I was delighted to be featured in Forbes again discussing my work with Afterpay in understanding how the pandemic has forever impacted workwear.
For many people, sky high heels and underwire bras are relics of a long forgotten, less enlightened time. Casualisation of dress codes has been occurring for some time and now that we’ve all had a taste of what it’s like to look good and feel great while working, we simply can’t let that go.
The pandemic has sped up the casualisation of office dress codes that has been occurring for the last few years. After more than a year of working from home, what we wear day-to-day for work has made a more significant shift with many people foregoing traditional workwear and opting for loungewear and a waist-up approach to dressing.
We all have a dynamic relationship with clothing that impacts the three different ways we view ourselves; the person we want to be, the person we hope to be and the person we fear to be.
Studies have also shown that comfortable clothing aids cognition making it easier for people to concentrate and focus on their work. So, it’s understandable why people will be slow to let go of their new comfortable workwear pieces.
If you asked anyone to describe what loungewear is their first remark would be “it’s comfortable”. Professor Lubos Hes defines clothing comfort as “a state of satisfaction indicating physiological, psychological, and physical balance among the person.” Doesn’t that sound lovely? Loungewear often features stretchy and soft fabric that induces a state of comfort, one that is typically absent when we wear day to day clothes like suits and jeans but what impact does this have on our ability to do our jobs?
How leggings became the new jeans
Since COVID-19 shook the world upside down many have us will be working from home for the foreseeable future. In the absence of a restrictive work environment, every day is casual Friday. In the UK, loungewear sales have jumped a whopping 49% since lockdown. In the states, 56% of adults have admitted to incorporating more loungewear into their daily styles but some people have taken their affinity for loungewear one step further. A survey found that 1 in 8 Americans would rather have a casual office dress code than being paid an extra $5K annually! On the surface that sounds pretty insane but when you think about the psychological impact of comfort dressing, it makes sense.
Loungewear may be the key to you killing it at work. One study revealed that comfortable clothing can enhance cognitive performance. Psychologists Bell, Cardello and Schutz investigated the relationship between clothing comfort and exam performance in students. The results revealed that students who wore more formal clothing had a lower comfort level and ultimately, a lower test score. Think about an outfit you love that’s completely uncomfortable. Although it might make you feel amazing and powerful, the physical discomfort is a distractor causing a cognitive overload that prevents you from giving your all to any task at hand. The extra cognitive boost you get from comfort dressing could be the missing key to that commendation or even that promotion.
But if you feel good AND look good, you’ll be unstoppable
Feeling comfortable is one thing but looking good at the same time can have a major positive impact. Fashion Psychology research has shown that positive feelings about your clothes change the way you think about yourself in numerous ways. Most importantly, it can change your perception about how good you are at your job while negative feelings about your clothes can make you feel incompetent.
No matter how comfortable you are, if you think negatively about an outfit, chances are you will act in accordance with your negative assumptions. With that being said, you shouldn’t spend your workday in holey leggings and stained hoodies. Invest in a core set of loungewear essentials that both feel good and look good. Not only will these pieces make you feel positive about your capabilities it will help you to crush any curve balls that come your way.
Have you witnessed your productivity levels change by wearing more loungewear pieces? Let us know in the comments below.
What to wear when working from home can be a challenge. The temptation to remain your cosy pyjamas can be overwhelming. If no one is going to see you (with the exception of the postman who comes bearing your neighbour’s parcels), is there much point in getting ready for the day? Even so, surely being comfortable will make you more productive – and nothing is more comfortable than a plush dressing gown and cashmere joggers?
Sadly, this is not the case – working in our loungewear can, in fact, hinder productivity. Since birth, we have learnt to associate our nightwear with a state of relaxation, so our bodies can prepare to slumber. Unfortunately for us, this has become almost too effective; every time we dress in pyjamas we unknowingly signal for our brains to sleep, which is not the ideal situation at 9 am on a Monday morning. In the same way, wearing smarter clothing that mirrors the working environment you are familiar with can help to change your mindset to one that focuses on work, as a result of the intrinsic associations you would have created.
More importantly, getting dressed in the mornings can help you feel good and by improving your self-perception, personal confidence and performance at work. Creating a positive work environment is essential when working from home; you want to have a space that is both inspirational and motivational, and a central aspect of this is your clothing. Research has shown that the mood and performance of workers can be affected by the appropriateness of their attire (Soloman & Schopler, 1982). Being formally dressed allows people to adopt self-perceptions associated with their clothing and describe themselves using more formal adjectives, meanwhile, the opposite occurs when in more casual dress (Hannover & Kuehnen, 2002). It seems dressing casually may create a more casual work ethic, or feeling lower productivity. Therefore, the feelings we attach to certain types of clothing can subliminally influence our behaviour so we perform in a way that is congruent with what would be expected, based upon our attire.
