Dress For The Job You Want: Why the devil is in the details

“Dress for the job you want, instead of the job you have.”

“The clothes make the man!”

We hear these and similar sentiments often, and seem to associate dressing better with doing better and achieving more in the workforce. But is there actually evidence that “dressing for success” works? How? Do certain clothes make us do better, or are we just perceived differently?

In the business world—with interviews, meetings, and presentations—appearances do often set a first impression.

We tend to consciously and unconsciously judge people based on what they look like, including what they wear. While we may be judging based mostly on [socially conditioned stereotypes], we are still making decisions toward and assumptions about people based on their outward appearance. These assumptions can be completely accurate or completely inaccurate; it’s impossible to know if we don’t look at a person’s achievements and work habits.

For example, professionally, at first glance, we’d be more likely to trust someone in a suit and tie or a business dress than someone in pajama pants.

Based on clothing choice, we’d tend to make assumptions, such as that the person dressed formally takes their job and him/herself more seriously and is more reliable. The apparent effort put into professional appearance seems to indicate how much a person cares about how they are judged, leading us to infer their levels of responsibility and trustworthiness. Based on these presumptions, business opportunities are and aren’t given, depending on perception.


In order for us to be perceived as more professional by others, we need to fight the urge to stay in comfy pajamas all day. We have to put more effort into how we look. Simply, we just need to care more. The fact that we care will be noticed and people’s opinions will shift. The clothes we wear and our level of grooming change how we are perceived, whether we are heard, and whether or not people feel they can relate to us. How we present ourselves affects every aspect of our lives, whether or not we choose to admit it.

How we present ourselves to the world represents the way in which we decide to show up for our lives, for ourselves and the future we are building.

Evidence points to the fact that clothes really can help us feel and do better. A 1994 North Illinois University study found that people’s perceptions of their own reliability, responsibility, honesty, trustworthiness, and more were much more positive when they put extra care into their clothing choice and appearance. This is known as “embodied cognition.” Even our body language can modify hormone levels to increase confidence and positive sense of self. This allows us to not only feel better, but also encourages us to accomplish more. Looking better is attributed to feeling better, which means you can do better, for yourself and in your life.

Our brains have a natural tendency to behave in a particular manner when we dress a certain way.

A black dress and a pair of sweatpants have different purposes and meanings, so we tend to act in different ways when wearing one compared to the other. The meanings of our clothes may be socially constructed and differ depending on how we live, but they still tend to be ingrained and influence how we act and feel when dressed for certain situations.
Subconsciously, clothes define our role and purpose, and give us a guideline to make decisions aligned with who we want to be, while communicating to those around us about who we are.

Through expression in our appearance, we “brand” and define ourselves for others, as well as ourselves.

So take that extra half an hour and make the effort. Because no matter how you show up for life and work, someone is definitely noticing.

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