If you are one of the growing number of people now working from home because of COVID, you no doubt enjoy several advantages over those commuting to work each day. Extra time to sleep in — since travel time to your home office is about 3 seconds, no rush out the door to deal with early morning traffic hassles, and no bother to get ready for work, right? Wrong! Sorry to burst your bubble, but you do need to get ready for work – even if you don’t have any Zoom meetings scheduled. Why? Your clothes don’t just shape the way others see you, they also shape the way you see yourself – the way you think and the way you perform — and by extension, your productivity and potential for success.
Your Clothes are Talking About You and also To You
Your clothes are not only talking about you, but they are also talking to you. And since the way you’re dressed influences how you feel about yourself, it’s important to dress based on how you want to feel, not on how you actually feel. Your clothes can make you feel more positive, powerful and well-prepared, or they can make you feel more self-conscious, anxious, and embarrassed. How we dress powerfully impacts both our feelings and our behaviors.
In one study demonstrating the impact of dress on performance, two teams of students were competing in a negotiating effort. The teams were the same except one team was wearing professional business attire and the other was wearing street clothes. The team wearing professional business attire performed significantly better against the other team every time. Why did that happen? How we are dressed not only affects our self-perceptions (e.g., positive, powerful, and well-prepared), but it also impacts our mood, motivation and even our cognitive processing style, and ability to engage in rational thinking. Additional research shows that wearing formal business attire contributes to higher employee morale and productivity…. and thus, to profitability.
The Clothes You Wear Can Make a Difference in Your Success
Clearly people do see themselves differently based on the clothing they are wearing, although they are typically unaware of it. And these self-perceptions directly impact the quality of their performance in the workplace whether that workplace is in the home or elsewhere. Further, our dress can impact our creativity, productivity, perceived trustworthiness, authoritativeness, competence, and our performance on a variety of measures.
Another study discovered that people performed better on attention-related tasks when wearing a medical lab coat than when wearing normal street clothes. Doctors are thought to pay careful attention to detail, so wearing a doctor’s lab coat triggers concepts associated with doctors (e.g., attention to detail) and that impacts how we then perform.
Ever wonder why companies instruct people in sales, including phone sales, to smile whenever they are talking with customers — even when the customers do not see them? They can hear it. Our mood and attitude are different when we smile, just as it is when we are dressed professionally, and that difference is reflected in our verbal communication. Few people realize how extensively clothing influences the perceptions of others or their own perceptions of themselves.
According to Mark Twain, “It isn’t what folks don’t know that’s so dangerous; it’s what they do know that ain’t so”. Keep in mind the clothes we wear have a powerful affect not only on others, but also on ourselves, impacting our performance far more than we realize. If you want to maximize your productivity when working from home, remember — your clothes talk to you and by extension, to others, whether they can see you or not. Be sure you are dressed professionally for a positive and productive conversation!
Sandra Forsythe, Ph.D. Wrangler Professor, Apparel Merchandising Director, Presidential Fellow, Emeritus, Auburn University, is one of the most highly recognized experts on clothing and perceptions both domestically and internationally. She presented her research on clothing and perception to many national and international audiences and published extensively in academic journals. She taught social psychology of clothing, clothing and perception, and professional development for 30 years and now consults on brand image and dress. Dr. Forsythe’s book (in review) Clothing Talks: What are your clothes saying about you? is designed to help you (1) recognize what your clothing is powerfully but silently communicating about you (and to you) and (2) use your clothing as a powerful resource to communicate desired messages and enhance your success. Cisso Bean & Dutch, LLC wishes to thank Dr. Forsythe for her contribution to our guest blogger series. For more on Dr. Forsythe, visit her LinkedIn here or her website here: https://forsysa.wixsite.com/clothingtalks