Want To Appear Impressive? Weirdly, Studies Show You Should Wear This

Photo: Via @omgirlla.
That pressed interview outfit or sleek cocktail dress you have have hanging in your closet? Well, if you’re angling for a seat in the corner office or front row at Fashion Week you might want to ditch the suit separates, chic frocks, and high heels once and for all. In fact, if you really want to dress to impress, you might want to show up in a hoodie and sneaks, Zuckerberg style.

A new study by the Harvard Business School finds that, in certain situations, dressing like you DGAF could work to your advantage. And, not just in Silicon Valley, either — look at the rise of athleisure, with fast-fashion and luxury designers alike taking on upgraded gym clothes (Alexander Wang, Hood By Air, Beyoncé for Top Shop, the list goes on). “Wearing red sneakers in a professional setting or entering a luxury boutique wearing gym clothes [can] lead to attributions of enhanced status and competence rather than social disapproval,” the researchers write. (An Observer reporter put this theory to the test, going to Bergdorf’s first in sweats and a puffer, and later in kitten heels, designer goods, and a blowout; she got better service in her gym clothes.)

Why is that? Well, it has to do with attitude. That is, it isn’t Zuckerberg’s hoodie or Steve Jobs’s black turtleneck that gives (or gave) each his aura of power. Rather, it’s an individual’s air of being above society’s sartorial rules that demands respect and credibility. The Harvard team explains, “Wealthy individuals signal their position by giving up financial resources to purchase expensive luxury items. Similarly, by giving up the social benefits conferred by conformity, individuals show that they do not need these benefits because they already possess high status.”

This isn’t anything entirely new. Marie Antoinette — she of the extravagant hairdos and ostentatious court dresses — eventually began wearing peasant outfits to show her disdain for the rest of the French court. (It didn’t end well for her, but she did command attention.) Benjamin Franklin’s slovenly “frontier” attire gave him an authenticity and brazenness that his peers — and the French, especially — revered. Albert Einstein wore the same thing every day (a sloppily thrown-together navy suit), which gave the impression that he did not want to waste his brain power on clothes. And, Coco Chanel’s striped sailor shirts, men's riding pants, and fisherman’s sweaters turned her into the most revered couturier in the world. 

And, after several seasons of street-style peacocking at Fashion Week, editors have begun trading in their sky-high heels for Nikes. It’s no longer cool to flaunt one’s perfectly coordinated designer outfits — it’s more badass, and more powerful, to fly under the radar. 

Before you start burning all your finery and stocking up on sports bras and track pants, note that there's one big caveat: Dressing down is only seen as a symbol of power and status among the upper echelons of society. That is, enter Bergdorf’s in your yoga pants, and you’ll likely receive the royal treatment; roll into WalMart (or an interview at a law firm, management company, or most other places) dressed the same way, and you’ll get nothing but side-eye. To stand out without eschewing social norms, try adding some colorful sneaks to skinny jeans and a blazer for an office situation, or trading in your dress for a cool romper. 

Besides, the way that fashion (and anti-fashion) works, your yoga pants might not be the status symbol they once were after they're adopted into everyone's everyday look. It's much better to be yourself, anyway. “Marching to the beat of a different drummer can have some surprising upsides,” concludes the report — and whether that means wearing your favorite hoodie to a big meeting, a caftan to the beach, or a crinoline with Doc Martens to work, we couldn’t agree more.
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