What is the Modern Uniform for Success?

Recently I posted about the importance of our clothing to our success as professionals.  The post discussed the findings of a research which showed that the clothing someone wore was evident to significantly influence the perceptions an observer had on their professional abilities.

All of which seems sensible enough.  I mean similar findings have emerged in studies around tattoos, with ’owners’ being shown to be less able and trustworthy than their ink free peers.

What is the modern uniform of business however?  We’ve seen in Silicon Valley for instance that casual attire is very much the norm, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg famous for his hoodie, whilst Steve Jobs was renowned for his range of black turtleneck sweaters.

Indeed Peter Thiel even goes as far as to recommend that entrepreneurs should never do business with anyone wearing a suit in his upcoming book Zero to One.  In Thiel’s venture fund, there was a blanket rule whereby no business would be done with any company that pitched to them whilst wearing a suit.

“...the team insight—never invest in a tech CEO that wears a suit—got us to the truth a lot faster.”

This kind of standard quickly spread throughout Silicon Valley, but with cities around the world attempting to build their own innovation hubs, the spread of casual clothing in our workplaces is growing in pace.

The culture is very much that what you think and what you do is far more important than what you wear, therefore stripping away this artificial layer allows you to get to the heart of the person much faster.

A Harvard study calls this the red sneakers effect.  The study revealed that when professors came to lectures looking casual and informal, they actually gained higher status.  They were also regarded as more knowledgeable than colleagues dressed in shirt and tie.

The perception is that because the professor can ’rebel’ in terms of their clothing, then it shows you can afford to spend that social capital and still be successful.  This is reflected in the business world, where wealth is no longer seen as the be all and end all.  Acting and looking different is now as important.

Suffice to say, as the saying goes, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and the same applies with our fashion tastes.  If innovation and unconventionality are traits that you hold dear yourself, then you’re inevitably going to seek it in your peers.  A workplace where deviations from the norm are promoted therefore is likely to harbour more unconventional dress codes.

Of course, the challenge then becomes determining who is really the creative thinker amongst the hoard of hoodie wearing employees.  The new dress code doesn’t really do much to shed the desire for a uniform any more than the suit and tie do, they just replace one dress code for another.  As one style comes to dominate, it seems inevitable that outliers will form who look to be different yet again.

What kind of clothing dominates your workplace?

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