Dress for Success

We have all heard the term “dress for success.” While it will probably allow you to be more successful if you dress up for an interview or a formal event, does it apply to everything? In high school, I had a friend who believed she had to dress up in order to do well on any test. Yet when I took my SATs or any other tests in high school, I made sure I would be comfortable, which usually ended up with me wearing a sweatshirt. But did not dressing up affect my grades? Was my friend right? Did her dressy appearance help her succeed in school?

Students dressed for success

Students dressed for success

I started my research with a “College Magazine” article , an informal article written by a college student. To summarize, the author agreed with the idea of “dress well, test well”. The author cited Carly Heltinger, author of “The Freshman 50” who praises the “dress well, test well” theory, but lacked scientific evidence to support this. While I did find several other articles written by college students claiming the “dress well, test well” method worked, I couldn’t find a true scientific study. I still thought this was an interesting, and testable theory. (I looked on Google Scholar and several library databases for studies and got nothing).

One article I did find that seemed to have some actual validity to it beyond the opinion of a campus opinion piece. This article evaluated the perspectives of two Ohio State University (boo OSU, go PSU) psychologists, professors Jennifer Crocker and Richard Petty. They claim they found what you wear affects your cognition—how you think. The psychology term for this is called “priming” and is when someone says one thing, you think of something automatically. Like beach and sand, or associating glasses with being smart. Petty states priming is a two-step process: “Clothes can be one example of something that can activate thoughts in our head but then once those thoughts in our head are activated or primed, then those primes can effect how we interpret the world around us and ultimately our behavior”. Priming is found in education all the time. We have all personally experienced it by having different feelings and reactions when we hearSAT rather than critical thinking test (even though they are the same thing). Crocker also argues that self-objectification consumes mental resources and creates a negative attitude. Self-objectification is defined as when we choose to evaluate ourselves based on appearance because we believe that this is how everyone else perceives us. Part of self-objectification is dressing down: where others won’t objectify you and you won’t objectify or be self conscious of yourself, and you can therefore be more focused. This can have the same exact effect as when one dresses promiscuously. On the other hand, self-objectification can cause a huge self-esteem boost when you are dressed up.

Standardized-Testing-StudentsOne of the reasons there may not be testing or experiments with specifically dressing for success and testing is because when people hear dress for success they commonly think of the business side of it: including interviews and presentations. Most people probably assume that this correlation carries over to testing, but it can’t be confirmed without a study. While the Ohio State article was helpful into the appearance of psychology, I still couldn’t find any studies to support my claim. But I was still really interested, and have attended every one of Andrew’s classes, so I figured that qualified me to design my own study.

A good study for this would be to randomly select certain high schools in diverse areas (so you are testing different genders, races, socioeconomic status—this is to ensure that the trend isn’t just in a certain group of students such as in girls, Asians, or poor people). This study couldn’t be double blind, because the students would know if they are “dressed for success”. Students would randomly be assigned to two groups: dressed up and not dressed up. The experimenters would provide the clothes to ensure students know they are dressed appropriately or not. All students would be given the same test, and then tests would be graded. The graders would only need to be blinded if it wasn’t a multiple-choice test (because multiple choice tests have clear answer keys and are objective). The results could then be compared and analyzed to see if the results were to happen by chance. The null hypothesis would be that what people wear doesn’t affect their test scores. The alternate hypothesis would be that what people wear does affect their test scores. I believe we would end up rejecting the null hypothesis because I assume that data would be consistent with professionalism and dressing for success in the business world.

So right now anxious SC200 peers, I can’t give you an answer. From my personal experience, I say do what feels right. Personally, I like the sweatshirt and leggings look and feel for exams, but if you think you do better dressed up, then go for it. But what is your cost? If it wouldn’t bother you to dress a little nicer, then maybe it could really help you. If I am not comfortable, I stress out and know I would not perform my best so I find it more beneficial to dress down. It is different for every person. From what I know (even with no study), I think it depends on the person. If you don’t pick out your outfit specifically for an exam, try dressing up a bit more and maybe you’ll see your grades increase as well. Maybe I can convince Andrew to give me some of his research money to conduct my own actual study 😉

7 thoughts on “Dress for Success

  1. Kateryna Onysko

    I’ ve heard that it is better to study wearing the same clothes the person was wearing during the classes. So even though I would like people in Penn State stop wearing the same pair of sweatpants every day, I guess it makes everything easier for these people since they just always wear the same clothes.

  2. Hyun Soo Lee

    First of all, I think that your personality plays a large factor in this debate. Some people just like to dress up and look presentable for class; others dress for themselves and don’t really care either way. Personally, I’ve found that dressing up is the way to go during high-pressure events such as tests because I feel more confident in my skin and able to achieve more than I would if I were dressed in a hastily put together slump of sweats. Incidentally, it struck me as I was reading this post that I have always made an effort to dress a little “nicer” than usual on test days, which usually means wearing a favorite article of clothing as a lucky charm. And I don’t think it’s ever turned out badly, even though I know it’s all in my head. That’s my reason for being on the dressing up side of the debate, but I’m sure it’s different for everyone based on a variety of factors, including gender (and more specifically, the difference in comfort levels between a typical “dressy” outfit for males and females) and how self-conscious you are. It would be interesting if a study were conducted to show how dressing up or down affects test performance.

  3. czc5448

    I am taking both sides on this. I think “dressing for success” is a great way to boost self esteem in certain situations. If you are attending a career fair, interview, or you have a presentation in class dressing for success is the way to go. Confidence is key and when people look good, they feel good. As far as going to class everyday, I do try to look nice the occasional days but dressing comfortably is definitely preferable. During a test I like to feel more comfortable and relaxed and think that is the best way to go for taking tests. It would be interesting to try an experiment to see how “dressing up” or “dressing comfortably” would effect test scores.

  4. Mackenzie Jo Pardi

    I agree with Meghan! I love being comfortable but if I’m going somewhere, like out with my friends or an interview “dressing for success” makes me feel my best! It really helps boost my confidence. In my opinion I think it makes you look more presentable and more desirable when it shows that you’ve taken the time to take care of yourself in the process. I think your experiment would be even more interesting if you took it a step further by doing some sort of brain scanning techniques to see if the people who dressed up vs. the ones who don’t have increased levels of dopamine, serotonin, and cortisol. These results could be used to compare the effects to see if dressing up had an effect on the brain as well.

  5. Meghan Kelly Shiels

    I’m on the other side of this debate. For me, dressing up is the way to go. I find that when I’m dressed up I tend to have more confidence in myself. Dressing up makes me feel like I can take on the world, so in my case “dress for success” is definitely a true statement.

  6. Elyssa Paige Woods

    I find this topic very relatable. In high school I always “dressed up” for school; i.e. jeans, dresses, accessories. Once I got to college, though, I tended to follow the crowd and wear workout clothes and overall more comfortable clothing to class. I feel as though when I was dressed nicer I was more focused with less of a feeling of wanting to go to bed. I found an article http://www.ocala.com/article/20120715/OPINION/120719862?p=2&tc=pg, that talks about how wearing a uniform in school actually has the students paying more attention in class and are less distracted. So maybe dressing for success is a good idea after all.

  7. Lisa Marie Acerba

    1000% agree that comfy is the way to go! For some reason I specifically cannot wear jeans or any thicker material like that to class and then go sit down and take a 60 minute exam. I am such a leggings or sweat pants girl its unreal. I think it would be cool to test this for myself though and try to dress a little nicer and see where it gets me.

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