The Psychology of Business Empowerment Through Clothing, and How Wearing a Suit Affects Thinking

Through the centuries, the image of wearing a suit had formed an individual cultural concept, followed by formal fashion variations and psychological interpretations.

The origins of suits for men (and many rules how to wear them) can be traced back to the 17th century, but simplified modern lounge suit has only appeared in the late 19th century. Almost a hundred years later, throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the trend, to make suits for men as minimalist as possible, was developing its own philosophical movement, forming a theoretical power based impact to the wearer.

In ladies’ department evolution was slower. In the first half of the 20th century, suits for women possessed many feminine details, making them elegant and cute, rather than fiercely sophisticated. Gradually, formal leader-like approach was adapted, and women developed the need to incorporate business attire into their daily lives.

The shift was influenced by the changing society’s needs and new business approaching aspects, as well as the new literature, exploring “power dressing” philosophy. Dress for Success, in 1975, written by John T. Molloy, followed by New Women’s Dress for Success Book popularized the concept of “dominant dressing”, teaching the effect of clothing on a person’s success in business and personal life. Author stated: “This is the most important book ever written about women’s clothes, because it is based on scientific research, not on [the author’s] opinion.”

“A woman’s success does not depend entirely or even primarily on how she dresses, but dress is an important factor in most women’s careers. Research shows that when a woman dresses for success, it does not guarantee success, but if she dresses poorly or inappropriately, it almost ensures failure”, wrote John T. Molloy.

Current opinions and studies complement old findings on formal and casual corporate wear significance. Dressing for success exists.

“The clothing we wear really can influence what we think and even the way we think,” says Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done. Indeed, clothing influences wearer’s psychological processes. Fashion psychology has proven itself to be a relevant part of person’s perception of the environment and inner world. The clothes we wear and the colors we choose impacts our thoughts, decisions and motivation to pursue goals.

A research, carried out by psychologists at California State University, concluded that people’s thinking patterns and formal attire are connected. According to the study, and psychological perspective, wearing formal clothes empowers people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing, allowing to use broad model thinking and to make objective decisions steadily.

“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” the lead researcher told to Joe Pinsker at The Atlantic. Study suggested, wearing corporate attire is related to psychological formality and social distance. People who wear formal clothes are more competent and rational, whereas those who wear casual attire are more laid-back.

To prove notable connection between thought processing and dressing, in first two experiments, the researchers asked participants to show up in whatever they were wearing that day, rate the formality of outfits, and take cognitive tests, aimed at measuring whether they are processing information in an abstract or concrete way. Researchers found that those who rated their outfits as formal, comparing to casual clothing wearers, were thinking in a more abstract way. Though both thinking models are important, abstract processing is associated with broad, leadership-like thinking, while concrete processing suggests a narrower look at the world.

“Wearing formal clothing makes us feel more powerful, which brings with it a sense of more social distance from other people. Power and abstract processing have been repeatedly linked to one another in literature”, Abraham Rutchick, an author of the study and a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge, told to Today.

There are not a lot of facts in the literature why power and abstract thinking are linked. However, one study, in 2006, introduced the “Abstraction Hypothesis” explaining, people with power tend to process information in a more abstract manner than those without power.

Researchers indicated: “The distinction between abstract and concrete processing involves the level at which individuals focus on information rather than their use of internal knowledge.”

A. Rutchick suggested that people who run businesses might need to think abstractly, whereas employees who need to carry out daily tasks must focus on the details.

From this perspective, the word “suit”, translated from the Latin – sequi, and manifesting “I follow”, controversially, means “I follow the one with the suit”, rather than “I follow others”. But, “Keep in mind it’s not necessarily ‘better’ to think more abstractly. It means more broadly, creatively… but also in a less detail-oriented way,” said Abraham Rutchick.

The connection between leader qualities and corporate attire is undeniably intertwined. Suits for men, as well as the suits for women, have become a part of cultural and psychological development in the society. Formal wear has the ability to affect thinking, and through clothing to empower business progression. And the adage that advises, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is the perfect explanation why and how to wear a suit.

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