Are you what you wear?

Men in suits showing off their funky socks

We have always been told to dress the part; or dress for the job you want to have. Neither of these statements are bad advice but it does sound rather vague on the style you should follow, and leaves very little room for your personality to shine through. Over the last couple of years we have seen the definition of “work casual” change, which has a lot to do with how we view trendsetters and nonconformists in the office.

The red sneaker effect

Researchers of Harvard Business School conducted a joint study in 2013 called “The Red Sneaker Effect“. They were looking to find how nonconformist behaviour influences people’s opinions about us. What they found is that people associate nonconformist behaviour with competence and higher status. That means we think that people are more competent and successful if they have an extraordinary appearance or display eccentric behaviour.

This sounds great for weekend warriors, but what about in the corporate work environment? There people still reacted positively to eccentric sneakers or torn jeans.

“I have a number of super-successful Silicon Valley Clients who dress in ripped denim, Vans shoes, and T-shirts. They are worth hundreds of millions, even more, but it’s a status symbol to dress like you’re homeless to attend board meetings.”  – Tom Searcy, CBS Moneywatch

You are what you wear

So why when you wear a lab coat do you feel smarter? Psychologist Joshua I. Davis of Northwestern University introduced a term called “enclothed cognition” to describe the influence that clothes have a wearer’s psychological process. In other words how you feel when you wear certain items.

There is a symbolism around certain items, and those carry through to how you feel when you wear them. Scientist’s lab coats are worn by people who are known to be intelligent and careful; when you wear them you feel smart and attentive to others. You associate a pilot’s uniform with someone who’s commanding and confident; so you might feel the same way while wearing a pilot’s hat.

Let your personality show

Over the years, business men have gone from wearing black or dark navy socks; to ones will all the colours and patterns you can think off. And sometimes a trend can go too far. The Wall Street Journal has already forecasted the death of the funky sock trend. Yet while it may be on its way out it is not forgotten.

Gone are rainbows and glitter pineapples on socks; in their place we are finding more subtle coloured checks and hound’s-tooth patterns. Now more often than not the colour of your socks is coordinated with your shirt or jacket, pops of colour in pock squares, or nods to lego cufflinks.

“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”  – Coco Chanel

Read the room

It has become more acceptable in corporate environments to let a little of your personality shine in the clothes you wear. While certain industries will always have a dress code, there is a degree of individuality that has been allowed to creep in and no one wants that to go away completely. It is a small way for us to stand out and show what we are passionate about while getting our job done.

As long as you are not offending your co-workers or Clients; we say wear your leather jacket with tassels on casual Friday.