The Psychology of the Suit
Daintily-preserved, freshly-selected, and crisply-ironed, a suit is a bet upon yourself. Its sharpness coupled with its pristinely specialized ability to make one feel anew is magical. The antithesis to a run-down pair of sweatpants, the suit is a time-critical chance to polish your edges and sow up your frayed ends just for a bit, to present your best at an interview, conference, or even the rendezvous of an award ceremony alike. Essentially, it is a corporate cape.
The idea of powerful professional wear extends beyond the suit in similar manners – whether it’s the traditional pencil skirt and blouse or even a pair of suede heels or shoes, it is inevitable that what you wear professionally can spruce up how you feel, when the situation demands it most. Nerves can collide with confidence when you shake that blazer onto your shoulders, and suddenly you are seamless. Why exactly is this, and does it affect performance? Psychology, peppered with bits of societal impression and time-tested culture, can help us explore further.
Crafted by psychologists Hajo Adams and Adam Galinsky, the enclothed cognition effect details how the clothing you wear can have an instrumental effect on how you think or act. The rarity of the situation, when professional wear is pulled out for intentional occasions, can trigger mental and hormonal shifts. In fact, in a study by Social Psychological and Personality Science, a group wearing formal clothing performed significantly better in given tasks (particularly creative and organizational tasks) compared to those wearing casual clothing. This even extended to communication, with those wearing business suits better equipped to show dominance in negotiation. Holistically, participants in a pointed study reflected higher self-esteem, self-efficacy, and were more likely to say they would apply for a new position when wearing professional outfits. This is important because self-perception is critical to approaching daunting circumstances and unprecedented opportunities for growth. Check out small businesses in the Berkeley area for some wonderful professional wear options.
With this background in mind, it is almost perplexing why certain companies (especially those in the technological sector of the economy) have pushed boundaries for accepted office wear, making dress codes more lenient. Interestingly, Google’s dress policy is “you must wear clothes”. Wearing the “tech-casual” slouchy black pants and pastel hoodie is freeing in some ways, but in some other ways, takes away the aura of professionalism that once defined a typical work day. Is there psychological motivation behind this pivot too? Comfort can maximize productivity for employees, catalyzing their performance in their most authentic and unrestricted element. This can also loosen up interpersonal relationships, creating more connectivity internally. Perhaps the factor of dressing with “sprezzatura” is also involved, which is a “certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or say appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” Nonchalance is compelling, after all.
But, wherever your outfit adventures take you, professional presence is a revolving realm in the journey to self-discovery. Every day you observe how your confidence fluctuates and your self-esteem bounces, you get closer to alignment. Whether the toughness of a suit creates friction to release all of one’s potential, or the soft touch of a casual t-shirt lulls one into creative spiraling, we are all budding corporate superheroes, ready to make our tasteful mark on the world.