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Is Your Wardrobe Holding You Back Is Your Wardrobe Holding You Back
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Is Your Wardrobe Holding You Back?

Insights & Ideas Team •  March 9, 2016 | Business and Careers

Let’s say you have a presentation to give, and there’s a lot riding on the outcome. You want to do well, but you’re nervous and can’t quite see how you’re going to knock it out of the park.

While visualizing the audience in their underwear has long been suggested as a means to defuse anxiety and perform better, a new school of thought shows that focusing on your own clothing can be much more beneficial—and a lot less weird.

Although it’s long been established that clothing influences how people see you, a fascinating study conducted by Northwestern University shows that the way a person dresses can influence his or her own performance. So while the saying “clothes make the man” can be debated, there’s no question that they do have some significant psychological powers.

The phenomenon, termed “enclothed cognition,” was brought to light in a series of tests conducted to measure the cognitive abilities of people when dressed differently.

In one scenario, subjects wearing street clothes were tasked with finding differences in a series of pictures. The same test was also given to subjects wearing what administrators referred to as a lab coat worn by medical doctors. When results were compared, the group wearing lab coats performed substantially better, making half as many errors as the others.

In another case, similar tests were given to subjects who were all wearing the same coats, but one group was told they were lab coats, and the other group was told they were painter’s smocks. Again, those thinking they were wearing lab coats performed much better than those wearing smocks. The conclusion in both cases, that individuals dressed like doctors focused more and performed better, is hard to overlook.

So does this mean you should be wearing a lab coat to work? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the answer to the age-old question “What should I wear today?” should not be taken lightly. In fact, when you consider it from the lens of enclothed cognition, the question you really should be asking is “What do I want to be today?”

Changing Jobs? Top Financial Considerations Beyond SalaryAre you pitching to the C-suite and need to bring your A-game? Choose the outfit you’d wear if you were in their shoes, literally, for an added boost of confidence. If you regularly deal with people in power, having a well-rounded, self-assuring wardrobe is a must. These tips from show young professionals where to start.

Employees who work from home and off-site contractors might also benefit from these findings. While wearing jeans and a T-shirt is a perk that comes with the territory, wearing something businesslike might help you see eye to eye with corporate clients. Or it may simply encourage you take a different approach to a project. For instance, enclothed cognition suggests that a Web designer who normally wears sweat pants and a hoodie might create something quite different while feeling the effects of dress pants and a button-down shirt.

If you’re out of work, dressing like you’re employed can help you maintain a psychological edge while searching for something new. Even if you have a job, wearing the types of clothes that make you feel like you can achieve more could help you advance in your career. After all, one might argue that the adage “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” has its roots in enclothed cognition.

In some regards, enclothed cognition replicates the transformative phenomenon youngsters experience when they put on a Halloween costume. Rambunctious children become refined princesses; shy tweens morph into menacing monsters. Even as adults, we delight in the fun of masquerade parties that allow us to wear costumes and take on their characteristics.

Whether young or old, at work or at play, the clothes you wear can empower you to do more. For some, it may mean scoring better on cognitive tests. For others, it could mean the difference between giving a presentation that informs and delivering one that wows. Either way, it’s enclothed cognition at work—and a whole new dimension to the notion of dressing for success.

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