Dress for the job you want: is it really good advice?

It’s a common saying. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. But is it true? Will suddenly showing up for work in a suit get you a promotion?

In short, yes. It will.

Your outward appearance is the first thing that people notice about you.  And, though we might not always want to admit it, we make a lot of judgements about people based on how someone appears the moment we meet them.

Often these assessments are unfair – a recent news story about a female Silicon Valley CEO who struggled to get outside funding for her business until she dyed her hair from blonde to brown is a perfect example – but other factors like the colours of our clothes, and simply how we feel about our appearance also come into play.

While you might get a few strange looks wearing too many bright colours to work, different hues do suggest different things about your personality.  Red suggests you have good leadership skills, blue encourages people to trust you while brown clothes can imply reliability.

So, if you’re gunning for a promotion, you might want to start bringing a red handbag to work.  If you’re aiming to build relationships with clients, try wearing a blue tie with your suit. And if you want to be trusted with more responsibility, perhaps brown is the way to go.

But as well as the clothes you choose to wear affecting how others perceive you and your ability, how you dress can influence the way you think about yourself too.

When we feel good about our appearance, it makes us more confident in our actions and opinions too.  In the workplace, that may mean we’re more likely to share our good ideas or volunteer for that extra bit of work that will get you noticed. Perhaps we’ll be that bit more cheeky in negotiating a sale.

Some psychological experiments have also shown that when we look the part, we tend to act it as well.  One experiment in the US asked participants to take a test, with some wearing a doctors’ lab coat – those who were wearing the coat did better on average than those who didn’t. And participants who were told the coat belonged to an artist, and not a doctor, didn’t perform as well either.

So, if you’re dressed like management, you may well unconsciously start to display more managerial qualities in work.  It’s food for thought for the many companies that have adopted a very casual dress code, and simultaneously find it hard to motivate junior level staff to climb the ladder with them.  And also for the many people who work hard but feel overlooked for promotion: is your outward appearance failing to get across your ambition?