Enclothed Cognition

Have you ever felt stuck for what to wear to an important meeting or maybe a job interview? Perhaps worried about making the right impression? While wearing appropriate clothes to important occasions can give a good impression, it can also make you feel more confident. A study conducted by Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University, Chicago) looked at how what you wear can influence how you perform; they found that individuals who were asked to wear a lab coat performed better on attention-related tasks compared to those wearing their normal clothes. Interestingly, it was also found that those who did wear lab coats but were told they were artists coats performed similarly to those who wore their own clothes. Now I wouldn’t suggest rushing out to purchase a lab coat (how do you know it’s not an artist’s one anyway?), however it may be worth considering, not just how others may perceive you, but also how the clothes you wear make you feel. This research suggests that it’s not just what people are wearing, but the symbolic meaning of the outfit that matters.   For example, when wearing a ‘power’ suit, not only are you likely to be perceived as professional, but you may feel differently compared to if you wore tidy casual clothes. When you feel you look your best, you carry yourself with more confidence and often find it easier to focus rather than worrying about how you look.

Because of the changing face of workplaces and the way in which business is conducted, many organisations are opting for a more casual approach, where business suits aren’t necessary. Hierarchical structures in organisations are flattening out and more emphasis is being placed on work out-put rather than who is managing who. Different organisations with differing cultures report contempt for both casual dress in the workplace and corporate dress. Employees have claimed that wearing a suit is so uncomfortable it is actually counterproductive in the workplace. Benefits of wearing more comfortable clothes include things such as higher morale, less money spent on clothing and more communication amongst staff as barriers between managers and employees are reduced. For those who work from home, getting out of one’s pyjamas is considered to be enough to feel professional or in a ‘work zone’. However, business leaders have cited less than desirable outcomes of having causal Friday every day. These include outcomes such as employees being less effective, less productive, and tardier.  Not to mention that the organisation can be perceived as less professional by important stakeholders.

What does your organisation, or your employees prefer? Do you feel that if you wear a suit to an important meeting will you perform better than if you don’t? If you wear a suit everyday will it have the same effect?

Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed Cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 918-925.


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