Science says wearing a suit makes you more powerful

We love it when a study proves that formal fashion is best.

Meryl D'Souza April 18, 2016

It seems Mark Twain was onto something when he said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society”. 

His quote may have been limited to how the world perceives someone who’s dressed to the nines versus someone in rags, but science has intervened to show that it’s not just other people’s perception that changes, the suit wearer also feels more powerful. 

Look at the cultural evidence - some of the world’s most powerful leaders are dapper men. If reality is not your thing, look at the most powerful men on TV. You’ll never catch Harvey Spectre from Suits, Don Draper from Mad Men or Frank Underwood from House Of Cards without a crisp suit. That's not even mentioning the most stylish man in fiction, James Bond.

According to a study by scientists at California State University, wearing formal attire changes a person's thought process. So every time you throw on a blazer and tuck in your pocket square you perceive the world differently.

“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” says Abraham Rutchick, an author of the study titled ‘The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing’.

There are two main kinds of thought processes we use to think about a situation: abstract (broad) and concrete (narrow and specific). Rutchick and his co-authors found that wearing clothes that are more formal than usual makes people think more abstract than concrete, in other words, a suit makes a person more open minded.

For the study, the researchers had a group of student participants show up without any sartorial instructions, rate the formality of the outfit they happened to be wearing, and then take some tried-and-true cognitive tests to determine their processing styles. Those students demonstrated far less abstract reasoning when compared to a group of students who were explicitly asked to show up in formalwear.

If you’re not convinced, feeling powerful isn’t all that abstract thinking helps with. Here’s two other ways it changes your perception:

Beat the blues

"If you get a stinging piece of critical feedback at work, if you think about it with a concrete processing style, it's more likely to negatively impact your self-esteem," says Michael Slepian, another one of the paper's authors and a professor of management at Columbia Business School. So the next time you get dragged into a meeting with your boss, throw on the two-piece to protect yourself from 'constructive criticism'. 

Get richer

You know how rich people stay rich? They don’t spend. They don’t go on shopping sprees and stay away from impulsive buys. Slepian says that thinking about money with an abstract processing style might lead one to skip impulsive purchases in favour of smarter, long-term savings behaviours. Which would also mean you can afford more suits and monkstraps down the line.

With casual attire becoming a norm at most workplaces, these three reasons should give you cause to stick with the suit. Remember though, you can easily dress it down, and it should always be bespoke