Dress Like You’re Too Cool For The Job You Have

While we were away on holiday hiatus, the New Yorker ran a story that is relevant to our interests (jobs, casual dress, the rich and powerful, using casual dress to trick people into thinking you’re rich and powerful). Called “Why Mark Zuckerberg Gets Away With Hoodies,” Matthew Hutson walks us through recent studies showing that “deliberate nonconformity shows that you can handle some ridicule because you’ve got social capital to burn.” I buy it:

Silvia Bellezza, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, and Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan, two professors there, first studied the link between accomplishment and informality. They found that scholars who dressed down at an academic conference, eschewing blazers for T-shirts, had stronger research records, even controlling for age and gender. Then, they explored why and when this sartorial tactic for announcing status—if that’s what it is—succeeds.

Bellezza went to Milan and asked some clerks at luxury boutiques (Armani, Valentino, etc.) to imagine a woman entering the store wearing either gym clothes or a fur coat. Others were to imagine a woman in flip-flops and a Swatch, or in high heels and a Rolex. Clerks then judged her likely financial and celebrity status. Of the hypothetical shoppers, the casually attired were judged wealthier and more important. One clerk said, “Wealthy people sometimes dress very badly to demonstrate superiority,” and that “if you dare enter these boutiques so underdressed, you are definitely going to buy something.”

Other experiments found that people like your PowerPoint presentation more if you don’t use the standard template (livin’ on the edge), and if you wear a red bow-tie to a black-tie party, people will think you’re better at golf. No results yet for perception of bloggers who work from home in pajama shorts, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Photo: TechCrunch

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

I really want to start experimenting with this. Mostly because I hate ties. I hate them so much. They are the worst. Ties. Who needs ‘em. Seriously though, I can think of a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this.

garli (#4,150)

@EvanDeSimone I can’t even think of the last time I saw some one wearing a tie. At a wedding maybe? I heart the west coast.

jmdj (#2,994)

I think Chris Knight taught us this in “Real Genius”.

NoName (#3,509)

So, this is just saying that billionaires can get away with hoodies because they’re billionaires. Groundbreaking.

Meaghano (#529)

@NoName Ha. Yup. Think of it as a friendly reminder

garysixpack (#4,263)

For me, it’s always been a signal that I don’t care when I would dress down or show up late for an interview or a meeting. “[R]ight, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

My personal anecdata supports this based on my experience at various art world parties, galleries, and the like. Clearly I had to be important if I dared to show up so schlubby. Or, there’s some sort of broke-person solidarity. Waiters have been very good about keeping me well supplied in champagne and canapes when I’m wearing work boots.

Also, there’s that old distinction between New Money (rolex/fur) and the old, don’t give a shit New Englanders or aristocrats. There was something comparing Prince Harry’s sort of girlfriend, who is from a fancy family, to K-Mid recently.

I haven’t tried it at academic conferences: my peers tend to be not terribly well dressed as a general rule, aside from the grad students oozing fear and desperation in their suits. And since I sometimes do actual manual labor at work, I enjoy putting on a very nice dress and shoes when I know I won’t have to move a crate. But then again, I’m also not a superstar in my field, so…

I would like to dress like I am actually too cool for my job, as opposed to too rich; i.e. wearing weird Comme des Garcons/Ann Demeulemeester/Rick Owens-style stuff to the office. Of course I am not rich, so for now I’m making do with the black batwing sweater I bought at H&M.

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