Updated: Jan 5, 2020
Think back to the days of playing dress-up—those moments when you slipped on your mother’s nicest dress or carefully slid your arms into your father’s fanciest jacket. Besides drowning in a sea of baggy cotton, what else did you feel? Did you walk with the grace of a ballerina? Experience a sudden rush of maturity? Notice a shift in your perspective? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place!
The reasoning behind your transformation lies in a concept called the enclothed cognition effect. Founded by psychologists Hajo Adams and Adam Galinsky, this idea is based on the notion that the clothing you wear may have a strong influence over the way you think and act. For example, in their 2012 study, Adams and Galinsky discovered that wearing a white lab coat described as a doctor’s coat tended to increase sustained attention, compared to wearing that same coat described as a painter’s coat. Because we perceive doctors as having a more heightened level of attention to detail, we begin to take on that same quality when dressed as a doctor.
But what does this mean for the average person?
Well, the majority of us wear casual and professional attire, so in designing my own study, I wanted to tap into the mindsets of the general public using frequently worn forms of clothing. While studies have analyzed the impact of attire on cognition, none have observed the role of professional and casual clothing in affecting adolescents’ self-perception, or the way they think about themselves. With this in mind, I sought to examine the influence of the enclothed cognition effect on self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Just as we identify doctors in their “white lab coats” as being more thorough and having a greater ability to focus, individuals in casual and professional attire also have perceived characteristics. Research has revealed that teachers and physicians dressed in professional, rather than casual attire, are rated as having a higher level of intelligence, scholastic ability, and credibility. Conversely, those in casual clothing are seen as being friendlier, more approachable, and more laid-back than those dressed formally.
Based on my readings, I hypothesized that compared to those in casual attire, professionally-dressed participants would display higher levels of (A) self-esteem, (B) self-efficacy, and (C) be more likely to demonstrate interest in applying for a higher level position.
For my study, I recruited 120 students from a suburban high school in New York and randomly assigned them to one of three conditions: the control group, where participants wore whatever they were wearing at the the time, the casual group where they wore casual attire, and the professional group, where they wore professional clothing.
Once in their designated outfits, participants completed a shortened version of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the General Self-Efficacy Scale, and an additional self-designed question. I wondered if these feelings of esteem and efficacy might translate into an actual change in intended future behavior, therefore I asked students how likely they would be to apply for a new position that would require them to take on more responsibility and face greater challenges while rewarding them with a higher pay.
“Simply changing the way you dress can have
a drastic impact on how you think about yourself.”
Overall, my findings indicate that individuals dressed professionally exhibit significantly greater measures of self-perception, compared to those in both casual attire and their own clothing. By simply wearing professional outfits, participants had higher self-esteem, self-efficacy, and were more likely to say they would apply for the new position.
Simply changing the way you dress can have a drastic impact on how you think about yourself. Self-esteem and self-efficacy are extremely important in determining the judgement of your own worth, and they function as indicators of your beliefs in your ability to successfully achieve goals. Moreover, having a higher degree of self-perception can result in positive outcomes when encountering new experiences and interacting with others.
So, next time you pick out an outfit, think about how the clothes you wear may turn you into a different person!