Clothes affect how you’re perceived – by others and even by yourself. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘enclothed cognition’ and influences everything from your state of mind to how competent or attractive you appear. The most famous and WTF-worthy example can be found in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, where subjects displayed greater attention on a test when wearing a white coat they believe belonged to a doctor; when subjects wore the same coat, but were told that it belonged to a painter, it had no effect.
Precisely what you’re supposed to do with this knowledge, beyond jacking some swag at your next physical, is another question. Thankfully, there’s a whole journal’s worth of weird style science that you can apply outside of the lab to give yourself an unfair but stylish advantage at work, rest and play.
Oh, and in the improbable event that you somehow missed an issue of the journal Psychological Science, if you ever want to repel a male rhesus macaque monkey, wear red.
You Want To: Get Some Assistance
How: Dress The Same As Other People
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it also makes people more inclined to help you, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Providing you’re not in a solicitor’s office, casual clothes are also more likely to garner support than a Savile Row suit, presumably because they figure that you must be doing all right in something bespoke. Interestingly, the tendency is more pronounced in men than women. Do us a solid, bro.
You Want To: Stand Out
How: Dress A Little Differently
Ever considered wearing a red bow tie to a black tie event? Us neither. But you might want to start if you’re taking your style cues from science. A study in the Journal of Consumer Marketing found that a man who copped crimson was seen as having higher status and competence, as was a professor who lectured in red Converse. The ‘red sneakers effect’, as it’s known, is about the nonconformism, which implies that wearers have the clout to avoid any consequences.
You Want To: Get A Pay Rise
How: Suit Up
It should go without saying that a man who wears tailoring is more likely to seal the deal in a negotiating game than someone who slobs out in sweats. But now the thinking has the backing of bods in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In fact, the dressed-down dealmakers in trackies actually lowered their testosterone. Although as The Apprentice proves, a bad suit won’t profit you one iota.
A good suit, on the other hand, is worth the extra money. In a study in the Journal of Fashion and Marketing, the same man was deemed more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner when wearing a made-to-measure whistle than similar off-the-peg high street tailoring. Not that surprising, you might think – but this was after looking at a picture of him for three seconds.
You Want To: Exude Masculinity
How: Compress To Impress
Ignore what this season’s biggest trends are telling you, ‘real men’ aren’t about to throw their skinny jeans out just yet. In an old study in The Journal of Social Psychology, male students who wore tight-fitting clothing were perceived as more masculine; the badly packed sausage-fests of Love Island et al suggest the findings are still valid. Don’t restrict your range of motion too much though: “natural body movement” was also a factor.
You Want To: Appear More Approachable
How: Wear Blue
Even if you can’t be approachable first thing on a Monday, you can at least look it. In a study in the incredibly specific Journal of Academic Librarianship, prospective academic librarians were adjudged more approachable in blue, and less in red. (White was in-between.) Formal clothing made older candidates appear more approachable, but younger ones less, maybe because it seems more natural on seniors. The biggest factor though? Smiling. Damnit.
You Want To: Be More Punctual
How: Wear A Watch
Not revolutionary advice, perhaps, but the effect could be profound. In a study in the journal PeerJ, timepiece-sporting subjects turned up significantly earlier for their appointment (actually another study that they were taking part in). This corroborated earlier research which found that wearing a watch was linked to conscientiousness and emotional stability. Providing yours actually works, that is.
You Want To: Look More Attractive
How: Wear Deodorant
This shouldn’t be a fresh discovery to most functioning adults, but don’t turn your nose up just yet. In a study in the journal Chemical Science, female researchers were shown pictures of men’s faces variously accompanied by cologne, body odour and clean air. The same face was perceived as less attractive with the aroma of pit stank, but nice and neutral smells didn’t make it any more attractive.
You Want To: Look Taller And Thinner
How: Wear Pinstripes (Or Black)
The default style advice here would be to wear vertical stripes, but the science on lines is a little blurred. As German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz demonstrated as far back as 1867, a square composed of horizontal lines, in fact, looks taller than one consisting of vertical lines. However, the 2012 winner of the BBC’s Amateur Scientist of the Year award later staged a catwalk show to illustrate that the effect didn’t extend to real people and clothing.
Not one for stripes? go all-black instead. Thanks to the ‘irradiation illusion’, also demonstrated by Helmholtz but observed earlier by Galileo, among others, black was shown by the scientific modelling to be more slimming than stripes of either direction. If you’re not sure which line to take, always bet on that.
You Want To: Raise Your 1RM
How: Wear Red And Deadlift
One for your next kettlebell workout. In light of the finding that boxers, wrestlers and taekwondo-ers who wore red at the 2004 Olympics won more often, a study in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Physiology set up a rematch. Combatants in the red corner were no more likely to make it to the podium than blue, but they did lift heavier weights before the bell, and their heart rate was higher throughout.
You Want To: Rub Women Up The Right Way
How: Grow Some Stubble
Peak beard? Pah. Tell that to Tom Ford, Jason Statham and Ryan Reynolds. In a study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, a small amount of stubble (around two days’ worth) was considered more attractive than clean-shaven men or those with heavy stubble, a light beard or Captain Caveman. And that’s for both short- and long-term relationships. Light beard was held to be most dominant, while full beard was most masculine, aggressive, socially dominant and plain old.
You Want To: Nail The 9am Meeting
How: Know Each End Of The Dress Code
How to dress for a meeting depends on what you want to achieve. In a study in the journal Social Psychology and Personal Science, students dressed formally thought in a more abstract way. Smart clothes may increase social or psychological ‘distance’, say the researchers, who also found that job interview-type attire was associated with subjects seeing the big picture, whereas casual dress correlated to a focus on finer details. Turns out Mark Zuckerberg and the other stealth wealth lot could be on to something with their hoodie rotation.
You Want To: Seal The Deal
How: Wear Red
That’s strictly business, mind. In a study in the journal Psychology and Marketing, subjects rated the same man a more accurate communicator when seen in red knitwear versus white or a black suit with a red tie versus light blue, even though the transcript that they were given of what he said remained exactly the same.
His likeability wasn’t increased by wearing red, however, and the red tie actually made him less attractive. This contradicts findings elsewhere, notably in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, that wearing red enhances attractiveness for both sexes (as does black). But the researchers in this case pointed out that the setting – a desk with a computer – wasn’t exactly romantic. Fair point.
You Want To: Rake It In
How: Comb Your Hair
Turns out we didn’t need to spend all that time hitting the books and sucking up to the boss. All we needed to do was comb our hair. In a study in the journal Labour, being well-groomed (or very well-groomed) resulted in a 4-5 per cent earnings boost. This was separate from physical attractiveness, which ‘earnt’ a 12 per cent premium, and even applied in industries where appearance was less important than, say, productivity. The assumption is perhaps that you’re fastidious, not vain.