As a resident, I had always been “encouraged” to dress formally when attending national meetings—you never know who you are going to meet, after all. Though I acquiesced, I always wondered, “does this really make a difference?” After all, having trained in Seattle, scrubs and pullovers were far more common than ties and blazers. More recently, however, I have come to see the light.
In the business world, clothing is king. We have all heard the adages: “dress for success,” “clothes make the man,” or for you Shakespearean enthusiasts, “The apparel oft proclaims the man (Hamlet).”Clothes are the way we outwardly present ourselves. In addition to body language, people often base their first impression of us on our wardrobe. Furthermore, clothes also can increase our own internal opinions of ourselves. I stood in a wedding for one of my close friends over the summer. We were asked to purchase a suit from a company that creates custom-fit suits. Putting on a suit that actually fit made me feel…almost like I was in fact a better human being; smarter, taller, and better looking. I then understood the effect of the “power suit.”
Feeling confident is great. This in and of itself can increase performance as I alluded to in a previous blog post. There are actually data that support the notion that our appearance can augment performance. A recent research paper studied “enclothed cognition” (systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer's psychological processes) in attention-related tasks . The authors found that by wearing a lab coat, subjects improved their performance. Subjects also performed better when wearing lab coats identified as “doctor coats” as opposed to “painter coats”, highlighting the way our own beliefs about the clothing we wear can affect our performance. Another study supporting the power of clothing in performance showed that athletes who wore red during contact sports (boxing, wrestling, taekwondo) at the 2004 Olympics were statistically more likely to win than their blue-wearing counterparts . (As an interesting aside, in judo, where athletes wear white or blue, no difference in performance was found in relation to what color athletes were wearing. So, a little red in the outfit in the form of a tie or pin may not hurt.)
I recently discussed cell phones with a friend of mine. He seemed quite knowledgeable and could intelligently comment on the pros and cons of different phones on the market. However, when he took out his own phone, it had multiple cracks across the face and was clearly not cutting edge. Immediately, I transitioned the conversation away from phone technology. It didn’t matter that he clearly knew what he was talking about. I simply could no longer take his opinion seriously. Don’t let people lose confidence in you even before you speak. Present yourself well, and make a good first impression.
1. Adam H, Galinsky AD. Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2012; 48: 918-925.
2. Hill RA, Barton RA. Red enhances human performance in contests. Nature 2005; 435: 293.