The Truth Behind The Suit

By Anica Wong

May 9, 2012 3 min read

Is there a reason women shove their feet into pointy-toed heels and endure the pain during their workday? On the surface, it might be about which shoes match the outfit. But science has shown many times over that it's more than that.

According to a recent study from Northwestern University, what you wear can affect your performance on cognitive tests. Several tests were done and the findings were telling: People who wore white coats they believed belonged to a doctor made fewer mistakes on tests of attention than those who believed that the white coat they wore belonged to an artist.

What causes this effect? The participants have an innate understanding that physicians have to be careful in their line of work and pay attention to what they are doing; this knowledge reflects onto the participants in how they act and focus. Clothing has always had an effect on how we think of ourselves as well as how others perceive us. A commonly referenced study showed that women who wear masculine-style fashion during job interviews are more likely to be hired.

The key is to understand how the way you dress affects your perception of yourself and how productive you are at work, all the while keeping in code with your office's dress code. Be familiar with what is expected of employees in terms of dress. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 64 percent of managers describe their dress code as business casual, 29 percent say it is casual and only seven percent describe it as formal. The general rules for business casual for men are khakis or dress pants with a button-up or polo shirt and for women, it includes casual slacks or a knee-length skirt with a nice blouse.

The most common mistakes people make are dressing too risqu? or too casual at work. Both of these can be distracting to fellow co-workers and can be counterproductive. "If you're too below or above the standard of your workplace, it may not pay dividends," says Hunt. If you're unsure of how to dress, follow the lead of employees whom you trust and who have been at the company for a while to learn what is acceptable.

Research has also shown that what employees wear contributes to their productivity. When a person wears something that he feels confident in, that confidence often transfers to his performance in the office.

A CareerBuilder survey showed that 34 percent of managerial respondents to a survey said they believe casual dress makes their workers more efficient. But there is a fine line between dressing casually but still professional and dressing as you would on a weekend. By dressing professionally, there is an outward sign that you have respect for the job you do and the people whom you work with.

"Work dress certainly has become more casual. To say it has become lax may suggest that casual dress equates to negative performance, and that's not true in all cases," says Hunt.

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