Dress For Success - The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing

Dress for success

There is a reason why some catchy phrases and words of advice hang around for a long time. They are usually pretty accurate. “Dress for Success” is one of those. The adage is used to help people shift their mindset from one of scarcity and limited thinking to one that is much more abundance and optimism oriented. I don’t have to convince anyone that has dressed up that we do feel different and it’s usually for the better. We like how we look, we feel elevated, more classy, confident, and worthy of attention. It’s hard not to improve our mindset when feeling much more positive about ourselves.

Dress for Success and The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing

I don’t think there would be much argument that what I’m asserting is what most people have experienced when dressing up or to dress for success. But is there any research to support this? Interestingly there is but it takes a bit of a different angle, and one that I think is much for relevant and valuable to investors. A recently published research report called The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing (You have to pay to access it) focused on whether how we dress impacts our cognition. Lo and behold it does.

The researchers found that wearing more formal clothing impacts how people think by broadening their view of the world and allowing them to think more holistically versus having a narrow frame of reference and getting lost in minutiae. This type of thinking can lead to a more reflective and responsive approach versus an emotional and reactive one. This happens to be an important theme of my book as this can improve the odds of making better decisions not only in the investment realm but in life in general. One of the authors of the studies said this can also impact how one receives criticism. The more formally dressed an individual is then there is a greater chance that he or she will be able to process what is being said in a less personal manner.

Others research has shown that when people were dressed in white coats they thought were worn by doctors, then they became more attentive. This was not the case if they thought the coats were worn by painters.

Another researcher thought that if we are able to think about money in a more abstract way then we can lessen our chances of being impulsive in our purchasing decisions. One counter to that could be if we feel better about ourselves than we may think we’re more affluent than we really are and perhaps spend more than we should, although I’m not sure if the research suggests that. Maybe I’m projecting here and thinking of my wife getting on my case sometimes for spending more money than is necessary based on her practical way of viewing the world.

The researchers were able to come to these conclusions through results generated from cognitive tests given to formally dressed participants and casually dressed ones. The higher level, more abstract thinking was much more apparent with the formally dressed people. They also said that even if you wear formal clothes every day or just sporadically, the research suggests the same results should hold. As one of the researchers stated,

“Thus, whether you wear formal clothing every workday or only every wedding, my prediction is that we would find a similar influence because the clothing still feels formal in both situations.”

So next time you dress up, not only will you look better, but you’ll also be a little bit smarter too.

Over to You:

Do you agree with the Dress for Success adage that how we dress impacts our cognition? Have you noticed that how you dress can improve the odds of making better decisions?

4 comments on “Dress For Success - The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing
  1. Michael Murphy says:


    Silicon Valley, arguably a place where improved cognition would have a huge payoff, lead the trend away from formal attire in the work environment. A market based counterpoint to the academic research.

  2. Wearing a sharp tailored suit makes you feel confident and authoritative. Any clothes that make you look good are going to make you feel better, but a great suit will also lend you an added air of authority.

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