The way we dress affects the way we feel. And the way we feel affects our ability to get stuff done and influence people. Call it superficial if you want, but researchers have a different name for the link between what we wear and how we feel: enclothed cognition.
Let me explain with a story.
On a recent trip to New York, I wore my favorite pair of boots. I wear these boots everywhere, and for the last few years, I neglected them. So when I got to La Guardia Airport a bit early for my flight, I decided it was time to show my trusty boots some love.
I found the shoeshine stand and sat down. The man took one look at my boots and said, “This will be the hardest project of the day.” He got to work, and a short time later it looked like I was wearing new boots. But as nice as my boots appeared, what really surprised me was how much better I felt.
Now, I usually don’t care all that much about what I wear. Just ask my wife. So it sounds silly that a simple shoeshine changed my mood. But it did. The simple act of getting my boots polished made me feel better.
It turns out my experience matches the results of a study published in 2012 by Professor Adam D. Galinsky and Hajo Adam. They conducted three experiments to determine how what we wear impacts the way we feel. They used a well known piece of clothing to test their theory: a doctor’s white lab coat.
In one of the experiments, students who wore a doctor’s white coat to perform different tasks made half as many errors as students who wore regular clothes. That’s right. Students who dressed like doctors were less likely to make an error — even though the tasks assigned in the study had nothing to do with medicine. The other two experiments showed similar results, and we now have what’s known as enclothed cognition.
For anyone who sees people as part of the job or wants to influence the behavior of others, the way we dress does matter. So let’s not kid ourselves. First, people judge us, at least in part, by how we dress. Second, what we wear affects how we feel about ourselves.
The column originally appearing in The New York Times and was penned by Carl Richards.