Many independent studies (such as this one) verify that the way you dress correlates to your financial success. To some degree this is common sense: you rarely see a director or CEO who does not dress well (at least, while they are in the public eye).
That said, context is also important. For example, leaders in the creative industry, like the CEO of an advertising agency, can dress casually but still find financial success.
Likewise, major metropolitan areas like Singapore, London, and New York tend to see a higher correlation between income and dress code. Less so in rural areas probably because no one, not even top businessmen, feel like wearing a suit when they are in Cebu or the Australian outback.
Here are 5 essential tips to help you dress for success and get that pay raise or promotion you deserve:
1. Dress for your role
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two groups of students were tested: one group wore white coats, while the other were in casual clothes. (Note: the students wearing white coats were not necessarily science or medical students.)
The students were then prescribed a series of tests, which required concentration and thought. The students who wore the coats consistently performed better.
The term used to describe it was “enclothed cognition” – the way you dress and the clothes you look at influence your psychological processes. It’s not a new concept; many organisations have known this throughout history. It’s why schools and militaries require uniforms, for example.
This means you might perform better if you start dressing for your role. Even if the boss allows you to come in wearing t-shirt and jeans, you might find your mind works at a higher level if you come in dressed as a high-powered executive.
Certainly, those looking at you will also respond appropriately. That, in turn, could have an impact on your pay cheque.
2. Have a “personal brand” when it comes to your wardrobe
What do Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Christopher Nolan and Barack Obama have in common? They all tend to wear the same outfits. Powerful women like Michelle Obama, Duchess Kate Middleton, fashion editor Carrie Donovan and fashion designer Victoria Beckham all have no qualms about repeating outfits, and they are known for having a “personal brand”.
It’s been noted that intelligent (and often financially successful) people share this habit.
The reason is called “decision fatigue”. Your brain will use as much effort to decide what to wear in the morning, as it does in deciding what to include in the marketing presentation.
And your brain gets tired like your body, so every decision you make contributes more fatigue. This is why being a taxi driver is exhausting, even if all they do is sit in the car all day. A taxi driver has to make hundreds of decisions every hour, such as whether to speed up, slow down, signal, turn left, etc. It can be just as tiring as baggage handling or construction.
Read also: How To Repeat Outfits Like Kate Middleton
By standardising clothes, you reserve all that brainpower for critical decisions and save time. Both of these qualities help to advance your career, and better your odds of earning more.
Image consultants also talk a lot about “personal branding”. This is when a celebrity picks a signature look, such as Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck. Dressing in a consistent manner gives you an iconic quality, something that professional presenters should consider.
3. Make a good first impression
People only stop judging you by the way you dress after they’ve gotten to know you. When they first meet you however, they have no other standards by which to gauge you.
Psychology Today has two published studies, involving people’s reactions to a stranger in an off-the-rack suit, and a bespoke suit. Within three seconds, most people decided they were more favourably inclined toward the person in the bespoke suit.
Besides judging our professional competence based on how we dress, it was also discovered that the leeway narrows near the top. You can still be judged favourably in casual clothes if you are working the factory floor, for example, but a department manager in a Hawaiian shirt is not going to go down well.
The deals you are able to strike, and the promotions you are able to secure, come down to how you dress. A few bespoke suits are probably a worthwhile investment.
4. Wear more black
Studies confirm that people who wear black are viewed as more intelligent. About 66 per cent of people surveyed (out of 1,000 people) associated black outfits with competence, confidence, and intellect.
Red was the next most confidence-inspiring colour.
It is not certain if this is an inherent quality, or if it was created by society. Decades of high-powered Wall Street traders and business directors wearing black may have created the association.
If you’re buying a suit and need to inspire confidence, black is the way to play it safe.
(Gif from Giphy.com)
5. Include a designer piece or two
There’s a theory that you should hide designer logos because it’s too crass. That theory – as this study shows – is completely wrong.
Designer brands provide “costly signals” of wealth and social status. During the experiments in the study, a picture of a person in an expensive shirt had the brand Photoshopped out. The response to this person (in terms of confidence and trustworthiness) immediately dropped.
In fact, it was even discovered that a person wearing branded clothes was better at soliciting donations for charity. It’s a little odd that someone in a Louis Vuitton suit will get more donors than a homeless person in a tattered jacket, but that’s apparently how our prejudices work.
And during studies of video job interviews, survey respondents were inclined to pay the man in the designer outfit a nine per cent higher salary, as opposed to one in an unbranded outfit.
We’ve been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s how the business world works. Best to get rid of the old prejudices against “vanity”, and start dressing right for the job. There’s a bit of good news though:
If you ever get so rich and successful that everyone knows you, you can stop worrying about the clothes. Warren Buffet can walk into the room in a t-shirt and boxers, and people would still take his advice seriously.
For more work-related tips, read Bad Office Habits That Prevent You From Getting Promoted, Is Your Office Job Jeopardising Your Health? and 5 Money-Savvy Things To Do With Your Pay Raise Or Bonus This Year
For more money-related tips, read 10 Life Hacks To Save You More Money This Year, 8 Ways To Save Money When Booking Holidays Online and 8 Money Saving Tips That Will Change The Way You Save.
Text: Ryan Ong/Additional Reporting: Elizabeth Liew
This article first appeared on Singsaver.com.sg, Singapore’s go-to personal finance comparison platform that guides consumers on the best money habits with its credit card comparison tool and allows real-time personal loans product comparison.