Why do people wear formal clothes

Clothes actually make the man

Suit and blouse are often cited as an expression of professional integrity. But is that really still the case today? Psychologist Lina-Sophie Stens from the Hochschule Fresenius examined this question for her thesis. In an interview, she explains how clothing influences our perception of other people - and what the right outfit for the job interview looks like.

Ms. Stens, the majority of existing studies on the effects of clothing show that formal clothing creates a more positive impression on other people than informal clothing. What made you decide to re-examine this subject anyway?

A division manager in a large corporation once told me that he was only promoted when he wore tailored suits. That made me wonder. How could it be that formal clothing is still such an influential symbol today - in times when the individuality and self-determination of employees have top priority, objective potential and demonstrated competence count and dress codes are becoming increasingly casual?

Studies that I then found on the influence of clothing on impression formation mostly confirmed that formally dressed people are rated significantly more positively in various characteristics than people in informal clothing. However, most of these studies were conducted between 1950 and 1990. The research gap that has arisen since this time and the doubts about the current validity of the findings have induced me to shed light on the topic again.

For their study, they interviewed a total of 329 people online and presented them with photos of both formally and informally dressed people. What do the results show: Do suits, costumes and the like still have a power and competence character?

Yes they have. The respondents indicated on a scale how attractive, powerful, intelligent, professionally successful and trustworthy they consider the same person in formal and informal clothing to be. The evaluation of the assessments shows that the persons depicted in formal clothing were rated significantly more positively in four of the five categories mentioned: namely as more attractive, more powerful, more intelligent and more professionally successful. So it can be said that the saying "clothes make the man" is by no means out of date. A suit or costume exudes power and competence even in today's age.

The end of the tie has been described again and again for a number of years, and even managers of DAX companies are now doing without it. Can formal clothing also have a negative effect on the other person? For example, do we think of gambling bankers when we see a person in a suit and tie?

That can happen. It is now believed that the formal dress style not only evokes positive associations, but can also be linked to precisely this discredit by managers and bankers. My evaluation also points in this direction. In the fifth category - trustworthiness - people in formal clothing made a significantly worse impression than informally dressed people: They were rated as only slightly trustworthy.

Wearing jeans and a T-shirt, on the other hand, was associated with a high level of trustworthiness. So you can say that the suit not only has positive effects on the other person. In situations and professions where trustworthiness is important, you should actually leave the tie in the closet and wear loose clothing.

They also evaluated whether their own clothing style has an influence on how we rate the clothing of others. What are the results of this?

That the judgment of other people with regard to power and professional success takes place independently of one's own style of clothing. How attractive, intelligent and trustworthy we find other people, on the other hand, is definitely influenced by how we dress ourselves. A similar style of clothing has a positive effect on the person to be assessed, a different style of clothing has a negative effect.

The suit wearers among the test subjects rated the models in formal clothing significantly as more attractive, intelligent and trustworthy than the more casually dressed participants did. An equally significant difference could also be measured the other way around between casually dressed test persons and similarly informally dressed models. In practice this means: When choosing the right clothing, we should not only pay attention to our own need for effectiveness, but also to the clothing style of our counterpart.

What other tips can you give based on your results? How do you find the right outfit for a job interview, for example?

According to the results of my research, you should still wear formal clothing for a job interview in order to support the goal of selling yourself as intelligent and confident. For decades, career counselors have recommended formal dress for job interviews, and they are right.

Nevertheless, one reads in many a business column that suit fashion can now be individualized and given a personal touch. If this suits you, if you feel more comfortable and less disguised, all the better. Finally, studies also show that a subjective feeling of well-being through wearing certain clothes has a positive effect on one's own behavior - for example on self-confidence in job interviews. It is important that you do not pretend and feel comfortable in what you are wearing.