Bespoke Suit or Casual Attire? The Science of Dressing for Success.

The benefits of wearing a bespoke suit for work have long been acknowledged. Until relatively recently, dressing in anything other than a suit would have been unthinkable in many professions. And opting for a fine bespoke number was the surest way of creating an impression of confidence, professionalism, and success.

But as more people spend at least part of their week working from home, and casual clothing becomes increasingly acceptable in a professional context, does wearing tailor-made clothing still offer the same advantages that it did just a few years ago? After all, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has done pretty well for himself dressed only in jeans, a t-shirt, and a hoody for practically his entire career. Is this a formula that could work for everyone?

Scientific evidence suggests that the way you dress in a professional context not only has a strong influence on the way you are viewed by others but also on how you actually perform. Yet the effects aren’t always as you might expect.

Choosing how you dress each morning might be one of the most important decisions you’ll make all day. What’s the sartorial recipe for success? Sloppy tech-bro casual? Sharply-cut bespoke suit? Or somewhere in between? Read on for the full lowdown.

Closets in Crisis

Once it was relatively easy to dress for work. The rules were clear: you wore a suit. Either blue or gray. The biggest dilemma you were ever likely to face was simply deciding what color necktie to pair it with.

The old clothing rules effectively meant that you were dressed by your boss, with just a small amount of wriggle room for self-expression. But today those rules have broken down. The suit is no longer a requirement in many workplaces. And in some contexts – Silicon Valley for example – many would probably consider a suit to be excessively formal. Even in regular business circles, a much greater degree of informality has become acceptable.

But with increased freedom comes responsibility. Now you have to make all clothing-related choices on your own. Is greater informality the secret to success? Or were the old-timers actually onto something with their sharp suits and crisp shirts?

Over the years a lot of research has been done into the effects that clothing has on both wearers themselves and on the people they meet. As it turns out, not only does clothing influence how the wearer is perceived by others, but also how the wearer actually performs – with certain types of clothing apparently resulting in million-dollar advantages in business negotiations.

Clearly, then, how you dress for work can have a profound effect on your career. And with so much at stake, choosing whether to wear jeans and a t-shirt, business casual, or a smart bespoke suit is not a decision that should be taken lightly.

Where to begin?

Luckily scientists have already done most of the hard work for us. Let’s take a look at the evidence and find out how we should dress if we want to increase the chance of success in our careers.

Put Some Swagger in Your Stride

The most obvious professional difference that clothing can make is simply serving as a boost to self-confidence. This is not to be undervalued. In fact, one study of workers in the financial sector found that participants “felt more competent and authoritative when wearing either formal business or business casual.” And believing in yourself and your abilities goes a long way in business.

Of course, the fact that clothes make the wearer feel a certain way is one thing, but these are merely self-reported impressions. And just because a person feels more authoritative or productive doesn’t necessarily mean that they actually are more authoritative or productive.

Nonetheless, science certainly seems to support the idea that dressing in a particular manner will alter how others perceive you. And that this, in turn, can have a positive (or indeed, negative) effect in influencing how they respond to you. But what exactly are these effects, and how can we use this knowledge to the advantage of our careers?

Sartorial Symbolism

Have you ever wondered about the psychology behind clothing? Many men simply throw on whatever they have to hand, without giving their attire much consideration. But just because the wearer hasn’t thought about the effect that their outfit will have on others, doesn’t mean that it won’t have an effect. Clothes are much more than mere body coverings. They convey meaning – whether we want them to or not.