The Surprising Productivity Secrets Hidden in Your Clothes

Turns out you really can dress for success, recent research shows that what you wear has just as much to do with how you’re perceived by others as it does on your focus and productivity.

The Surprising Productivity Secrets Hidden in Your Clothes
[Image: Flickr user femme run]

We’ve all heard the advice that it’s better to dress for the job you want than the job you currently have. But can what you’re wearing actually make you better at your job? Science suggests it does.


Though there have been plenty of studies that prove clothes and appearance affects the way others perceive us, Northwestern University researchers Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky found that certain clothing can systematically influence the wearer’s psychological processes.

To prove their the two discovered that when subjects put on a white coat they were more focused. But it couldn’t be just any coat.

“Wearing a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter’s coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat,” the researchers wrote. ‘The influence of clothes thus depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning.”

But you don’t need to run out and buy a lab coat to be more focused at work. Another study by Joy V. Peluchette and Katherine Karl found: “Respondents felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire but friendliest when wearing casual or business casual attire.”

We’ve covered that strict dress codes don’t always optimize efficiency, and some workers end up wasting time worried about if their clothes will pass muster.

But what about when no one’s dictating your choice of dress? Some of our readers were quick to share that they’re pretty deliberate about their wardrobes even though they don’t “have” to be.


Andrew Brown, group communications director at Regus, says the firm’s coworking customers run the wardrobe gamut from all business to jeans. His advice echoes the researchers’ findings. “What you are wearing doesn’t influence your productivity, but the state of mind that it puts you in does,” he says, “The important thing is to dress in whatever you feel comfortable. You will not be productive if all day you’re rearranging your clothing or breathing in to fit into those skinny jeans.”

Brown says one of the benefits of coworking is the networking potential. “You never know if your next deal will come from the person sitting across from you so make sure you still portray the image you would to a prospective customer or business partner,” he adds.

“There’s a stereotype of freelancers in their PJs and slippers. For some, that’s true,” says Sara Horowitz, founder and executive director of Freelancers Union. “Being able to choose how you dress when you work is one of the countless decisions you get to make for yourself as an independent worker. And if your clothing choice helps you get more done, that’s great.”

Horowitz does say that Union members have told her it’s important to think about how they’re perceived when they’re out and about. “Take a minute to think if you’d be comfortable running into a potential work connection. It’s not about being someone you’re not. It’s about being an intentional freelancer, affecting others without saying a word.” 

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.