You’ve probably heard sayings such as “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” or “if you look good, you’ll feel good” or “you are what you wear”. Many people are a bit sceptical or simply don’t believe it. While others feel guilty about the attention they pay to their clothes and appearance.

The good news is that scientific research has found more than a grain of truth in these sayings. In fact, the clothes we wear can affect our behaviour, attitudes, personality, mood, and confidence. They can also change the way we interact with others – and the way others perceive us.

I’ve long believed that wearing the right clothes improves performance in sport. My conversations with Nathan Redmond (Southampton and England footballer) and Russ Martin (Norwich City and Scotland) have confirmed this. They’ve told me that wearing the right kit made a big difference to their match readiness.

“While waiting in the tunnel,” says Nathan, “you need to feel ready for the job in hand.” Sportswear designers such as Erreà understand this. They invest heavily in R&D to ensure their fabrics not only conform to stringent European health and environmental standards, but also work for the player.

Seemingly small details can make a major difference to the contours, body fit and skin-friendliness of the shirts. This is a big deal, as Russ explains: “You need to look and feel battle-ready. You’re giving the competition an advantage if you don’t.”

These views are much more than superstitions about lucky shirts. They are backed-up by science. Researchers Adam Hajo and Adam Galinsky, from the Kellogg School of Management, demonstrated this in their study on ‘enclothed cognition’.

They found that people who wore a doctor’s coat in tests displayed more sustained attention and increased focus, than when wearing either a painter’s coat or no coat. The doctor’s coat symbolises status, duty, respect and diligence. Wearing it really seems to bring out these qualities in people. This leads me back to ‘you are what you wear’.

It’s similar to when you prepare for an interview or important meeting. You probably rehearse your subject matter and maybe even role-play a few scenarios. But do you pay attention to what you wear? You should, because it will affect how you feel about yourself and how people feel about you.

Professor Karen Pine, of the University of Hertfordshire, calls this ‘Intra-personal’ (what you wear primes your brain and affects your mood) and ‘Inter-personal’ (the messages your clothes send to the world determines how others respond to you). She even says, in her book “Mind what you wear: The Psychology of Fashion”, that what we wear changes us. “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.”

Retailers as influencers

Clothing can clearly change who we are and how we think and feel. We’ve all experienced occasions when what we wear has affected our self-confidence both positively and negatively. That’s a powerful force and retailers should not underestimate our influence in such matters.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this only applies to women. You only have to look at the 300% growth in men’s grooming products to know looking good matters to the male ego. When car manufacturer Kia researched what made people feel confident they found remarkably similar results for both men and women.
Along with sunshine and learning new skills, factors influencing the way we look featured heavily in the top 10 confidence boosters. Both sets of results included a new suit or dress, a haircut (and freshly shaved face or legs), and nice-smelling perfumes or after-shaves. While you can’t guarantee sunny days (at least not in the UK), you can at least help people improve the way they look. Again, you are what you wear!

Clothes and personal appearance are no small matter. As retailers we have an amazing opportunity to enhance people’s confidence, mood and performance. I’d love to hear about how you do this.

If you’d like to discuss this further, drop me a line.

Stephen Balmer-Walters

Author Stephen Balmer-Walters

An experienced international retail omni channel director with a wealth of knowledge. A strong leader able to communicate and negotiate at all levels.

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