Thursday, March 20, 2014

(Not) Dressing the Part

The Wall Street Journal reports on recent findings about how what you wear affects people's view of you. That's not surprising. The finding that goes a little against (most people's) conventional wisdom is that dressing down or dressing eccentrically can often make you look like you are somebody important -- important enough to not have to dress like the rest of the crowd (sheep?). Think sweat pants in a luxury store. Under the headline "Success Outside the Dress Code":

One obvious way people signal what the researchers called "status" is through visible markers, like what they wear and what they buy. Previous research has largely examined why people buy or wear branded items.

Less work has focused on what others think of those who try to communicate that they are different or worthy of attention. Efforts to be different are interesting because humans are wired to conform and be part of a group.

In a series of studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research in February, Silvia Bellezza, a doctoral student, and two Harvard professors sought to examine what observers thought of individuals who deviated from the norm in the workplace and in a retail setting. Some of the work was conducted in the lab on students. Other studies took place in the community and involved passersby or attendees of a seminar. Most of the studies included about 150 participants. What they found was that being a little different can socially benefit people—in some situations.

"The problem is that conforming to norms is an easy and safe spot to be in," Ms. Bellezza said. "If you're willing to deviate, there are upsides." It's also long been known that people veer from what's expected after they've built up enough trust within a group. But, she says, acting differently risks losing the benefits that come with conforming, such as shared group identity and automatic group trust.

Interestingly, this nonconformity only works in particular contexts -- when it's obvious that the person has intentionally bucked the norms and where there are enough context clues for the observers to believe that you have high status (e.g. being in a luxury goods store or lecturing at a podium at a university). I often think that people underestimate the role of context in people's perceptions. I have only been treated like I could possibly been a celebrity maybe once, and it was while I was wearing a hat and sunglasses, but was in a particular boutique in a specific neighborhood known for that sort of thing. Similarly, although I know I am not remarkably attractive, I know that the context that I am in and the way I carry myself can make me very desirable to some (does anyone have a crush on Michelle Obama? Any Obama?).

Of course, it's not always desirable to be seen as someone who will buck trends (as rescinded job offers can attest). Sometimes the only thing you want to do is not be noticed or standout in any way.

(Video link if it doesn't show up embedded)

I especially liked the study that found that a professor wearing a t-shirt was rated more highly than the one wearing a tie. I remember when I was first going on the market for professorships, the advice given was to not actually wear a suit for interviews and mock teaching exercises, but rather something more like a tweed jacket and loafers and the equivalent for women. When I taught, I rarely wore actual suits to the point that when I actually did, a lot of my students assumed that I had just come from somewhere else (court, a conference, etc.). But, as I wrote in the book, I particularly pushed boundaries in situations where appearance and first impressions were even more dominant -- academic conferences where I was presenting my research. In those situations I never wore a suit. One time I wore a beautiful silk fitted summer dress with bold colors that my friend had chosen for me. Another time I wore torn jeans and cowboy boots with a masculine looking blazer. At the time I believed that the message I was conveying was that I didn't fit in, but not in a bad way. My research was not traditional and I wanted to portray the image of someone who was confident bucking trends. I attempted to portray this image in more ways than just my fashion choices. I would often portray various slightly outlandish social personas -- the aggressive feminist, the seductive charmer, the too willing acolyte -- all to fit whoever I was talking to. Of course there is such thing as going to far. One of my friends calls my going-too-far-in-social-situations persona "the Hulk", for its outsized social gestures. Of course at that point I just come off as creepy.But it's charming to see my intuitions backed up by research.

Some of the best advice from the article: "Don't talk a lot if you have high status. People will assume you're competent and when you talk, they will listen to you."


  1. "Contrast in how you dress is received better by the group when you are socially proofed."

