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9 Princeton Studies Demonstrate That Clothes Make Men Appear More Competent

“Dressing for success” receives the backing of empirical scientific research.

Source: Princeton University

On December 9, 2019, Princeton researchers published a series of studies demonstrating that subtle cues associated with a person’s clothing have a significant influence on how others perceive their competence. The better dressed, the more capable they were rated.

Research participants were shown headshots of men in a variety of clothing and asked to rate their competence. The apparel ran the gamut, from professional attire, neckties, and collared shirts, to sweaters, tie dye, and, peculiarly, a black t-shirt with “HOT WAFFLES TO GO” across the chest.

Consistency across studies

Regardless of how researchers tweaked the design, the studies showed that such appraisals are made quickly, and to a great extent, subconsciously. The results remained consistent even when participants were exposed to the images for a mere 130 milliseconds. Participants struggled to articulate the differences between clothing, or the justifications for their ratings. And even when researchers explicitly told participants to ignore the attire of the individuals, warned that clothing has no bearing on competence, and provided information about a person’s profession or income, the results persisted.

"Impressions of competence from faces predict important real-world outcomes, including electoral success and chief executive officer selection." - Princeton University Researchers

The article highlights the link between perceived capability and real-world results, like executive appointments and elections. Presumed competence, in turn, has a direct affect on social status and career success.

Thanks to this research, the common wisdom that one should dress for success, and that first impressions matter, now has empirical scientific backing.

Key takeaways

The lessons from the article are twofold: First, in positions of authority where one is asked to rate, interview, or evaluate someone, like a professor or employer, one must be aware of these biases, and vigilant about their effect. Second, by investing in the proper wardrobe, an individual can make better first impressions, appear more capable and qualified, and improve their chances of receiving better opportunities and career outcomes.

According to the scientific community, it's time to swap your "Hot Waffles" t-shirt for a new tie.

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