People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But everybody does.
Back in the ’80s, the power tie became a thing. Today, when dressing for success may mean a black T-shirt or gray hoodie, we put much less emphasis on ties (and most other forms of traditional business attire).
But the basic psychology behind the power tie has never gone away. And it never will for several important reasons.
For starters, clothing has an uncanny power to make us feel powerful. Knowing you’re dressed appropriately for a situation helps you to project confidence and poise, which in turn causes others to inflate their opinions of us. Some people take this concept a step further and have a “lucky” article of clothing. This can be something for all to see and remember us by — a signature pair of earrings, say, or a pair of eye-catching socks. Or it can be a secret only you know about (lucky boxer shorts, anyone?). Either way, the use of clothing as confidence-booster is not as silly as it may sound and is a lot more common than you’d think.
Clothing affects more than our feelings, however. It can also influence real-world behavior. Just as wearing gym clothes may make it more likely we’ll actually exercise, putting on a sharp outfit pushes our thinking to be more structured and analytical. In fact, it’s one of the reasons uniforms were invented. Children who wear school uniforms may perform better in school. Scientists and doctors wearing lab coats pay more attention to their jobs and make fewer mistakes.
Finally, clothing sends a message. No doubt your mom or dad told you this when trying to get you to throw out those baggy sweatpants. You may wish otherwise, but what you wear speaks volumes about your decision-making skills, aspirations, judgment (or lack thereof) and general emotional state. Clothing can shout to the world, “I’m an intelligent, engaged person with a lot to offer.” Or it can mutter, “I just don’t care about anything — not myself, not you.”
Bottom line: Whether you intend it to or not, what you wear does make a difference. Which is why putting effort into our appearance — and this includes shoes, jewelry, hairstyle, posture and facial expression as well as clothes — is not a frivolous waste of time. It’s simply smart.