  2. I've been reading this blog for almost a year (I also read M.E.'s
    book) And the time has come to "clear the air" about M.E.
    Okay, I'll concede that M.E. ranks as a Sociopath on a psychologal
    test. But as a "high functioning" sociopath she is like an
    "animal" (No offense intended) that employs mimarcry that
    works to her favor. She is in no way disadvantaged by her
    She includes examples in her book, pointing to her "sociopathy."
    Letting the possium drown in her swimming pool: That's not very
    sanitary is it? Driving around in fast cars: Today's woman is every
    bit the manic behind the wheel that a man is. Orcastrating
    schemes to hurt and "ruin' people: Did you ever see the play
    "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying?" Have you
    followed political campains lately? Have you seen the assendancey
    of candidates like Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nixon, and president
    The point I'm trying to make is that M.E.'s supposed sociopathy
    for the most part, has been an ASSET to her rather then a
    You may have read certain "new age" books or belonged to cults
    like E.S.T. What these beliefs advocate is depersonalization and a
    deminishment of the ego. A high functioning sociopath has these
    traits NATURALLY. They don't need to take medication to calm
    down. A malkturst attorney, actor,politician or salesperson
    wouldn't get to far would they? M.E.'s "illness" is actually a
    Let's change the possium into a child. Would M.E. let an infant
    drown? Would M.E. be indifferent to the plight of a child, even if
    it WASN'T hers? Many sociopathic step-dads would. In fact there's
    no need to say that many BIOLOGICAL sociopathic mom's
    murder their own children to be with a man. I would bet my LIFE
    that M.E. wouldn't idly stand by and let a child be killed. BUT, if
    she accidentally killed her own child, she wouldn't grieve too long.
    As far as "ruining" and hurting people goes, that's no indication
    of sociopathy either. In today's P.C. society, feminists are on
    guard for "blaspahmus" statements by white Christian male
    professors. Entire lives and carrers have been ruined, but that's
    O.K., because the "culprit" was white and male.
    There was a film years ago that was a satirazation of the E.S.T.
    movement called "Semi-Tough." M.E. is a "semi-sociopath." It has
    served her well thus far. I would suggest however that M.E. leave
    the state of Utah and go to an East or West coast urban setting,
    (Washington D.C. perhaps?) and curry favor with the "new" elite:
    Rough, sociopathic minority men who demand subserviance from
    their women. This might spare M.E. from an enforced life of
    "flat backing" and have the status of Trophy Wife.

    1. Sniffing glue can be a lot of fun.

    2. I always see you post, and some of your posts seem a little strange. I'm curious about the kind of person you are. What made you want to read the book? You seem to express a lot of love for the author, and if I recall, Casey Anthony. Why do you admire these individuals so much? In regards to feminism, it isn't really about who is right and who is wrong, it's about political power and who has it and who doesn't, and the one's who do have it get to make the rules.

    3. Maybe it's actually M.E., blowing her own horn.

    4. M.E. writes better than that.

  3. "Of course, it's not always desirable to be seen as someone who will buck trends (as rescinded job offers can attest)."

    If you look at the comments here about that case, it seems the staff at Nazareth inferred the woman was looking for a research position, and hence wouldn't stay at their place long, and would be trying to get out of teaching while she was there to do research.

    People at Nazareth have full teaching loads. That woman would have generated a lot of resentment, as her peers would have had to pick up the slack.

    So perhaps the woman revealed with her counteroffer that she was the wrong person for the job.

    As you no doubt know, when someone makes a counteroffer, it is entirely legal to tell the person, "I'm rescinding my offer and rejecting your counteroffer."

    Of course - and this is where it gets interesting - empaths really get bothered by that. You can see that by the outrage about that woman's case.

    When I read that story, I got my sadistic thrill. I love it when stuff like that happens. I'm the sort that likes it when a badass CEO (or President) breaks a striking union. I live for that stuff.

    About the only people I know who don't get bothered by people being hard negotiators are people who participate in financial markets. They are used to the formalities of haggling and they understand that prices go up and down all the time.

    If you are a sadistic socipath and like to fuck with people, I recommend the following: offer someone something for, say, $300. If the guy comes back and asks for it for $250, tell him, "my offer is now $350." It is a way to assert dominance in negotiations.

