We might not judge a book by its cover, but we do judge people by their appearances! That’s perhaps a reason why many enterprises have a dress code for employees.

But are you donning a business suit just to comply with office rules? Research studies show how dressing right matters and what effects it has on psychological processes – your own as well as others. Here are more reasons to pay attention to your clothes.

Increases attention. Researchers speak of ‘enclothed cognition’ – the influence of clothing on the wearer’s mind. They demonstrated that when participants in the study wore a white coat, their attention (to tasks) increased. What’s curious is that there was an increase in attention when the white coat was associated with a doctor, but not when it was associated with a painter. Conclusion: “The influence of clothes thus depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning.”

Influences how you process information. A research paper The Cognitive Consequence of Formal Clothing shows that wearing formal clothes improves abstract cognitive processing. This refers to the ability to make broad and holistic mental representations, and has been associated with a focus on long-term goals. In one of the studies conducted in this series, participants were asked to rate their own clothing as formal or otherwise, vis-à-vis their peers. Next, they were asked to choose appropriate descriptors for a series of actions. The descriptors included two sets – one which represented high-level or abstract processing, and the other for low-level or concrete processing. Participants who rated themselves as wearing relatively formal clothing identified more with the high-level descriptors!

Affects self image. Professor Karen Pine found that when her students wore a Superman T-shirt, they rated themselves more positively and felt superior to others. In fact, they even felt stronger compared to students in a plain T-shirt. She talks about how what we wear influences our self perceptions. Her book Mind What You Wear even offers a fun clothing guide to pep up our mood.

Guides first impressions. In another study that reveals how we form quick first impressions based on clothes, researchers found that men who wore tailor-made business suits were rated more positively by participants, as compared to those who wore more regular-looking suits. The suits had very minor differences. The impressions are even more astonishing when you consider this: participants were exposed to faceless images for a maximum of five-seconds and formed impressions looking only at clothes.

Wouldn’t you agree now: clothes do make a man (and woman too)!

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