Whether you like it or not: the clothes you wear makes a particular impression on others. Even subtle appearance cues lead others to judge our personality, status and more. I’ve come across a number of studies that prove this fact, and as always, I share the findings with you.
People who deliberately wear nonconforming clothes appear to have higher status and competence. This is the so-called red sneakers effect, new research shows (Gino & Keinan, 2014). Across a series of lab and field studies, the authors found that nonconforming clothes (behavior) can leave the impression that the wearer has higher status and competence.
So, why are nonconforming clothes more attractive? The authors provide a plausible explanation:
“Observers confer greater status and competence to nonconformity compared to conformity because they believe that the nonconforming individual has the necessary level of autonomy to follow her own inclinations and bear the cost of deviating from the norm.” (p. 50).
Moreover, it was found that the red sneakers effect disappears when: (1) the observer is unfamiliar with the environment, (2) when the nonconforming behavior is depicted as unintentional, and (3) in the absence of expected or shared norms.
In another study, 274 participants rated four faceless images of a male model on five dimensions (confidence, success, trustworthiness, salary and personality flexibility). The model was depicted wearing either a bespoke (slim fit) or a regular suit, which differed only in minor details. Participants saw the images for a maximum five seconds.
The man in the slim fit suit was rated more positively on all attributes apart from trustworthiness compared to the man in the regular suit. This study suggests that well-tailored clothes can make others view you as more confident, successful, trustworthy, wealthy and flexible (Howlet et al., 1996).
In another study, 87 participants were shown one of two possible images of a male model. The model was depicted wearing either a traditional or a nontraditional outfit. In both conditions, the participants were asked questions about what they expected of the model’s workplace experiences.
The results show that the man in the nontraditional outfit was expected to have a lower starting salary and experience more verbal harassment; he was also perceived to have higher ability in “nontraditional male occupations” compared with the man in the traditional outfit.
The man in the traditional outfit was perceived to be more likely to be hired into a “traditional male occupation” and to be promoted in any occupations. This study suggests that people judge your career and occupation possibilities on the basis of your (traditional or nontraditional) clothes (Kwantes et al., 2011).
Another study examined the social benefits of luxury brands. Across seven experiments, people wearing luxury branded shirts were perceived as wealthier, higher status, more likely to be given a job, more succesful at soliciting money for a charity, more succesful at getting people passing by to complete a questionnaire compared with people wearing non-branded or non-luxury shirts.
Interestingly, the effects depended on the assumption that the shirt wearer owned the clothes:
“If people know that the clothes someone is wearing are not his own, these clothes will not be perceived as reliable signals of traits of the person who is wearing them.” (p. 349).
This study suggests that wearing luxury branded shirts like Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste can make you look wealthier, higher status and more succesful (Nelissen & Meijers, 2011). To wear luxury brands is a profitable social strategy, the authors say.
Do people wear shoes strategically to portray an image, and can observers detect this image? Researchers have examined people’s precision in judging personality characteristics on the basis of an unknown person’s shoes.
In this study, participants provided images of their shoes, and they completed self-report measures so that personality characteristics could be assessed. Then the observers rated the shoes on various dimensions, and these ratings were found to correlate with the personality characteristics of the shoe owners.
More specifically, it was found that: (1) more agreeable people tend to wear shoes that are practical and affordable, (2) anxiously attached people tend to wear shoes that look brand new and in good repair, (3) wealthier people wear more stylish shoes, and (4) women tend to wear more expensive-looking (branded) shoes.
This study suggests that shoes can be used to reliably evaluate others, at least on some dimensions, the authors say (Gillath et al., 2012).
Thanks for your attention, and if you found any joy in this article, please share it! The article is inspired by British Psychological Society’s post on first impressions.