Why Dressing For Success Actually Works

Everyone who has ever worked a real job in the business world knows the saying “Dress for Success”. On the surface we all mostly interpret the phrase to mean that by dressing well, you can improve how others perceive you, which is definitely useful in maintaining strong work relationships. But in reality, the phrase has an entirely different meaning that most don’t even realize. In fact, this train of thought never existed until just recently as a result of new psychological research. This research gave strong indications that dressing for success can actually improve your work performance, without you even realizing it! In this article, we’ll go over both meanings of this well-known phrase.

Fact: Society judges us based on the clothes we wear

This concept is not new. And again, this idea is where the original phrase came from. People typically expect clothing that matches expectations. If you are a hotshot CEO, people expect you to wear an expensive suit and tie. And if you are a factor worker, no one expects you to come to work in anything more than comfortable clothes that you can afford to get dirty.

ceo dressing for success
The CEO of a company is almost guaranteed to come to work in a nice suit and tie.

Especially in a business setting, your appearance, while technically not important, matters. The way you present yourself to others conveys how you want to be treated. And without you realizing it, your coworkers will constantly judge you by something as superficial as how you dress. It is just how society works.

But at the same time, that very judgement that society has on how we dress can be leveraged to change how they perceive us. Dressing up into nicer work clothes will give your employers reason to believe you are worth more than your current position (and salary) dictates.

Do you know why successful people maintain a great image, which starts with dressing well? It is because their image is part of who they are, at least as far as society is concerned.

While changes to how you dress may be only a subtle difference, it should not be taken lightly, especially when considering how you will fare in the long-term. Over time you may see your coworkers and bosses interact with you with more respect than before. And improving your wardrobe may even be the reason you get a coveted promotion sooner rather than later.

This is the definition of dressing for success that we all know and understand. But it does not just mean changing how others perceive you, but also changing how you actually perform!

How You Dress can provide tangible improvements to your performance!

Although the sample size is still relatively small, there is a growing consensus that when you put on a great suit or outfit for work, something tangible happens to your body resulting in a change in work behavior.

Enhance creativity and big ideas

Wearing formal business attire may feel contrived depending on your work environment and/or job position. But that is not the case! The psychological response to wearing a highly formal outfit, is feeling more powerful and willing to think outside the box. These are feelings that may not always be present with you when you work way down the food chain (as most of us do), but when unlocked you are able to present new and exciting ideas that will not only impress your peers, but your boss as well.

man in meeting with suit and tie
Dressing for success instantly improves how engaged you are in meetings.

Confidence that goes a long way

Along with having bigger and better ideas, dressing for success will also shoot your confidence levels through the roof! Having this confidence allows you to be willing and open to share your new and exciting ideas, compared to when you are not dressed for success and may be significantly more timid and want to remain a wallflower. This added confidence also helps in your general workplace interactions, especially if you need to interact with a lot of people throughout the day. You will not only be friendlier and more inviting to people, but more importantly be more willing to engage in and drive discussions with your peers. This means getting things done faster, which is always coveted in the fast-pace world of business.

It’s almost hard to imagine that by simply dressing up more formally, you can not only come up with new and creative ideas more easily, but also simply become more confident and efficient in general, right? That’s what I thought too, until I actually tried it. Back when I first graduated from college, I would wear jeans and a polo shirt to work every day. Not bad, but not great either. Eventually, I decided to purchase a nice pair of slacks and a few long-sleeve dress shirts. Almost immediately, I felt more confident and felt like a boss throughout the day. I became more engaged in conference calls and actually contributed to the conversation with great ideas and analysis. Suffice to say, I fairly quickly improved my wardrobe over the coming months and now consistently wear a full suit and tie to work every day. Oh, and didn’t I mention that I received a promotion well in advance of when I was expecting it?

At that point it became painfully obvious to me that when you look your best, you are able to perform at your best. And you will see the results.

Don’t neglect this simple trick for self-improvement in the workplace

Dressing for success may seem cliché, but it has its merits, and is something that should not be neglected if you truly want to succeed. Not only do your coworkers see you in an improved light which helps maintain your influence in the workplace, but it also psychologically affects you in positive ways. You think more critically, behave more confidently, and as a result become a more efficient and valuable employee. Regardless of where you work (for the most part), the value of dressing for success cannot be overstated. Even some of my friends who are working at startups in Silicon Valley should take this advice to heart. Coming in to work with shorts and flip flops may seem cool and hip, and it definitely fits in with the startup scene, but they are honestly doing themselves a disservice.

Come to work with a concerted effort to dress for success, and reap the many benefits. It’s that simple.