Many modern offices, especially in creative fields, are pretty laissez faire when it comes to the dress code. Jeans and a T-shirt are often considered more appropriate attire than a buttoned-up suit or a dress with heels.
But new research suggests a surprising advantage to dressing up for the workday. Wearing more formal clothing changes the way that people think, helping them to focus on the big picture, according to a study recently published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Columbia University and California State University, Northridge, found that clothing had a significant impact on cognitive processing style. More formal clothing resulted in more abstract cognitive processing.
“Wearing formal clothing leads to more big-picture thinking, rather than concrete thinking that focuses on the details,” study co-author Michael Slepian, a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia Business School, explained to The Huffington Post.
The researchers asked a group of college-age volunteers of both genders to complete tests designed to determine their cognitive processing style at that moment. Before some of the tests, the volunteers ranked the formality of what they had opted to wear. With other tests, the volunteers were specifically directed to put on “clothing you would wear to class” or “clothing you would wear for a job interview.” Across a series of experiments, those wearing the more formal outfits exhibited broader, more holistic thinking.
Why did changes in clothing lead to changes in how people thought?
“Formal clothing made people feel more powerful, which in turn made them more likely to adopt high-level, abstract thinking,” Slepian said, pointing out that “the suit is a symbol of power.”
He also noted that “formal clothing might improve your mood if you feel good in the clothing and think it looks good.”
Even if you wear a suit to the office five days a week, the study suggests you’re likely to reap these benefits.