What Effect Does Clothing Have On How We Perceive Others?
As a business student, I have come to the realization that dressing professionally and neatly is important when making connections and networking. As we live in a time where we wear masks while meeting people and working with them, clothes have become one of the first attributes of a person that we notice. Either consciously or unconsciously, we have predesigned notions about people’s behavior and character based on their dressing style. If you take some time to reflect on your own interactions with new people, you will realize that certain styles of clothing make people more approachable and friendly, whereas some styles make people seem unfriendly and cold. I thought it was an interesting way of thinking as I caught myself making judgements of people based on the color of their clothes or the accessories they wore. I also found that I was distancing myself from meeting and networking with many peers based on the difference in our clothing. But interestingly, this is something we all seem to do to a certain extent. So, what’s the psychology behind our clothing? Do we really judge others based on their clothing?
Enclothed cognition is a term coined by Adam and Galinsky from their experiment in 2012. This term is used to depict the phenomenon of outer clothing having performance and psychological effects on an individual. Galinsky and Adam performed a total of three experiments surrounding how a single article of clothing could alter one’s self-perception. In one of their most notable experiments, participants were randomly placed into two groups. One group was asked to wear a doctor’s white lab coat while the other group remained in their street clothes. Then, both groups of participants were given a task to notice incongruities as a method of testing their selective attention. The results showed that the participants wearing the white lab coat made half of the mistakes that the participants without lab coats made. The study concluded that clothing does impact one’s self-perception and psychological process.
When I first came across this study, I was baffled by the reality of how clothes affect our psychology. When we think of a doctor, we think of a man or woman wearing a white coat. Hence, it is the white lab coat that gives someone the qualities of intelligence and attentiveness that are associated with being a doctor. Likewise, we think of businessmen wearing suits and ties, and gym trainers wearing sneakers and athletic wear. The saying of ‘dress for the job’ is highlighted in this situation as clothing can impact how confident we are in our own abilities, as well as indicate our confidence to others.
How others perceive us?
According to an article by Carmen Lopez, people will make a split judgment about you in the first 8 seconds. As much as we like to believe that we only judge people based on their character and personality, the first impression is usually based on outward appearance. Different kinds of clothing are what influences other people’s idea of what kind of person other people are. For example, when you are walking downtown, if you see someone who was dressed in old, dirty, and torn clothes, the first thought that pops into your head is, “that person is homeless”. On the flip side, if we saw a man in a clean suit with perfectly gelled hair, we would think, “he must be rich” or “he must have a good job”. Sophisticated and professional are the adjectives associated with such an appearance. Oftentimes people are intimidated by those who dress perfectly and professionally, as it makes them seem like they have the upper hand in a conversation. As stereotypical as this sounds, humans make snap-shot judgements of others to decipher who they feel safe around and who they wish to interact with.
Some other common examples are t-shirts. A nice t-shirt makes others feel comfortable and relaxed, also making the wearer seem approachable and easy going. Bright and bold colors show that the person is very confident and outgoing. Even accessories come with snapshot judgements. Chains and chokers are labelled as ‘punk’ and ‘gothic’, making people feel like they are unapproachable.
How to dress for the part?
Honestly, there’s no right answer for this question. Everyone has a different idea of what dressing nicely means, so it’s not possible to select a certain style as the epitome of confidence. Below I have created a small checklist that you can use to decide what to wear:
- Is your outfit appropriate for the weather?
- Is your outfit suited/appropriate for the current event/situation?
- Does your outfit help you feel confident?
- Is your outfit comfortable?
- Does your outfit accurately describe the emotions you are feeling?
This is a very small checklist to use if you are ever in a situation where you cannot decide on what to wear. Remember, own your style, and do your thing!