You’ve heard of “Dressed for Success.” Well, what about “Dressed for Productivity?” I think that the way we dress can have a big impact on our performance. Where I went to college required that all the guys wear ties and all the gals wear dresses to class. There was quite a bit of debate among the students about whether this was really beneficial or not.
Many students met the dress code to the letter, but were extremely sloppy in the way that the were dressed. Overall, it would probably be impossible to tell if having a dress code helped make anyone a better student (although it helped guarantee that all the guys knew how to tie a tie by the time they graduated.)
Personally though, I know that my performance is sometimes influenced by how I’m dressed. If I get dressed for business and feel business-like, I function better than if it is 1pm and I’m still working in my pajamas.
Even more important than how I feel is the way others respond to me, based on the way I’m dressed. When you meet someone for the first time, they make a whole slew of assumptions about you based on the available data. One of the easiest pieces of data to latch on to is how you are dressed. If you are dressed professionally, this influences their opinion about whether or not you are likely to behave professionally.
In fact, there was a study that showed students who were allowed to rate a college professor after only having watched a 30 second silent video of him teaching, gave the same rankings as students who sat in his class for an entire semester.
The point is that they were able to pick up enough information in just a few moments, visually, to form the same opinion as students who spent the entire semester in class–or perhaps their first opinions were so strong that an entire semester of teaching couldn’t shake what they had initially decided.
When someone sees you for the first time, they are going to make assumptions (right or wrong) about how you are dressed. These assumptions have a direct influence on how the person interacts with you. So if you dress like someone they would want to work with, you’ll find it much easier to get things done than if you don’t. Your productivity in the interaction is determined in a large way by how you dress.
This is easy to take advantage of. If you are going to a meeting, spend a few moments in the morning thinking about what others are likely to be wearing and how you can dress in a way that will make you as productive as possible. If it is something really important, you might even want to do some research to find out what is acceptable dress for particular situations. For example, if you are going for a job interview, it might not be a bad idea to find out how others dress that work in the position you are applying for. Better yet, if you can find out what the person interviewing you is likely to be wearing, you can adjust your wardrobe that day, accordingly.
This method isn’t going to suddenly make you an extremely productive person, but if it helps you retain even 5% of opportunities you might have otherwise missed, it can make a big difference.
Originally published July 3, 2007.