How to Improve Your Performance by Wearing the Right Clothes

Man wearing a suit

People dress up in order to make a good impression on other people. But it appears that wearing appropriate clothes actually influences your own behavior and enhances your performance.

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We have all seen that many people wear much more casual clothing when working from home than when working from the office. I wrote about the various reasons for this phenomena in a previous blog. Although I enjoy the comfort of wearing a T-shirt on my Zoom meetings, it appears that I pay a price for it.

Enclothed cognition

Social psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky found the effects of enclothed cognition: wearing appropriate clothes enhances your performance. In a series of experiments they showed the effects clothing has upon performance. When respondents were wearing a scientist’s white lab coat, the respondents performance increased on an selective attention task: the Stroop Task (see the Figure below). Half the respondents performed the task in a scientist’s white lab coat, whereas the other half of the respondents wore their own clothes. They found that respondents in the lab coats made less errors on the incongruent trials of the Stroop Task. In other words, the clothing you wear affects the way you perform.

Stroop task: call out the colors of the words as quickly as possible. It takes less time to name the colors in the congruent trials (left) than in the incongruent trials (right)

Enhancing performance

Adam and Galinsky found that two aspects are important with regard to enclothed cognition to enhance performance: (1) the symbolic meaning of the clothes and (2) the physical experience of wearing them.

1. Symbolic meaning.

The clothes that you wear should have some symbolic meaning to have an effect on performance. Furthermore, this symbolic meaning should also be related to the task at hand. When a piece of clothing is worn that is appropriate for the task, it activates relevant psychological processes and concepts that are required for the task.

So when you would be wearing a nurse uniform, for example, you may be less likely to administer electric shocks to other people because wearing a nurse uniform might trigger associated concepts of caring and altruistic behavior. Perhaps wearing the robe of a judge makes you more ethical, if you believe that judges are ethical people. And putting on the uniform of a police officer could make you act more courageously.

2. Physical experience

Ask any actor and they’ll tell you there is a noticeable difference in mindset once you get into costume. You can be rehearsing the scene with all the set dressing and lighting. But when you come back on set in your costume, it is so much easier to become this character.

So you should actually wear the clothes to have an effect on performance. Just owning these clothes and looking at them before you go into your next Zoom business meeting does not do much. So you have to actually wear your business clothes if you want to enhance your performance. You should physically experience wearing your complete outfit. Do not only put on a jacket while wearing shorts underneath when you go into your next Zoom meeting. As a matter of fact, you should wear your business clothes at all times during business hours.

Working from home

When working from home you most likely prefer the same level of performance as when working from the office. If your performance is also influenced by the clothing you wear, than you would be wise to dress up when working from home as well. So next time you work from home, dress up in the morning like you are going to the office, even if you do not have any Zoom meetings. When you know that your performance is influenced by the clothing you wear – as you do now – then you would be wise to dress up when working from home as well, as some people do.

Playing padel with new shoes

When starting a new sports activity, you could buy yourself specific sportswear to enhance your performance. This only works if you believe that your new sportswear does indeed increase your performance, so buy clothing that you believe will actually achieve this. This will meet the requirement of symbolic meaning. After you have decided which clothing to buy, do not postpone using it till your old gear wears out or miss opportunities to improve your performance. You should start using this new clothing immediately to meet the requirement of the physical experience.

So, I bought myself a nice set of new shoes, after I had started playing padel a couple of times. These shoes are specifically designed for padel. When I play on my new shoes, I feel I play so much better. I feel so much better prepared for the game, I feel more confident and, I feel I perform when wearing these shoes.

Wearing the right clothes for the right activity

Even when I don’t feel like it, changing into my sportswear brings me in the mood for exercising. Just by putting on my sportswear, I feel more energized. Like the way a business suit enhances my performance in a Zoom meeting, so does my sportswear when working out.

People often dress up in order to make a good impression on other people. Nothing wrong with that. Just remember that wearing appropriate clothes also influences your own behavior and enhances your own performance. Either when working from home or working out in the gym.

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Niels Vink (1975) is a behavioral designer and sports enthusiast. He has Master degrees in Social Psychology (Leiden University) and Industrial Design Engineering (Delft University of Technology) and holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior. He lives and works (out) in Haarlem.

Want to know how you can get your diversity and inclusion programs, marketing, communication and sales in better shape? Drop me an email at niels@behavioralinsight.nl

Source of top image: The Lazy Artist Gallery via Pexels


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