You Are Your Clothes

Unless we wear a uniform, one choice we make daily is the outfit we are going to wear to work. Some of us work from home in pajamas, others wear a crisp suit, and still others are somewhere in between.

Researchers Galinsky and Hajo studied what they call “enclothed cognition”, where those who wore a doctor’s coat (as opposed to painter’s coat or no coat) actually performed better in attention tasks, showing that the symbolic meaning of the clothing plus the physical experience of wearing it had an effect on participants (Hajo & Galinsky, 2012).

Professor Karen J. Pine, a UK psychologist, writes in her book “Mind What You Wear” about the psychological effects of clothing: how women who are depressed wear jeans more often and their wardrobe selection becomes very narrow, how university students who wore superman t-shirts reported feeling physically stronger and competent than those who did not (Fletcher, 2014).

In our personal lives, we know anecdotally that the right outfit can make us change the way we feel about ourselves, how we present ourselves at the workplace, and how others perceive us (Ferguson, 2016).

Here are some strategies to try when selecting your outfit for work! (Ferguson, 2016; Fletcher, 2014)

  • Formality – Depending on your workplace’s dress code and culture, try wearing slightly more formal or professional attire to increase confidence and productivity, such as wearing a collared shirt, a dress, a tie, or non-jean pants. If you work from home, change out of PJs into business casual clothes or what you would wear for work. If you would like to be perceived as laidback, you can experiment with more casual attire such as sweaters.
  • Colour & fabric - Try wearing brighter colours or interesting fabrics on a day when you are feeling low. This may be the opposite of how you feel, but the colour (as well as compliments you receive) might lift your mood.
  • Fitting – Ensure that your outfits are your size, tight clothes are uncomfortable and baggy clothes can make you feel or present as less confident.
  • Photo ID – For those who wear a uniform, you may have some flexibility in things like where you place your ID. This is a small decision which can make a big impact on how you are perceived. If you would like to be seen as professional and official (or let others have quick access to your name and position), a badge on the front of your shirt at eye-level works best. To be seen as laidback, inviting, or ready for hands-on work, a badge at the pocket or hip might be a better choice.
  • Variety – Explore your wardrobe to see what clothes you’ve been neglecting. Taking slightly more time in your outfit each day to select a different piece of jewelry or put on a special aftershave can give you confidence in your appearance and thus, work performance.

Of course, what gives each person confidence will vary. Do heels make you more confident or do they remind you of your lack of balance? Do you feel different based on what you wear to work? Let us know in the comments below!



Ferguson, J. (Feb 8, 2016). “How Clothing Choices Affect and Reflect Your Self-Image” Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Fletcher, B. (May 27, 2014). “What Your Clothes Are Telling You”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Hajo, A. & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 4, 918-925.

Photo retrieved from