If you showed up at the dentist and she was wearing torn jeans and a dirty t-shirt, would you let her near your mouth? There’s no doubt clothes can inspire confidence (or a lack thereof) at work. But beyond appearances, does your attire affect your productivity?
You might say yes. In fact, a study showed that when we wear more formal work attire, we feel more competent, authoritative and confident, while wearing casual clothing makes us feel friendlier.
Before you jump into the first three-piece suit that comes along though, take pause: there is no “miracle outfit” that will transform an ordinary worker into a productivity machine. As a general rule, the most important thing is that you are so comfortable in what you wear, you don’t even think about it.
“My clients tell me that they have a lot more self-confidence when they feel good about their look. It allows them to focus on their work rather than their appearance,” explains Karine Dubé, who works with the styling agency Les Effrontés to help women put together their perfect wardrobes.
For that same reason, companies should avoid imposing dress codes so strict that employees fixate on the not-quite-regulation hem of the sleeves of their new blouse, or their tie with a finish that’s not quite matte…
“Even very formal companies are moving towards a more casual look at the office. There shouldn’t be a huge gap between who we are and what we project,” notes Karine Dubé. For example, if your favourite palette includes bright colours and cheery prints, a beige suit might make you feel like you were wearing a disguise. The reverse also holds true if your style is more muted. And feeling ridiculous certainly doesn’t help with productivity, asking your boss for a raise or workplace happiness.
That said, if your employer has opened the door to casual dress, it shouldn’t be seen as an invitation to show up at work in your Saturday morning sweats. Having different wardrobes for weekends and work helps our brains to draw a line between work and recreation. In fact, lots of self-employed people will systematically put on different clothes when they’re in “work mode,” even if they never leave the house and are in no danger of running into anyone other than their cat during the day.
You have to admit, when you’re in your pyjamas, it’s more appealing to watch a TV series than open an Excel spreadsheet…
A little comparison to finish off: do you go jogging in a summer dress or ripped jeans? Probably not (even if they’re super comfortable), because you psychologically associate those items of clothing with a function other than physical activity.
The same holds true at work. Even if no one is breathing down your back to dress like a pro, you’re actually doing yourself a favour by building a wardrobe that’s professional, comfortable and just your style. Because the less you think about how you look, the more you think about your work.
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