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What should I wear to work? More importantly, how might it impact my effectiveness?*

Ever found yourself spending way longer than you should deliberating what you should wear to work? Something that should take a matter of moments ends up filling 10 mins or more and suddenly you're in danger of being late. Not only is this stressful and leaves you still debating with yourself at lunchtime, but it turns out it could or could not make a difference.

[Sometimes I envy my old university professor who explained to us that he had bought 7 of the same outfits to save himself the cognitive load of having to decide what to wear each day (unfortunately for him his choice of woolly, black trousers and baggy, white t-shirt were not very eye-catching)]

As outlined in my vlog this week; many a time, thanks to the spotlight effect (a phenomenon where we tend over-emphasise elements of our lives) decisions on things like clothing don't matter as much as we think they do but that's not to say that what you wear doesn't impact your effectiveness in other ways.

I've always been fascinated by this and here's some interesting things I've discovered over the years from reading different studies and trying them out in my own work (and personal) dress code:

  • What I wear can really set my mood for the day - for me it's about adding colour and a good fit (for others it'll be some other combo). When I have these factors I immediately feel more positive and everything just flows. I work quicker, my interactions are better and I just feel more effective. If you can find your mood enhancing clothing, stuff that you are comfortable in, then you'll instantly add 10% to your day. [The same goes with avoiding any negative, full of doubt clothing - more on this below].

  • It is proven that clothing subconsciously influences how we think and act - studies have shown that if you wear formal clothes you are more likely to talk formally (or abstract processing as the scientific world calls it), be more focused on the big picture, be able to concentrate more, be less inclined to group decision making but do better overall at cognitive tests. Whereas if you wear gym clothes you are proven to more likely do exercise and if you carry expensive accessories you are more likely to vote conservatively. Oh my, this totally freaks me out to think my M&S suit, my Adidas joggers and Prada handbag have that much power over me :o

  • It is proven that clothing can consciously influence us too - studies have actually shown that when people are wearing clothes that make them feel more confident then they intentionally see themselves differently; be this research that showed people wearing underwear that they felt is sexier went on to believe they were more attractive to others and that people that dressed similarly to those they admire reported feeling infused with their hero's positive characteristics

  • It is proven that wearing clothing you are less comfortable with actually reduces your effectiveness - research has shown that if you are wearing something that you feel exposed in or that you feel makes you seem uglier then you score lower in cognitive tests and in one-on-one interactions. I often dread the days where I'm left with my bad white shirt because I haven't done the laundry; I once missed the thrust of an entire, important conversation with a client that I put down to that shirt

  • It is proven that more formal (and better fitting) outfits increase peoples' opinions of you - multiple studies have shown people wearing authoritative outfits are more likely to be agreed with and perceived as more competent. Alas, it should be noted that the reverse of this has also been proven, in particular there is a strong negative effect for senior women who dress less conservatively than people expect. For my part, days I wear a suit make me feel more confident and I gravitate towards these for big meetings or even situations when working alone and I need to prepare more serious material

  • It is proven that more casual clothing makes people more relaxed and sociable - this makes me think whether Fridays in offices up and down the country would be as sociable without the prevalence of so many people in jeans

  • It is proven that people who wear more daring outfits are thought of differently - be it a pink shirt in an office of blue shirts, jeans in a formal setting or something else that makes you stand out from the crowd then research shows others are more likely to admire you but less likely to get on with you. Ever since I read that waiters get better tips if they wear red and that city workers who wore pink shirts earned more I've not been afraid to mix my clothing up for a bit more impact.

I realise that this can be quite a lot to take in and may now mean that you spend 15 mins in the morning debating what you are going to wear so I'll leave you with the things I've come to adhere to over the years:

  1. The Spotlight effect is the biggest factor for me so don't overthink it

  2. I pre-categorise outfits and the impact they may have in different situations so that I have it all prepared and don't have to stress on the morning of an important work day (e.g. my dark suit is great for board meetings with a bank but terrible for a brainstorming session with an agency)

  3. I pre-research my clients/meetings/environments to understand how they dress and therefore can tailor my dress accordingly (this sounds like I do a lot but it's nothing much more than asking someone who already works there)

  4. If in doubt, better to go too formal than too casual (pastel shirt and dark trousers is my go to) and don't be too outlandish too frequently

  5. Apply the same rules even when working from home (I've been caught out by one too-many last-minute video conferences as well as noticing the impact different clothing has on my productivity)

  6. If all else fails, break the 4th wall and use your clothing (and your deliberations) as a talking point to connect with others

For those that know me, you're probably thinking "Hang on a minute, your dress sense is terrible". Well, that's your opinion and I'm ok with that. For everyone else I hope this helps improve your effectiveness even just a little.

*I was toying with the idea of titling this blog "Does my bum look big in this?" but I feared it would give the wrong impression plus I suspect many of my friends would just say yes

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