Research by Francesca Gino, associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School revealed that dressing casually in the workplace earns you more respect from your colleagues. She carried out a number of experiments on non-conforming appearance. The research discovered that wearing casual clothes in the office enhances your standing among co-workers.
The study repeatedly found that atypical clothing made executives think more of a person, not less. Those who stand out have higher standing than the suits that blend in.
Our culture assumes that dressing differently has what psychologists describe as ‘social cost’. We think it has a negative effect. Experiment after experiment of Gino’s research found the opposite. Daring to be different had advantages. People who are a lot more comfortable about dressing individually at work project an impression of confidence. Gino says these people are viewed as ‘having the guts to do what they’re doing’.
When Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerburg promoted the company before flotation, he wore his trademark hoodie at presentations. A suit would have made him as anonymous as other executives. Steve Jobs wore black turtleneck jumpers by Issey Miyake, as a way of saying, I’m not like other executives. I’m different.
Some time ago I asked my graphic design class of degree students at the University of the Arts London why they had chosen art and design as their subject. I was expecting them to say that art gave them spiritual fulfilment, that they wanted to express their inner being through art, or something along those lines. To my astonishment, they said they had chosen art and design because they didn’t want to do a job where they had to wear a suit to work. They saw the suit as a straight jacket, a symbol of unoriginality and oppression. I looked at their expressive clothes and extraordinary haircuts and I could see what they meant. The painter Lucien Freud said he became a painter, not because he loved painting but because couldn’t face doing a conventional job. Avoiding the things we hate can lead us to the things we love.
What we wear has the power to transform us. Dressing to express your personality communicates who you are. Many people in the workplace feel it is prudent to suppress what is unique about them. This research shows that people respond positively to uniqueness. Everyone is unique and your clothes should express that individuality. The opposite of courage isn’t cowardice but conformity. Orthodoxy is the thoughtless, easy route.
Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer and professional speaker, delivering lectures and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. He is author of the international bestseller Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.