Is dressing for success just one of those stupid sayings or does it hold some truth?

So much of what we hear in life is nonsense.  We have all become skeptical of what we hear because so much of it is not really backed by any evidence.  What I'm going to do on this page is put forward a great deal of evidence.  Does the statement "dress for success" have any evidence to suggest that it might be even remotely true?  Well I'll list a few things here for you to read.  From there, you can make up your own mind based on the evidence. 


Firstly, what does the term dress for success really mean?  Is it material success?  I don't think so.  It can be success of any kind.  How to get more clients.  How to get a great partner.  How to feel better if you have extra weight on, or after going through a weight loss.  How to bounce back after divorce.  It can be any situation when you think about it.  Can looking your best give you an edge?  Let's find out.   This page is no doubt going to be a long read, and there will be some links to external reading also.  So it might be a good idea to go and grab a cuppa now. 

The best way to address this is to break down the statement "dress for success" into 3 main areas

  1. What does dressing for success do for you mentally?
  2. What does dressing for success do for you emotionally?
  3. What affect does dressing for success have on other people's perception of you? 


Part 1 - What does dressing for success do for you mentally?

Can the clothes you wear make you smarter, or perform better mentally?  The notion that how you dress will make your brain work better appears to be complete woo woo.  This could be the kind of statement you find in one of those baseless "self-help" books.  However, let's look at some interesting information.


in this study,, the author makes a great case for self-objectification.  This, they claim, is a result of women being sexually objectified by the world in general.  ( Note: this isn't a feminist rant ) When ladies self-objectify their bodies, they are more likely to have anxiety about living up to a certain image.  Is this true? 

Well in this link you'll see a reference to a study done by Head and Shoulders ( shampoo company )  They interviewed 2000 women and 92% "admitted to having hang ups, with the most frequent obstacle, being anxiety about their appearance."  The article was about confidence and whether it can hold you back.  Seems pretty obvious to me, but what's sad is the amount of anxiety us ladies have over our appearance. 

If we go back to the first link.  What the author found is that the concern we feel, or the worry we have about our image can have an impact on our mental performance.  Researchers made ladies perform maths problems in a jumper (sweater), and then in their swimsuit.  Can you guess what happened?  The women performed almost half as well when they were dressed just in swimsuits.  That is a significant result.  If you feel conscious about your image, your mental performance goes down.  So if we look at this in the context of dressing for success.  It seems pretty obvious that if you are not dressing in a way that makes you feel confident, and not self-conscious.  Then this is going to have a negative impact on your ability to generate success you desire.

What about the opposite?  Can dressing a particular way make you perform better mentally?

Two researchers from the Northwest university in the US, ( Adam and Galinsky - published 2012 ) had 58 student perform a Stroop test.  This is where the word of a colour is presented as a different colour.  An example would be the word Green being presented in blue letters.  The aim is to callout the colour of the writing not what the word says.  They made students wear a white doctors coat, and those that did, performed more accurately and faster.


Part 2 - What does dressing for success do for you emotionally?

Post world war 2, there were a number of psychological experiments conducted.  The aim was to discover the conditions in which one human would inflict harm on another.  Philip Zimbardo was the scientist who led a great deal of this research.  He set up a mock prison and had students role play either a prison guard or prisoner.  They were also dressed appropriately for their roles.  This was just a simulation played by stable, educated people who were randomly chosen for their roles. 

So what happened?  The experiment had to be stopped. This was due to the unexpectedly high levels of brutality and abusive behaviour the pretend guards showed towards the pretend prisoners.  They even made a movie about it.  The claim is that the situation had a lot to do with the outcome. What we also know is that clothes, in particular uniforms plays a huge role on how people behave.  What he also found was that people would do more harm to others if they wore a hood and a cape.  Especially when accompanied by similarly dressed people. 

Zimbardo also conducted pretend shock experiments.  A person dressed in uniform had to administer electric shocks to another person.  The person getting the shocks was faking it, the person giving the shocks believed it was real.  What he found is that when he dressed people in a hood and cape, they were more aggressive in delivering the shocks.  When he dressed people in nurses uniforms, they were less aggressive in delivering the shocks.  Are you really shocked by this information?  ( Sorry, pun intended ) What Zimbardo discovered from his research is that people are more aggressive and will do more harm to others if wearing the appropriate attire.  So the KKK would have been much less violent, had they not had the attire they did.  It's safe to say that the military understands the importance of uniform on those wearing it.  So it seems that clothing is an important influence on peoples behaviours regardless of the situation.   

I don't think we need to reference any more studies to know that what you wear can have a significant impact on your emotions.  We've all had bad hair days, or not felt great in what we're wearing.  We know the impact that can have.  What about when you feel totally rushed, and don't have a chance to dress and look your best when you step out the door?  It can certainly make for a challenging day.  How about when you put something bright on, it fits perfectly and you get lots of compliments?  Doesn't that make you feel great, and even make you feel better if you've have a bad day? 

There are times when I feel down, or times I'm in a hurry.  Being in business and a mum, usually means I'm in a hurry a lot.  I know how to look my best as fast as possible.  I can do my makeup, my hair and put together an outfit that looks good, and it will lift my mood immediately.  I can step out feeling super confident that I have my image handled.  That really is a priceless skill to have as a busy woman. 

This next study I'm about to talk about crosses over into part 3 also. 


Part 3 - What affect does dressing for success have on other people's perception of you?

The University of Hertfordshire took forty-five young adult volunteers and had photos taken of them.  They simply turned up and got their picture taken with no prior instructions about what to wear or how to dress.  Each person was given a "Positive and Negative Affect Scale" test.  The test works by selecting the words that best represent how you feel, and also on a scale from 1-5.  Next the researchers pixelated the faces on the photos and showed them to another set of people. The people observing the pictures also had to do a Positive and Negative Affect Scale test but it was on the people in the pictures, not themselves. 

There was an uncanny degree of accuracy in the observers' ability to predict how the people in the photos were feeling. So no matter how you're feeling, people observing you have a good chance of seeing that.  Both interesting and scary when you think about it.  

The idea that we ought to be concerned with other people's perception or opinion of us can seem silly.  However it really depends on how you look at it.  If you think of it more as personal branding or personal marketing, it suddenly becomes important.  As I've said before, people will judge you, and form an opinion of you no matter how wrong or right you think that might be.  There is a reason for it, and you can read about it on the First Impressions page. 

We need to ensure we are creating a positive impression of ourselves in order to give us the best possible outcome. 

For example, this study found that woman who wear makeup earn up 30% more than those that don't.  Obviously it has to be the right makeup for you, and done correctly.  I have seen ladies apply makeup in such a way that it makes them look ridiculous.  30% more isn't an insignificant number. 

In this study, they found that the intelligence of a person was judged by the clothes they wear.

Some of these results simply don't make any sense, but that doesn't matter.  As a species, we do lots of things that simply don't make sense.  The important thing is that we acknowledge these studies and understand that "dress for success" has truth to it.  How you dress can influence how others think of you, how you feel and how your mind operates. 

A normal personal stylist will just show you what looks good on you.  Some people look good dressed in a potato sack. We're not all blessed in this way.  I am not only a personal stylist, I am a hairdresser, makeup artist and understand the psychology behind my craft.  I can show you what looks good for you on an individual level, but I will also help you craft the message you want to send.


Kelli Boucher
- Hairdresser
- Personal Stylist
- Makeup Artist