The Power Of Dressing Appropriately

March 29, 2016

by Dan Solin

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Whenever I write about the impact of clothes on an advisor’s ability to gather more assets, I note that I’m not a fashion expert. I’m simply conveying the results of peer-reviewed studies. Because the conclusions of those studies are often at odds with commonly held beliefs, advisors will be surprised to learn how impactful their dress can be on the growth of their practice.

The impact of clothes on self-perception

I have a friend who is a physician in the Navy. To anecdotally explore the impact that clothes can have on self-perception, I asked him during a recent visit if he felt differently when wearing his dress uniform than he did in casual clothes. Without hesitation, he said that he definitely did. When he had his dress uniform on, he felt “more professional,” paid more attention to other aspects of his appearance and generally wanted his manner and demeanor to be consistent with his uniform.

A recent study, The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing, explains my friend’s feeling and makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the effect of formal dress. The co-authors of the study were Michael Slepian, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, Simon Ferber, a doctoral candidate at The California School of Professional Psychology, Joshua Gold, a doctoral student in health psychology at the University of Iowa and Abraham Rutchick, an associate professor of psychology at California State University.

I frequently discuss this subject with advisors. They sometimes reject findings like those in this study because the findings conflict with their strongly held views. Those views are often based on anecdotal experiences or the opinions of friends and family.

Dressing appropriately – Professional or approachable?

The authors recognize the conundrum facing advisors and others. Dressing more formally is typically associated with being perceived as more professional, but it also comes with some negatives. Formal dress can make you appear less approachable. Casual dress is often associated with “intimacy and familiarity.” Advisors want to be viewed as professional, competent and trustworthy; they don’t want others to regard them as aloof and non-relatable.

Clothes impact cognitive processing

There’s a wealth of research (much of which is referenced in the study) supporting the view that, fortunately or unfortunately, what you wear has a very significant impact on how you are perceived. This study sought to determine how wearing formal clothing “enhances cognitive processing.”

In a series of experiments, the study found wearing formal clothes “was associated with describing actions in more meaningful ways, as well as more frequently perceiving meaningful relationships between objects and categories.” The authors observed that wearing formal clothing leads to “a global perceptual processing advantage.”

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The Power Of Dressing Appropriately