The benefits of dressing casually

January 20th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

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!

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42 Responses to “The benefits of dressing casually”

  1. infused (636 comments) says:

    I’m the same… rarely wear suits or shave (but keep it tidy). Lot of times I go to work in jeans and teeshirt.

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  2. Pete George (22,866 comments) says:

    Do you get to be a billionaire by daring to be different, or can you dare to be different if you become a billionaire?

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  3. Ryan Sproull (7,033 comments) says:

    Billionaires aside, I think that dressing casually conveys a certain confidence in one’s abilities. Like: “I’ve got nothing to hide about the value I bring to the table.”

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  4. PaulL (5,875 comments) says:

    I’m sure that daring to be different makes you a billionaire. I’m throwing out all my suits tomorrow. I’m pretty sure there are no examples of people wearing t-shirts who aren’t billionaires. :-)

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  5. Jack5 (4,597 comments) says:

    So when all the directors and CEOs at annual meetings are in open-neck shirts, the deviants are those in collars and ties? Casual becomes a uniform, and suits and ties are a symbol of power allowing non-conformity?

    Ultimately, will big shots proclaiming their power through non-conformity take the lectern at annual meetings dressed only in their birthday suits? Then, a few decades later when the shareholders turn up nude in suitably heated halls, the big shots will have to go back into suits to show their non-conformity.

    Nah, non-conformity’s not always a symbol of power. I don’t think that’s what drove Wellington lawyer Rob Moodie to appear in court dressed as Alice.

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  6. jonno1 (79 comments) says:

    When you’re that rich, you can dress how you like!

    Not if you’re married.

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  7. Pete George (22,866 comments) says:

    Suits aren’t as much as issue as ties, which are the cornerstone of male conformity – although ironically it’s one of the few parts of conservative clothing that allows some individuality, albeit within fairly narrow parameters.

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  8. dime (9,472 comments) says:

    Some people cant pull it off. I was reading Forbes last month and they were taking the piss out of the AT&T ceo. He was in a tshirt/jeans.. he was made up/ fake. ya could just tell.

    Dime usually rolls in jeans and polo shirt. i havent worn the tshirt i bought of tshirt hell yet though. it simply says “i bring nothing to the table” :D

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  9. SPC (5,397 comments) says:

    “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”.

    Pretty obvious why, don’t have to work so at the gym to retain trophy wife status and the husbands credit card …

    The 1% and the Chinese will make the new rules.

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  10. Pete George (22,866 comments) says:

    He was in a tshirt/jeans.. he was made up/ fake. ya could just tell.

    Made up/fake is common in fashion – fake unkempt hair, fake unkempt facial hair, fake unkempt shirt hanging out.

    Even with jeans, you can get them pre-faded, pre-worn and ripped etc etc – a classic symbol of casual gets dressed up and then fake dressed down.

    The key is how someone wears their clothes, whether they look comfortable wearing their style versus contrived,

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  11. Tautaioleua (289 comments) says:

    The late Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Two people who never wear/wore suits, and who would probably feel uncomfortable in one too.

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  12. mara (726 comments) says:

    I draw the line at middle-aged men with pony-tails, no matter how many $$$$$$$ they have or how artistic they think they are. Somebody should have a wee chat with Peter Sharples.

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  13. tvb (4,210 comments) says:

    Suits shirt and tie and shaving EVERY day are a simple routine for work. Smart casual is difficult as you still have to put on reasonable shirt and trou but what trou what shirt etc etc. Suits It is just a uniform stop being so vain about a sloppy t shirt and jeans. I have plenty of both and love to change into them once work is over. As for shaving there is NO excuse not shaving every day next someone will say they don’t shower every day.

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  14. mara (726 comments) says:

    Don’t even MENTION blokes with comb-overs. Hmm, that said, Donald Trump seems to be doing OK.

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  15. Grendel (959 comments) says:

    Hah Dime, i have that tshirt (or had it, i may have worn it out). did not get as many second glances as my “This orgy is sure off to a slow start” shirt though :)

    I got my uncle (who is in a wheelchair), the “I’m not handicapped, i’m just lazy” shirt, and its his favourite, it makes people look at him twice and try to decide if they should say anything.

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  16. Ryan Sproull (7,033 comments) says:

    For client presentations and new-business meetings with potential clients, I tend to put on a suit jacket and possibly a tailored shirt, but I try to avoid raising dress-code expectations I’m unlikely to bother with once the relationship has been established.

    I’m not selling them fashion advice.

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  17. Peter (1,578 comments) says:

    I wear only a leopard skin g-string to conferences.

    But then I have trillions of cash…..

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  18. Manolo (13,396 comments) says:

    One ought to dress well at all times.

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  19. slijmbal (1,216 comments) says:

    @Peter

    I was eating when I read your comment and then I was regurgitating ……..

    I have to agree with tvb to some extent – it was actually cheaper and easier when I had a few suits, lots of white shirts and ties.

    It all gets a bit girlie (SEXIST ALERT) when you have to worry about getting a belt that matches the trousers etc etc. Though, seriously one does have to work a bit harder without a suit to look presentable.

    However, it pissed me off to have to wear a suit pretty much as a compulsory requirement of employment. I used to wear bright socks and buy really weird ties and then unfortunately it became fashionable.

    On the whole I prefer the less determinated approach.

    I have seen the other side of the coin – I work in a pretty well paid profession – turning up at Vodafone in a suit is pretty much a death knell to your kudos. The uniform there is not a suit.

