We’ve all heard the saying before: The clothes make the man! But aside from being a touch outdated—surely the clothes would make a person of any gender—don’t be so quick to roll your eyes. As it turns out, that timeless adage “dress for success” might be more on the money than you might think. What we wear does directly influence not just how other people feel about us, but how we feel about ourselves. And yes, this is true even now, while many of us are working from home in isolation.
This link between what we wear and how we feel even has a name: enclothed cognition. And it works both ways. When we wear clothes that make us feel good, we’re happier and more productive. But, when our outfit is uncomfortable or slovenly, we become insecure and prone to mistakes on the job.
Whether you’re at the office or taking Zoom calls in your living room, you can use enclothed cognition to your advantage. Here are 4 tips to help you take dressing for success to even greater heights!
1. Wear What Makes You Feel Invincible
You probably weren’t thinking about how to dress for success on the playground, but you may have been applying the psychology involved without even knowing. When you were little, did you have an outfit that you loved? Maybe it was a favorite “lucky” t-shirt you wore to tatters, or a dinosaur costume you’re sure had super-powers.
You may not be quite so enthusiastic about your current wardrobe, but why shouldn’t you be? If it’s true that your clothes can affect your mood, it makes sense that you should seek out the clothes that make you feel the best!
Think of your clothes like the battle armor in your favorite video game. The next time you have to give a presentation or do anything else that requires some extra strength on your part, just put on the outfit that makes you feel unstoppable… and you will be!
2. But Consider the Expectations of Others
Of course, dressing for success can have its limits. No matter how good they feel to wear, you may have a hard time impressing colleagues or clients if you show up to work in your grubbiest pair of sweatpants or a unicorn onesie.
But that doesn’t mean you need to cram yourself into a tuxedo everywhere you go, either. If excessively formal clothes make you uncomfortable, that’ll show in your body language when you wear them. The key is to strike a balance between what makes you feel good and what people who depend on you are expecting. Consider it like this: If you needed to see a doctor, would you prefer one who’s wearing a lab coat and pantsuit? Or a doctor who’s wearing cargo shorts and an innertube?
They may both be perfectly qualified, but chances are, you’re going to choose the doctor in the lab coat!
3. Dress for Success With What You Already Have
You also don’t need to run out and buy an entirely new wardrobe to dress for success! Granted, this may not apply if all your clothes comprise previously-mentioned sweatpants and unicorn onesies, but most of us already have perfectly serviceable clothes that make us feel great when we wear them.
But maybe you’ve found yourself stuck in an outfit rut, or with lackluster-looking clothes. If that sounds like you, don’t worry! Refreshing and remixing the clothes you already have can do just as much for your mood as buying new clothes can. Just the simple act of polishing your shoes or hemming your pants can completely transform the way they look. If you have any talent with a needle and thread, you could even upcycle your clothes into something entirely new!
4. Use Your Outfits to Help You “Show Up”
We’ve talked a lot about how clothes can influence how other people perceive you, but clothes have just as powerful an impact on how you feel about yourself. Clothes can increase your self-confidence, sure, but a powerful outfit can also increase your self-efficacy, or the belief you have in yourself that you can accomplish certain tasks.
In their study, Adam and Galinsky found that subjects who wore a white lab coat were more successful when performing certain tasks than those who didn’t. They did even better when they were told that it was specifically a doctor’s lab coat versus a painter’s coat. Why? Because they perceived that coat as being important. And, by extension, their tasks became more important, or at least felt that way.
When you put on your business best, you make yourself feel good, but you also make yourself feel capable. You give yourself the strength—and the permission—to succeed and excel at whatever you do. It can be a great way to help you prepare for upcoming presentations or other ways you need to “show up” for yourself or your coworkers.
It’s Okay If It Feels Shallow or Silly
All of this probably sounds a little superficial. You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, right? Well, at the risk of sounding cruel, the reality is that we do. We humans are very visual creatures. We even judge our own looks.
That’s why, rather than try to fight tens of thousands of years of evolutionary biology, we suggest leaning into it a little, and even using it to your advantage. Dress for success, sure, but also dress for confidence. Dress for self-efficacy and empowerment. And above all, dress for self-love.
So, put on your favorite outfit, maybe strike a power pose or two, and you’ll be ready to face whatever the world has in store for you!
It’s also okay if you feel a bit ridiculous, especially now, and especially if you’re working from home. But it’s moments like now that dressing for success is arguably the most important it’s ever been. You can’t show up to the office, sure, but you can show up for yourself and your colleagues with a fresh face and a clean outfit that makes you feel professional and, most importantly, normal. We could probably all use a little normal right now.
Routines are more important than they’ve ever been. They help establish a sense of control and normalcy over our lives, which can be pretty chaotic and uncertain right now. But we at Fabulous know a thing or two about building rock-solid daily routines and we want to help you and your company do just that.
With Fabulous for Work, your employees will learn to build valuable keystone habits that will help them feel healthier, happier, and more productive. To learn more, visit thefabulous.co/work, and see what Fabulous for Work can do for you!