Consider the proverb “clothes make the man.” Although often attributed to Shakespeare, its origins lie in the classical Greek saying, “the man is his clothing.” Today, “the woman is her clothing.” This is, indeed, a significant principle for women aspiring to high-profile roles. Why, then, are many ambitious women ambivalent about the importance of appearance, notably, their apparel choices?
Think of the endless dialogue surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s wardrobe of pantsuits.It sends a clear message about just how caught-up with appearance people really are. In What Happened, her recently published chronicle of the 2016 presidential campaign, HRC reveals the four self-empowering reasons pantsuits became her go-to uniform.
- “I did this because I like pantsuits,” she writes. “They make me feel professional and ready to go.”
Match male politicians:
- “I also thought it would be good to do what male politicians do and wear more or less the same thing every day,”
- “Since there wasn’t much to say or report on what I wore, maybe people would focus on what I was saying instead;” and
- “They helped me avoid the peril of being photographed up my skirt while sitting on a stage or climbing stairs, both of which happened to me as First Lady.”
Not overthink things:
- “Some people like my clothes and some people don’t. It goes with the territory. You can’t please everybody, so you may as well wear what works for you.”
The major point here is that HRC understands her pantsuits are self-empowering. Of course, we know about the impact clothing can emanate, the intentional choice of a sexy dress, for example. But what about the genuine feeling of power clothing can provide?
There actually are scientific, psychological studies that prove clothing impacts performance. In 2012, American researchers, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, coined the expression “enclothed cognition”* to describe what happens when people are empowered by apparel.
They ran a series of experiments using the iconic white lab coat – an emblem of expertise, attentiveness and authority – to demonstrate the power of simply wearing the coat. For the first study, participants were divided into two groups fora bona fide test to grade individual’s selective attention. The first group wore regular clothes; the second donned a lab coat over their own clothing. True to the researchers’ predictions, the lab coats outperformed the first group.
During further studies, two groups of participants took tests wearing identical white lab coats. The first group was told they were wearing doctors’ coats. These same garments were described as painters’ smocks for the second group. The “doctors” significantly outperformed the “painters.”
Professor Amy Cuddy’s research on the transformative effects of power posing* is widely known. Enclothed cognition, empowerment through clothing, similarly impacts brain activity to produce subconscious change.
Obviously, clothing can have profound psychological consequences on the wearer. The implications for aspiring women leaders are important. Not in the sense of ignoring the tailored clothing protocols of corporate life – but seizing them with greater enthusiasm for self-empowerment, specifically, dress to progress.
* Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 4, July 2012, Pages 918-925
Watch this short video to learn more about how clothing can change the way you see yourself
* Power Posing: Amy Cuddy at TEDGlobal
Ranked second among the most viewed TEDTalks in history, Professor Cuddy explains how taking a posture of confidence can boost one’s feelings of confidence.