From Andrew Sullivan quoting Francesca Gino:
In recent research, my Harvard Business School colleagues Silvia Bellezza and Anat Keinan and I found that under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviors, such as not following the expected dress code or the appropriate professional conduct in a given context, can signal higher status. In our research, for example, shop assistants working in boutiques selling luxury brands in Milan assigned greater status to the woman wearing gym clothes and a jean jacket rather than to the woman properly dressed. In another study, students assigned higher status to a 45-year-old professor working at a top-tier university when he was described as wearing a t-shirt and had a beard than to a clean-shaven one wearing a tie. When the deviant behavior appears to be deliberate, it can lead to higher status inferences rather than lower ones.
Why is this the case? Nonconformity often has a social cost, so people assume people breaking the rules enjoy a powerful enough position that they are not concerned about the costs.
I’ve found this to be true. At two international political conferences I’ve attended, almost everyone is in suits. At each conference there was one exception – old guys in jeans and casual shirts, looking almost scruffy.
In both cases they had a net worth of over $1 billion. When you’re that rich, you can dress how you like!