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  20. mara (726 comments) says:

    Quite right Manolo. I would never dream of dashing to the local dairy for urgent stuff without first spending half an hour getting the “look” right. Who would? Undesirables, that’s who! Though, as I get older, it takes longer and longer to match socks and glue on fake lashes. I can only imagine the horror of having to match ties with shirts to be able to leave the house in a hurry. I’m thinking of a house on fire at 3am and the quality of one’s nightie ……..hmmmmm

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  21. Peter (1,578 comments) says:

    I was eating when I read your comment and then I was regurgitating ……..

    It can get a little uncomfortable going “conkers out”, but people do remember you. Less need to carry business cards.

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  22. PaulL (5,875 comments) says:

    @mara: clearly you need to stop wearing a nightie. You’re never badly dressed when you’re in your birthday suit!!

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  23. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    When I wear a suit, outside of central Welly, I feel like a Real Estate agent.

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  24. nasska (10,696 comments) says:

    I’ve used bailing twine to hold my pants up before today & no one gave a stuff. :)

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  25. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    nasska, the legal profession wear hair made of horse tails and dress in a black sheet.

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  26. nasska (10,696 comments) says:

    Kinkeeee! :)

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  27. Steve (North Shore) (4,500 comments) says:

    I find that a guy who is overdressed in a suit and tie with everything absolutely perfect is most likely to be an arsehole

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  28. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    Steve, it is the uniform of con artists and self serving wankers.

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  29. mara (726 comments) says:

    PaulL, bless you my darling and I hope you and your guide dog live long and prosper.

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  30. trout (904 comments) says:

    The ‘suit’ is cleverly designed to disguise actual body shape and even convey a more ideal form. Ties maybe a decoration but they are also a visual distraction to take the eye of the real man beneath. A change to casual dress may be a step too far for the portly or less endowed. If the staff at JB Hi Fi are the way of the future when it comes to dress (they are more scruffy than the customers) then I would prefer a return to shirt and tie.

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  31. PaulL (5,875 comments) says:

    Nothing wrong with a shirt and tie. Ultimately I feel like what you wear communicates something about yourself. If you’re working in an industry where what you need to convey is your willingness to be solid, dependable, and to bend your preferences to your client, then your willingness to wear a uniform is an indicator of that. If you’re working in an industry where what you want to convey is your non-conformity, your ability to stand out, to provide left field thinking, and a number of other cliches, then wearing casual makes more sense.

    And then, of course, when you’re ultra rich you aren’t trying to convey anything at all. People are coming to you, you’re not going to them.

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  32. dime (9,472 comments) says:

    Grendel – that is outstanding!

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  33. Longknives (4,471 comments) says:

    Once you are a billionare you can dress how you like-everyone is going to kiss your arse anyway…
    But lets see how the recent University graduate goes when he strolls up to a job interview in jeans and a t-short- “I dare to be different” blah blah..

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  34. Colville (2,085 comments) says:

    In my previous life as an owner of an engineering company I made a point of being the “worst” dressed at any meeting. Always tidy and clean but never suit/tie/fancy shirt. I am with Dime. Polo shirt, jeans and boots.
    I have a theroy that I stick to that when a consultant/architect etc etc is at a meeting they want to be able to look down their nose at a mere tradesman and that I should not look like I am tring to climb above my station.
    Never mind that I earnt three times what the salaried dickheads did. ;-)
    Akso dressing like a bogan moron really helps when you ambush the client with a vast list of extra charges that he didnt quite think you were bright enough to claim and claim with watertight detail ;-) . Fun times.
    I was there to make money not friends.

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  35. ExtremeRightisright (23 comments) says:

    Getting your teeth blackened and distorted into all sorts of strange positions is a unique way of not conforming too.

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  36. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    ExtremeRightisright , how about this ?

    http://fc08.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2012/184/8/0/hauptmann_in_allgermeine_ss_uniform_by_themistrunsred-d55t5nx.jpg

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  37. ExtremeRightisright (23 comments) says:

    @Kea

    No thanks.

    I like Jews, they are very talented with money, markets, finance and all the trappings of Capitalism. And i like cheeky darkies, they make useful manual labourers who are easily exploited.

    Im more of a fan of General Pinochet and General Franco.

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  38. Harriet (4,532 comments) says:

    Smoking jackets appear to work – as you always see Hugh Heffner in outstanding company. :cool:

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  39. stephieboy (2,200 comments) says:

    Extreme right kindly point out which one is you.?
    The one far right?

    http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=right+wing+resistance&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=RuXcUvahAY3rkgXMkoGIBA&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1671&bih=853#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=l_ztTYIcFafsCM%253A%3Bd70QoW5ABOsMtM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252F4.bp.blogspot.com%252F-ol7rrngekGg%252FT46Tct_9LqI%252FAAAAAAAAGlY%252FzUG41pk2DNU%252Fs1600%252F574635_431676613514780_100000173366250_1954385_1707288264_n.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fnzagainstthecurrent.blogspot.com%252F2012%252F04%252Ffascist-nutcases.html%3B647%3B481

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  40. ExtremeRightisright (23 comments) says:

    All i can say is: God bless Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian Arab Army and the National Defence Forces.

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  41. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    stephieboy , he said he liked Jews and explained why. But even that was not enough for you. You then suggest he is a neo nazi.

    It seems anyone who will not elevate jews well above gods un-chosen ones and tell blatant lies to defend them, is a nazi racist in your sick little world.

    Jews are worthy of no special consideration at all. They have suffered no more than any other group and have in fact prospered through out Europe. Which is why the world had to give them countless billions of other peoples money to encourage them to move to Arab lands in Israel to live out their religious fantasies.

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  42. Lance (2,461 comments) says:

    @Longknives
    It depends on what they have graduated in.
    Good computer programmers never wear business clothes :-P

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