    Very satisfying, if you are a disagreeable sort who likes power plays - and willing to walk away from a deal.

    1. I don't know where you get your ideas, son.

    2. lol im gonna try that

    3. Looks like someone went to the Jack Donaghy School of Business.

    4. It's expected usually in professorships that you both teach and do research. Research universities are more supportive of research, but regardless it is generally expected to do both. Teaching generates revenue because of students, while research costs money in grants, space, resources, etc. Some universities have established strict policies which govern the minimums in terms of teaching/research. Research unfortunately rarely makes money for the university - usually it is only in reputation. Even then, reputation is more towards notable publishing researchers who attract both sponsors and students, and is relatively rare.

      These days it is more money-centric, so there is more focus in teaching. Some universities have gone so far as to expect a full teaching course-load and research, which any professor can tell you is an untenable position to be in. There is a lot of administration to cover, as well as reviews of article submissions (if your university publishes a journal, which many research universities do, you may be a part of "the gauntlet" which assesses papers for publishing, which is time-consuming), committees, lecture preparation, more meetings, reviewing Masters theses and PhD dissertations, answering questions, and on occasion, going home.

      Lots of academic aspirants want to just do research in their area of interest/obsession, but few are able to (and/or allowed to).

  4. haha I cracked up at this blog...I luv to violate social norms

  5. Here's how I see it: F*CK the norms I do and wear what I want people are gonna think what they want regardless so why change to fit in with a group of self-righteous snobs.

    1. Agreed. You should dress up as a pony.

    2. Lol ok I will take that under consideration next time I buy a pony suit sadly I out grew my other one.

    3. oh oh Katie sounds like fun :) wish we could go out and violate social norms together :):)

  6. I think today I'll wear my Via Spaga sandals with a beautiful scarf,lovely!

  7. I'm much the same way; I rarely wear a suit or tie unless I have to. I tend to wear what is comfortable but still try to look nice. I think wearing jeans along with nice shoes, jacket, and an understated watch still looks relatively presentable.

  8. No don't do that. I have a foot phobia. Showing feet should be illegal.

    1. I can't stand the sight of men's feet. I can't stand seeing men wear sandals.


    2. That is because few get pedicures.

    3. i can't stand the sight of men in socks and sandals. or dress shoes and no socks!

    4. no no no pleeeease keep the socks on

    5. how do you feel about toe socks?

  9. feet are sensuous ,haven't you explored the pleasure of the feet? Try some foot reflexology along with a massage, you might change your mind.

    1. lol I almost threw up reading that. I really do have a true phobia. I get shaky and sick when I see feet.

    2. monkey feet too?

    3. i wonder if the wine we drink is still made from grapes pressed by feet? likely not i suppose..

  10. O.k., no more talk about that.

    1. there are worse things, like hair growing out of noses! now that one makes me want to throw up. i get shaky and sick when i see sprouting nose hairs.

  11. There is nothing worse than a man trying too hard to look good.

    Ties remind me of nooses. They also represent a serious liability in a fight.

    Why men think they look dapper decked out in clonal conformity nooses with which they might easily be hanged is beyond me.

    A pair of well-fitting jeans and a good leather jacket are all that's required. :)

    1. Yeehaw!

      I feel the same way about neckties...
      They're like impractical little scarves.

    2. That is why I tend not to wear them unless I have to be in court or something.

  12. What do you consider appropriate sleep wear? I like pajama bottoms and a super soft t-shirt. ( and of course slippers and socks to cover my feet.)

  13. Meh. I feel like a real sociopath would have posted the article aaand taken credit for it. I rate this post 3 out of 11 sociopaths.

  14. A "real" sociopath doesn't need to take credit, the feeling of accomplishment that comes being able to influence and control your environment is enough for some of us. I'm a gardener of the highest order, I plant seeds and watch them grow.

  15. It's a recommended dress! i really like the shades.
    I really like little ruffles on some factors, however most ruffles at a little too much on part of me, and that i like single-edged ruffles over uncertain, thus i might most likely keep these off too. Women Party Dress


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