We always remember our firsts. From our first bike ride without training wheels to our first kiss, our introductory moments to life’s biggest milestones stick with us forever. Of all life’s many firsts, impressions are undoubtedly the most dreadful. I pride myself on being a strong and independent woman. How shall I convey my leadership and successfulness with tact? According to scientific studies, dressing manly is the missing piece to the chauvinistic puzzle.
Business Insider recently reported on a study that found that women who dress masculine are more likely to be hired. In the aforementioned 1990 study, Auburn University professor Sandra M. Forsythe asked 109 respondents in marketing and banking fields to watch videos of female applicants interviewing for a management job. The results were less than shocking.
Women who touted their femininity, adorning light colors and soft silhouettes, did not come out on top. Unsurprisingly, females who dressed in “masculine” attire—dark hues, angular lines, and possibly a boxy business suit—were frequently selected as ideal job candidates. Which brings me to my question, when does perception become prejudice?
As a woman with very few suits hanging in her closet, should I fear for my ability to convey managerial potential? I’m not condemning Corporate America’s signature staple by any means. In fact, androgynous fashion continues to take a leading role in many designer collections. My main qualm with suggesting male-inspired attire to women wanting to be taken seriously is simple: I don’t want to look masculine and I shouldn’t have to.
It’s been 25 years since Forsynthe’s study and we’re still noticing that femininity is hurting women in the workplace—the proof is in the paycheck. That being said, I refuse to put on a pair of black slacks and coordinating blazer to prove that I mean business. I’m rallying against the wage gap and I’ll be damned if that means removing my hair bow to do so. I don’t need structural clothing to live a structured life.
Professor Karen Pine, author of Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, stated in a 2011 study that “the fundamental role that dress style plays in creating a positive first impression cannot be underestimated.” I’ll admit, I constantly fall victim to society’s ability to make snap judgments based on an initial glance. Sure, I’m notorious for getting bent up about my body weight. And yes, I was furious the time my eyebrow waxer had a slip up that left me looking dramatically excited for a whole month. Image vulnerabilities happen to the best of us.
Clothing consequentially plays a role in how we’re perceived by others, but it plays an even more important role in how we perceive ourselves. Pine is known for her studies in enclothed cognition—how clothing can affect our emotional state. According to her insights, clothing has the power to make you a better thinker. She’s also determined “happy clothes,” which result in more positive attitudes, are well-cut, figure-enhancing and bright—three checks off my personal code of dressing for success.
When I contemplate my own scrupulous style, I can’t help but note that Pine is on to something. Psychologists continue to find strong correlations between our outfit choices and daily mood. What a woman chooses to wear is heavily reflective of her current emotional state. (Any woman who has been in a “sweatpants kind of mood” can completely agree with me on this one.) There’s no coincidence in noticing that insecurity or sadness might be found in baggy attire, while poise expressions are complemented by our favorite flattering pieces.
Personally, the “buttoned-up” feeling of a business suit makes me feel less powerful and more restricted in my creativity. I want to feel bright, effervescent and ready to make a positive impact each day. Why should I care what others think of me at the cost of my own productivity?
Once you get past the talk of cognitive processes and other scientific jargon, the key is to remember that our fashion carries a force. Our wardrobes have the power to generate confidence and conviction in ourselves while controlling the perception of others. Steps to enhance our overall outlook can be made in the simplest ways. From getting a manicure to wearing statement necklace, even the most trivial wardrobe choices can instill a dose of positivity and confidence within you.
Just like fashion, professionalism and strength do not follow a one-size-fits-all model. Perhaps you rock a power suit like no other and you feel purposeful doing so. Maybe you’re go-to look is an ethereal skirt that makes you feel fluid and free. Our attire should not be indicative of our ability to lead. Use your individualism to find your own workplace style. At the end of the day, your confidence and self-worth is key. As for me, give me polka dots and I’ll give you the world.