We know that our sartorial choices can have an impact on how others see us - hence the oft repeated advice that you should dress for the job you want rather than the one you have. As it turns out, clothing can help you change the way you see yourself as well. In a recent experiment, subjects who wore a white coat saw an increase in alertness when they believed the coat belonged to a doctor. Subjects who believed the coat belonged to a painter showed no such improvement. These findings suggest that embodied cognition, or the influence of physical experiences on our thought processes, includes the clothes we wear as well as our actions.
Whether you work in a traditional office, at a startup, or from home, it’s important to make a distinction between your work attire and your evening/weekend wear. With more and more companies instilling casual dress codes, it can be tougher to make that distinction. Even if you’re changing from one pair of jeans into another at the end of the workday, you’re signaling to your brain that you’re not in “work mode” anymore.
Even if you work in a casual office, you can take it a step further and find your industry’s lab coat equivalent and incorporate that into your wardrobe. Whether it’s an impeccably tailored jacket or some statement jewelry, identify your “lab coat.” Wear it when you want to assure your mind that you’re measuring up aesthetically, so you can tackle the task at hand with confidence. This is especially important for those who work from home occasionally. Wearing something that reminds you that you’re in work mode will minimise the likeliness of you doing household chores when you should be focussing on work.
As you’re reading this, you may be thinking that it’s time to go shopping. If your clothes are outdated, ill-fitting, or too casual, you are right. It can be intimidating to build a new wardrobe, so here are some tips:
Invest in quality basic office apparel. For men, this means jackets, shirts, and ties. The concept of work attire for women is a little more nebulous, but think along the lines of wool skirts, sheath dresses, and fitted jackets. You don’t want to go inexpensive on these items. Shopping for quality will save you money in the long run, since you won’t need to replace these core elements of your wardrobe.
Focus on finding clothes that fit you well and feel physically good - aim for cashmere, cotton, or wool-silk blends in colours and cuts that flatter you.
Avoid thinking in terms of individual items. Instead, focus on how pieces work within outfits so you can coordinate.
Don’t be afraid to have a little bit of fun with colour, prints, detailing, and accessories.
When dressing for work, the most important thing is to wear something that’s comfortable. You won’t be more productive if you’re fidgeting with your clothing. Avoid clothing that is “out of your comfort zone,” which could make you feel self-conscious and pull your focus away from work. Finally, planning your outfits the night before can eliminate the stress of putting together an outfit in the morning. A little bit of effort the night before can help you feel like the all-star employee that you are - and chances are, your performance will reflect that.