Clothes actually do make the man — and the woman
22 April, 2016
The saying 'clothes make the man' has been attributed to William Shakespeare and Mark Twain but dates back to classical Greece where the saying was 'the man is his clothing'.
For a lot of people, work attire is unimportant in the scheme of things. As long as people broadly adhere to their employer's dress code, their daily wardrobe selection should be a no-brainer.
But, to my mind, a lot is tied up in what we wear — and I was encouraged to find academic evidence backing me up.
A study published last year by California State University found that men and women who dressed more formally at work tended to act more like leaders.
They thought more abstractly and focused more on the big picture than those who dressed more casually. They were more future-focused and considered the wider view rather than narrowing down to the detail.
I should say up front that I have never been a fan of the 'casual Friday' trend. Having spent my entire career in financial services, where a certain dress standard is expected, I don't understand why it is acceptable to 'dress down' just because it is the end of the week.
I suspect my aversion to casual dress in an office environment is based on my own reaction to clothing. I know how I feel when I wear certain outfits and I know how I respond to other people's choice of attire. Sometimes it's subconscious — but I do respond.
Of course, wearing a suit to work every day doesn't make you a leader. According to the Californian study, the effect is actually lessened the more often you do it, especially if you work in an office where everyone else is wearing a suit.
To reap maximum rewards, you have to dress better than everyone else. Says the author of the study: "Power, by its nature, is relative."
Dressing up at work has some innate benefits. A study by the Yale School of Management found men who wore suits performed 10 per cent better in mock financial negotiations than men who wore sweatpants.
Part of the reason was the men in suits naturally felt more confident and behaved more dominantly than the men in sweatpants, who in turn allowed the 'suits' to exert greater control and win the negotiations.
Yet another study showed university students who wore doctor's lab coats performed better in examinations than those who didn't.
Today, 62 per cent of US employers support casual Friday compared with 74 per cent in the late 90s. Just as I was celebrating the return of dressing up, a Chicago-based accounting firm proudly introduced a "Dress for your Day" policy — allowing casual attire except for important client meetings.
Crowe Horwath boasts it's the only accounting firm in the top 10 to go casual. The firm is planning to showcase its policy at recruitment drives on university campuses.
This may be the start of a new (albeit late) trend in professional services firms. I hope not.
When interviewed, Crowe employees gave mixed reactions to the new policy. One was more impressed by the firm's "millennial attitude" than by the policy itself. Another noted "dressing takes a little more thought now." One partner commented: "The majority of clients, if they see you wearing an $800 suit think,' she must know something!'"
I say, if man is his clothing, let's make his clothing great.