I usually consider leggings and a sweater a perfectly acceptable outfit. In fact, you’d have a good chance of finding me out on a Friday night in just that. Hey, no judgment, right? But not at work. I feel like work is another dimension of higher expectations, where you never know who you’re going to meet or where you’ll end up by the end of the day. Sure, you could say the same thing about going out with friends on the weekend, but if I meet someone special then, they’ll have to see me in my casual glory sooner or later, right? Work companions won’t.
But at my new job, I was shocked by the low-key dress code in the office; jeans, Ugg boots, the works. If that’s your thing, good for you. But I just couldn’t. Sure, maybe I looked a little ridiculous crouching by the mail cabinet rummaging for a magazine in my skirt and heels, but I’m dressing for the job I want, not the job I have. Is it crazy to want to dress up, even if that makes you the odd one out?
Science says no. In a recent study by Psychology Today, 300 participants were exposed to two men, one dressed in an expensive, tailored suit, the other in a similar, but lower-quality suit. After a 3-second exposure to the men from the neck down, participants spoke overwhelmingly more favorable about the man in the nicer outfit. They thought him more confident, successful, and guessed that he made more money. All because of his outfit. Clothing, whether we like it our not, has become an indication of our economic and social standing.
But more than that, clothes not only dictate how others view us, but can also change how we view ourselves. Northwestern University did a study on something called “enclothed cognition,” meaning how what one wears alters their behavior. In the study, they gave each participant a white lab coat. To some, they said it was a doctor’s coat. To others, it was a painter’s smock. Turns out the people who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat acted more careful and attentive than those who thought they had a painter’s smock. In an article for Forbes.com, Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner said, “When you dress in a certain way, it helps shift your internal self.” Just look at makeovers or actors wearing costumes, she says. What you wear can change you internally.
So when it comes to work, I’ll keep trudging through the snow in my heeled boots and skirt because, you know what? It’s worth it. Maybe it won’t actually make me more professional or cause me to work harder, but you never know. Maybe it will.