Wearing formal clothes may boost confidence and dominance in some business situations, studies say


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Wearing more formal clothing can have an impact in business situations where dominance is important, according to studies published in the last couple years.

In one study, a Yale School of Management professor found that wearing clothes with high social status led to higher profits in mock negotiations for the sale of a factory, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports.

There were 128 study participants in the study, all men, and they had diverse backgrounds. One group changed into sweatpants, another donned business suits, and a third group remained in the clothes they wore to the study. Each participant was given a fair market value for the factory and told to negotiate the sale.

Those in suits made an average profit, relative to the fair market value, of $2.1 million after negotiating the deal, while the average profit for those in the sweatpants group was $680,000. The average concession, relative to initial offers, was $830,000 for those dressed in suits, compared to $2.8 million for those in sweatpants.

Professor Michael Kraus, the study co-author, says the study shows that clothing sends a signal about success and confidence in competitive situations. Those in formal clothes become aware that they are receiving more respect and become more forceful, he said.

Another study found that wearing more formal clothing was associated with abstract thinking of the type used by someone in power. A study co-author, Columbia Business School adjunct professor Michael Slepian, spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the findings.

“When you need to think creatively, about the bigger picture, that’s when dressing formally will increase your productivity,” Slepian said. People who wear formal clothing feel more powerful, and, “when you feel more powerful, you don’t have to focus on the details.”

What about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, known for hoodies and jeans? “People like that are playing around with their status symbols,” Kraus told the Wall Street Journal. “For most of us, high status means suit and tie.”

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