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Episode 3: How to Use Your Dress to Perform Your Best

Episode 3: How to Use Your Dress to Perform Your Best


In today’s episode of Beyond the Business Suit I wanted to talk to you about some things I’ve learned that I think are so insightful. We often hear the saying that we should “look the part” and that we should dress for the job we want, not the one we have. And that makes sense, right? You want people to perceive you in a certain way – got it! But what I’ve learned is that what we wear extends beyond what other people think and in this episode I will tell you how.

There was a 2011 study by professor Adam Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (which happens to by my alma mater). In this study they conducted several experiments to see how people’s dress impacted their performance. In one study they had half of the people wear lab coats and the other half wear their regular clothes. Then, they had them take some sort of assessment or test. What they found was that those who had the lab coats on made half as many mistakes as those who wore street clothes. In another experiment, they randomly assigned each person to wear a doctor’s coat, a painter’s coat (which was actually identical to the doctor’s coat but they were told it was a painter’s coat), or they could wear their own clothes but see a doctor’s coat before taking a test. This time, those who wore the doctor’s coat still did better than those who wore the painter’s coat or saw the doctor’s coat before taking the test.

So what does this tell us? This tells us that we should really think about how the choices we make about what we wear can impact our performance.

Here are three things you can do to have these findings work in your favor:

  1. Just like the saying says, dress for the job you want, not for the job you have. But this is not only to help other people to perceive you in a certain way, it is so you can get into that mode and perform accordingly. So if you are up for promotion or maybe you want to move into a different group, think about what somebody in that position or in that group would wear. Let’s say you are in a junior role and you have aspirations for being a director, but you’re just more comfortable in casual clothing. Chances are, your approach to your job and your work performance will be more casual because that’s what you’re wearing. So just think about not only the perception of other people around you, but also how what you wear impacts your performance.
  2. When you’re feeling bad, dress up. This is something I do all the time. If I am feeling tired or under the weather, that’s when I dial up my makeup, I spend some more time on my hair and wear bright colors or something that makes me feel really good. And I’ve gotta tell you, there has never been a time when somebody has come up to me to say, “ooh girl, you didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, did you?” or “are you feeling okay because you look sick!” That has never happened! And I thought that it was only because I manufactured it that way by putting enough care in my beauty and wardrobe regimen to disguise how bad I felt, but now I also realize that not only did I look better, I probably felt better. I didn’t feel as tired when I had on that bright yellow top or I didn’t feel as sick when I had on my fabulous Tom Ford red lipstick and a little black dress. So, when you’re feeling bad, those are times when you want to spend more time on your appearance.
  3. “Spot dressing.” This is dressing a certain way for a specific occasion to help improve the outcome. Maybe you’re taking an exam, going to a key meeting, making a speech, or an important conversation. In these situations, you want to dress for what you want to achieve. For instance, even though this is an audio podcast, I dress up for every interview I do and for every episode I record as if this were video. If I recorded this episode in my pajamas I think I’d be highly unlikely to be on top of my game. And I have to tell you, I sure do wish I would have known some of these tips when I was in business school because I would have gone into every Accounting and Finance exam wearing my best power suit! The key takeaway is to wear something that you believe someone with all of the characteristics you want would wear.

OK, let’s recap. The 3 things you can do to use your dress to perform your best:

  1. Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.
  2. When you feel bad, dress up!
  3. Make sure to spot dress for key events.

Do you have any examples of when you’ve experienced this?

Photo credit: Sleep Study, Flickr

Listen to the full episode here: