Can you dress for success?


Is casual Friday a bad idea?

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]In a culture known for its laxity does it make sense to encourage the downward spiral?[/inlinetweet]

There is a strange American institution known as “casual Friday.” In offices across the land employees dress in business attire–actually more often its business casual–Monday to Thursday. Then, once a week they dip below that standard into something known as “casual.”

I’m not at all sure that casual Friday accomplishes much. It may even be detrimental to our work.

For one thing, casual is in the eye of the beholder.

It has a range of meanings–from sport coat and jeans to sweat pants and flip flops. Casual Friday meant sport coat and tie rather than suit and tie at my father-in-law’s law firm. It might mean a sport coat and jeans or khakis and blazer.

Yesterday a colleague remarked that she found it funny that my casual Friday outfit was a button-down, khakis, and a baseball hat. The hat made what might otherwise have been business casual into something else.

It’s true. I have a fairly narrow range of clothing. Always have.

Clothing affects our attitudes and behavior

I then came across this post from an ex-pat about things that changed when she moved to the UK.

Her first observation:

I stopped wearing s*itty clothes when I left the house. I love wearing shorts and sweatpants. I wore each out into the city of London once, just to nip around the corner and get some groceries, and I have never felt more intensely stared at in my life. “Look at that American slob,” all of their stares seemed to say. After about a week, I only allowed myself to wear “comfy” clothes when I was in my flat, and I made myself look presentable every single time I left home.

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I’ve noticed that clothes exert an influence on my attitude, my energy, and my behavior. 


There is evidence to suggest that I’m not the only one for whom this is true.

Scientific American reports:

If you want to be a big-ideas person at work, suit up. A paper in August 2015 in Social Psychological and Personality Science asked subjects to change into formal or casual clothing before cognitive tests. Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking—an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. The experiments suggest the effect is related to feelings of power.

All this is not to suggest that you can’t push the envelop a little.

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. In one scenario, a man at a black-tie affair was viewed as having higher status and competence when wearing a red bow tie. The researchers also found that valuing uniqueness increased audience members’ ratings of the status and competence of a professor who wore red Converse sneakers while giving a lecture.

That’s one of the reasons I have tended to dress formally and conservatively, yet also to wear very bright socks.

Business at the top, party at the ankles.

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