It’s not exactly career advice, but when Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, said, “If you can’t be better than your competition, just dress better,” she makes a clear point. Although as Mandy Rice-Davies once said so memorably in the witness box of the John Profumo trial, “she would say that wouldn’t she.”

It only takes a fraction of a second for people to develop an opinion about you from the way you look. Making eye contact or wearing thick glasses makes people think you’ve got a higher IQ. Looser gaits are seen as more adventurous. Stiff gaits, more neurotic. Men without hair are seen as more dominant and powerful (check).

What I find more interesting than the science of superficial judgement is how what we wear affects how we perform. Believe it or not, there is a direct correlation between your choice of attire and your performance. Scientists have found that business attire increases abstract thinking and the ability to negotiate better deals. For guys reading this, dressing casual during negotiation actually lowers testosterone levels, making you less aggressive in selling your agenda, but perhaps better at hearing your opponent…?

And it’s not just the professional world that benefits from better dress sense. Studies on schools where students wear uniforms report better rates of attendance and decreased instances of misbehavior.

Take this as a tip for the back pocket. What you put on in the morning could contribute to what you manage to achieve during the day (I always suit up in all black for big days). Subconscious judging on appearance is one reflex we can’t control, but how we choose to be perceived and how we choose to treat others based on their appearance is one thing we have full responsibility for.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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