You Are What You Wear: How Your Clothing Affects Your Brain

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They say that you are what you eat, and from a biological standpoint that's certainly true. From a psychological standpoint, however, it's much more accurate to say that you are what you wear.  

We already know that clothing affects how people perceive you. A study by a professor from Vanderbilt University found that wearing something as minor as a uniform and a badge can fundamentally affect how people perceive you -- so much so that people were willing to obey complete strangers who wore uniforms. But it turns out that clothing is a two-way street. Not only does it affect how others perceive you, it also changes how you perceive yourself.  

Researchers from the  Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University have found that clothing dramatically affects our ability to perform tasks. The researchers had test subjects perform a simple exercise testing mental acuity. They performed the same test on another group of test subjects who wore white lab coats and found that these subjects made half as many errors.   Working in White Lab Coats Image source:

But here's the really interesting part. The researches gave those exact same white coats to another group of test subjects, but this time the researchers said that the coats were artists' coats rather than lab coats. These test subjects made just as many errors as the test subjects that wore normal street clothes.  

As it turns out, it's not the clothing itself that affects our behavior, but the meaning that we attribute to that clothing. Wearing a police uniform could make us more authoritative because that's what we associate with police; wearing a tuxedo might make us feel more refined and dignified because that's what we associate with tuxedos.   Obviously, this has incredible implications for business owners. The right work uniform could lead to greater productivity, higher ethical values, and obedience to superiors.  

Researchers Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam warn that a uniform isn't going to be a magic wand that turns someone into a completely different person. An article of clothing means different things to different people, so what might be a symbol of community and belonging to one worker might represent corporate servitude and drudgery to another. The researchers wrote, "So it’s really about what the symbolic meaning of the clothes is to the person."  

Doctor in White Lab Coat Image source:  

How can business owners use this information to increase work productivity? Well, it all depends on how you handle your custom clothing. You can't just give all of your employees work uniforms and expect them to act differently. You can only tap into this deep psychological tendency if you cause your employees to associate the uniforms with the right values. A sharp businessman can also apply these techniques to his own wardrobe. Are you trying to be a leader who inspires employees and leads them with strong communication skills and clear direction? You might want to invest in a sharp business suit.   Custom uniforms and a positive working environment can each help your business. Put the two together and you can create top-notch workers who act like better employees the second they put on your company uniform.

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