, which was featured in the New York Times. “The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — that physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.”

“We think not just with our brains but with our bodies,” Dr. Galinsky continued, “and our thought processes are based on physical experiences that set off associated abstract concepts. Now it appears that those experiences include the clothes we wear.”

“I love the idea of trying to figure out why, when we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role and how that might affect our basic abilities,” said Joshua I. Davis, an assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College and expert on embodied cognition. Though Davis was not involved with the study conducted by Galinsky, he does suggest that it may be worth investigating further the various ideas that the study presents.

According to Dr. Galinsky, there is a substantial body of work on embodied cognition. For instance, the experience of washing your hands is associated with moral purity and ethical judgments. People tend to rate their peers as personally “warmer” if they hold a hot drink in their hand, and personally “colder” if they hold an iced drink.

The law translates to many activities - if you carry a heavy clipboard, you will feel more important and thus be perceived as being more important.

It has long been known that “clothing affects how other people perceive us as well as how we think about ourselves,” Dr. Galinsky said. Other experiments have shown that women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired, and a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually.

The Bottom Line

Many people will give you the advice to “dress for success,” and our goal is to help you understand what that means in practice, not in theory. For more insights on how you can take dressing for success to the next level and command your wardrobe to achieve your goals, check out our guide on strategies for dressing for success in an office setting.

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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