However, this isn’t to say people should work from home in suits and court-heeled shoes. It is equally important to have positive feelings about the items of clothing you wear because this will enhance positive emotions, perceived competency and sociability (Kwonn, 1994b). If you are going to be working from home for the day, there is no shame in putting on a pair of trousers that are a little more casual than what would be expected in the office. In some instances, wearing slightly more casual clothes can, in fact, boost morale and productivity (Alonzo, 1996 in Peluchette & Karl, 2007 ), perhaps through reducing a sense of corporate pressure . Experiencing psychological or physical discomfort can have a counterproductive effect on self-perceptions (Peluchette & Karl, 2007), so it’s about creating a balance between being dressed smart enough to emulate an occupational mindset, while remaining comfortable.
It is clear that feeling good in what you’re wearing can also help you feel good about yourself and therefore increase productivity – which is especially important amongst the increased distractions at home. But what exactly should this clothing be? Research suggests its more down to personal appraisals. Sense of clothing appropriateness for an individual’s job role influences their perceptions of their quality of role-performance (Solomon & Schloper, 1982). By feeling more responsible, professional and knowledgeable when properly dressed, it will inevitably lead to greater work outcomes (Kwon, 1994a). These aren’t necessarily always subjective too. Like formal language, formal clothing implies that a situation is not a casual or familiar one. This encourages deeper, more perceptive thinking which for many, is an important skill while working (Slepian, Ferber, Gold & Rutchick, 2015). It also helps to strike a greater work-life balance by distinguishing personal roles through dress. Physically dressing differently when working from home can help to embody an occupational role over a non-occupational one, such as a parent, wife or husband, and detach from the duties that come with these (Rafaeli, Dutton, Harquail, and Mackie-Lewis, 1997).
With this in mind, ultimately, working from home can be most effective when wearing something that is different from your everyday attire but still comfortable and you feel good in. Getting ready for the day as you normally would whether it’s to study at university or work in an office can be both physically and psychologically beneficial, encouraging productivity and detachment from the distractions the home environment presents. What is most important, however, is being able to switch off. It is easy to lose sight of the day’s structure at home – scheduling in regular breaks and switching off in the evenings will promote the greatest productivity and emotional wellbeing. Outfits can be one way to help segregate work and home life. Changing out of your work clothes and back into the loungewear you worked so hard to undress from that morning will allow your mind and body to shift back from a work to home context.
Meta description: Your decision about your work from home attire is even more crucial when the way you dress impacts your productivity levels.
Sadly, research has found that 75% of women in the UK lack confidence in the workplace and two thirds of UK women suffer from ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at work. Luckily, by being aware of the impact of attire on impression formation and feelings, women can choose the right clothes that will positively impact their self-perception.
Last week, it was my pleasure to reinforce the relationship between fashion and psychology by speaking at Next’s Workwear and Denim event. In an audience made up of influential bloggers and fashion and beauty experts, I revealed the psychological research behind some of Next’s must-have pieces that will enable women to #DressLikeABoss!
Here are 4 takeaways from my talk:
1. Comfort is Key!
When putting together your work attire always make sure that you consider your comfort first. An easy way to do this is by introducing soft shapes like skirts and soft fabrics such as jumpers into your wardrobe. This is because studies have shown that clothing comfort effects cognitive performance and uncomfortable clothing is associated with distraction and increased cognitive load. (Bell, Cardello & Schutz 2005)
2. Formal clothes allow you to think differently
Taking a formal approach to business attire is advised as research has found that wearing formal clothes makes people think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly. It also encourages people to think about the fine-grained details. Additionally, wearing a suit encourages people to use abstract processing more readily than concrete processing. That essentially means it encourages people to think outside of the box (Slepian et al, 2015)!
3. Darker denim is best for High-Low dressing
In more casual work environments, integrating denim into your work attire is an easy way to get the best benefits out of formal and casual clothing. A study on teachers found that those wearing jeans were rated highly on sociability and extraversion and were deemed to be more interesting (Morris et al, 1996). Also, dark denim is associated with higher prices (Rahman, 2012) and thus, the wearer may appear more successful.
4. Black clothes evoke authority
According to Damhorst and Reed (1986), managers evaluate job applicants wearing black clothing as possessing more integrity and a greater moral reputation. Managers or those in higher positions are also encouraged to embrace the hue as those wearing black clothing were found to have a greater influence over others in group settings (Vrij, Pannell, Ost, 2005).
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