Suited and booted
There’s been a debate in our office about whether it’s better to dress smartly or stick to casual clothing at work. Perhaps psychology can help us decide.
A couple of researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois wondered if clothes affect the way people act. They got students to dress up in lab coats and do a series of attention tests. The researchers reckoned the coats were associated with carefulness and attentiveness and thus would help people perform better.
It turned out that students wearing lab coats did do better on the tests than those in normal clothes. However, if a student was told the white coat actually belonged to a painter and decorator, they did worse than those who were told it was a lab coat. The suggestion here is that the symbolic nature of the coat was important, not just the form.
I’ve also read about a separate study that suggests the way we dress affects how we appraise ourselves. People in an experiment were told to wear casual or formal dress for a meeting. They had to quickly describe themselves using adjectives associated with dressing smartly (cultivated, accurate) or dressing down (easygoing, tolerant). Those that dressed well used more formal than casual adjectives – and vice versa.
I’m sure someone at UBS has been looking into this kind of thing; in 2010 it sent its retail banking staff a 43-page code on how to dress. It included advice on how much make-up women should have on and that men should have easily washable, but undetectable, underwear. (I’m not quite sure what they were expecting to happen.)
How would you dress in the office, smart or casual? I’m going to wear pyjamas, a doctor’s coat, new pants and a light dusting of mascara.