Enclothed Cognition and the Potential Impact of Casual Wear in the Office

Enclothed Cognition and the Effects of More Casual Wear in the Office

Enclothed cognition is the impact clothing has on how a person functions, their confidence, and performance; it has been shown that how you dress can affect the way you work. In today’s modern world, there seems to be a growing trend for more casual attire in the workplace. Does this signal a death knell for traditional smart office clothing, and is it a positive or a negative trend?

‘Dressing down’, and by this, we don’t mean being told off, more so the wearing of more casual clothes whilst working is becoming more popular. Some people will be thrilled with having the option; others, particularly some employers who feel they have a specific image to maintain, might be less keen. Also, there is the question of whether wearing smart or casual clothing at work has a positive or negative impact on performance?

Numerous studies by leading psychologists have shown that what you wear affects how you feel and your behaviour, the ‘catch-all’ name for this is Enclothed Cognition. This has been shown by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, two cognitive psychologists from Northwestern University in the USA.

They conducted a three-point study* involving two groups. In part of the study, one group was asked to wear street clothes, the other wore lab coats. They were both given a test that focused on attention to detail, and those wearing lab coats made half as many errors as those wearing more casual clothing.

It’s clear from this that what you wear can impact performance. Some new research that has been backed by leading psychologist Lee Chambers suggests that peak professional performance is not necessarily linked to comfort, despite the new-found habits of many workers during Britain’s numerous pandemic lockdowns.

Although some might baulk at the thought of an office filled with employees wearing jogging bottoms and sweat tops, a survey conducted by the menswear brand Charles Tyrwhitt suggests that it’s not all elasticated waistbands and dressing down in Britain’s offices, despite the growing trend for casual.

A male model wearing clothing from Charles Tyrwhitt's Business of Life collection

The study found that 50% of workers who returned to the office have found a more relaxed dress code than before the pandemic. However, it seems that the timeless suit and shirt still lead the way when it comes to making a strong first impression, with over 65% of men believing this and almost a third feel more productive when they’re dressed smartly.

Joe Irons, Chief Marketing Officer at Charles Tyrwhitt, said: “Sales and customer sentiment show what we firmly believe – it isn’t one or the other, when it comes to dressing well at work – a varied, hybrid wardrobe wins every time. Last week, sales of our *Business of Life smart-casual collection soared, with polo’s, jackets and chino sales continuing to grow, up 154%. Tyrwhitt’s suits were also up significantly, proving that men now need a wider selection of product to help them navigate through their new working life.”

Lee Chambers, who was at the heart of the research, said: “The balance between formality and comfort has certainly become a pressing challenge over the past 18 months, and while there is an increased appetite for casual dress codes, the benefits of what we call enclothed cognition, come when we feel confident in our attire and feel that it represents working environments.

“Feeling dressed for work puts us in a psychological state where we can attach to our tasks, perform optimally and step forward confidently. It also gives us fewer worries about how we may be perceived, and fewer decisions to make on whether we are smart enough for the hybrid way of working, and these concerns can drain our brainpower, making us less productive.”

Joe Irons, Chief Marketing Officer at Charles Tyrwhitt, added: “The world of work has changed hugely in the past 18 months. So too has the workplace and expectations for what to wear. In fact, the rules of good dressing have never felt less clear as the lines between work and home life have become ever-more blurred. We want to change that and make it simple for men to dress up, dress down, or dress comfortably in the office or in their homes.”

*Charles Tyrwhitt’s Business of Life collection is an interpretation of ‘hybrid dressing’ and offers men a collection of separates to choose from, whatever their workwear requirements.

*Adam, H. & Galinsky, A. D. (In Press). Enclothed Cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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