Dressing to Impress Changes the Way You Think [New Research]

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Emma Brudner
Emma Brudner

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It used to be "dress for the job you want -- not the job you have." Now it's closer to "dress however you want, because everybody else does -- from the CEO to the intern."

While suits and high heels were normal work attire just 20 years ago, they're all but extinct in today's workplaces. This is a major victory for comfort, but could the trend of informal dress have unintended consequences? According to a new study from Columbia University and California State University at Northridge, formal dress can actually change the way we think.

"Wearing formal clothing leads to more big-picture thinking, rather than concrete thinking that focuses on the details," study co-author Michael Slepian explained to the Huffington Post

The link between abstract thinking and formal attire comes down to power, Slepian added. People feel more powerful when they dress up, which then enables them to broaden their cognition. 

So does this mean we should all invest in pantsuits, blazers, and ties? Not necessarily. The researchers relied on study participants' self-evaluations of how formally they were dressed to draw results, and in other scenarios, specifically asked them to dress as they would for a job interview. The participants felt more empowered when they wore clothes they considered to be formal -- not clothes the population at large classified as such. In other words, if you feel "dressy" in a nice pair of jeans and a button down shirt, you're setting the stage for abstract thinking -- no tuxedo required.

With this in mind, the next time you need to do some big-picture strategizing with a prospect or client, you might consider dressing up -- even if the situation doesn't call for formal attire. Alternatively, you might consider saving those napkin scribbles from the next wedding you attend. 

What do you think of this research? Does dressing formally make you feel more powerful? Let us know in the comments.

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