How Wearing a Suit Makes a More Confident, Successful You


“Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.” — Gay Talese, Author

Yes, a suit can do all that… and more.

It would seem that wearing a suit is more than just a fashion statement. Studies have suggested that what you wear can change how you perceive the world, how others perceive you, and how you perform…

Here’s how.

A suit can change how you perceive the world

Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother might’ve been onto something when he said, “Suits are full of joy. They’re the sartorial equivalent of a baby’s smile.”

Sure, it’s a little melodramatic, but it is true that a good suit can bring you happiness. And it’s not just from changing how you look — what you wear can also change the way you perceive the world. At least that’s what a study from the U.S. suggests. Researchers from California State University tested people’s thought patterns in relation to the formality of their attire, and found that suit-wearers not only feel more powerful, but they tend to think about the ‘big picture’ more than those in casual attire.

In psychology terms, donning a suit encouraged ‘abstract processing’ rather than ‘concrete processing’. Abstract processing is associated with broad, big-picture thinking — the kind that’s needed to be a great leader. As an abstract thinker, you look for the patterns. You’re using intuition and imagination. As a concrete processor, you tend to hone in on the details and look at the world more narrowly. You’re dealing with the here and now and processing information based on what you see, hear, think, feel and taste.

In any case, the symbolism of putting on a suit is clear. It represents a shift in character and has a powerful effect on self-assurance.

Wearing a suit makes you more confident

Confidence can also be about posture, something that is aided by a well-cut suit. Not convinced? Take a walk in a t-shirt, short and thongs, followed by a walk in a suit and compare the difference. When a suit fits well, you hold yourself well, and this not only works to make you appear more confident, but feel more confident too.

In a really interesting TED Talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. And since a suit helps with your posture, perhaps this is why the idea of “power dressing” has been around for so long!

What you wear affects how others perceive you

Part of the confidence that we get from dressing well may come from the way others judge and act towards us. The way we dress makes a certain impression in the people we encounter everyday.

Some experiments have shown that women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired. Another has suggested that a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually.

As they say, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have”… Look the part, and you just might get the part!

Your clothes can dictate how well you perform

As well as changing our attitude, perception and how others perceive, what we wear can even have an impact on how we perform. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology asked participants to wear either a white coat that they believed was a doctor’s, or street clothes. Those wearing the ‘doctors’ coats outperformed the other group when tested for selective attention, based on their ability to notice incongruities, such as when the word “red” appears in the colour green. The participants wearing the white lab coats made about half as many errors as those who wore regular clothes.

In a second test, people wore either a white coat that they thought was a doctor’s, or one that they believed was a painter’s, and they were tested for sustained attention. They had to look at two very similar pictures side by side on a screen and spot four minor differences, writing them down as quickly as possible.

Those who wore the doctor’s coat, which was identical to the painter’s coat, found more differences. They had acquired heightened attention.

Ready for a more confident, successful you?

The fact is, a suit gives off a sense of not only style, but of professionalism and competency. A well-fitting suit earns you an added level of respect that transforms into the feel-good factor for you. It makes you believe you are ready to take on anything, be it the boardroom, the altar, the interview or any other nerve-jangling situation you might find yourself in.

Time to suit up.

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