Research demonstrates that what you wear gives your subconscious messages that affect how you behave. So, are you the metaphor you wear?
Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management professor Adam Galinsky teaches ethics and decision in management. He and Hajo Adams conducted a study of the effects of wearing lab coats on people’s attention spans. Pre-tests showed the participants associated the lab coats with attentiveness and carefulness, presumably because they identified them with doctors or scientists and what the participants considered to be their professional characteristics. When the coat was identified as a lab coat, participants wearing them had increased attention spans. When told the coats were painters’ smocks, participants demonstrated no difference in attention spans. Galinsky further mused, “Does wearing the robe of a priest or judge make people more ethical? Does putting on an expensive suit make people feel more powerful? Does putting on the uniform of a firefighter or police officer make people act more courageously?”
The questions raised are endless. I wonder, how do suits affect professionals behavior in business, and what happens on “casual Fridays”? Ladies, do you feel more feminine in a pair of heels? What effect does it have in a professional setting? Does wearing school uniforms change students behavior? Many educators claim they see fewer discipline issues after their schools adopt uniforms.
In each example, the clothes themselves have become a metaphor for the ideal performance of a job. They suggest the person has the attributes we associate with the job well done, be it a particular set of skills, an attitude of professionalism, caring, courage, wisdom, whatever. We expect there to be something more than just another human being under the uniform, and it seems, the clothes can serve as prompts, signaling us to deliver something more ourselves.
And what about the other side of the coin? Don’t people in uniform sometimes abuse their power, be they military, police, judges or what have you? While being reminded that you belong to a particular group can inspire better behavior, it can also distort one’s sense of entitlement or encourage a herd mentality.
I welcome your comments on other examples that come to mind–for good or for ill– of clothes that make the man–or woman or child. And tell us, what is it that you wear that brings out the best in you?