I love it when something new comes out that seems to challenge a particular school of thought, and the more provocative it is, the better. So when I read that dressing up (as opposed to dressing down) was a sure-fire way of boosting big-picture thinking, I was intrigued.
For well over a decade, many young businesses have been trying to move away from a traditional, corporate vibe in the workplace and inject some fun and cool into proceedings. As a result, we’ve seen funky workspaces become positively ubiquitous – in fact sticking a pile of beanbags and a giant game of Jenga in the corner of the office is pretty much the minimum any staff-friendly office can do!
Dressing down goes with the territory in the creative industries and well beyond. Ties in the workplace have become less and less common (they’re virtually unheard of in certain industries) and some businesses, especially those in the creative arena, appear to have such a casual approach to dress code that they can feel like a students’ union. But it’s all in a good cause: the idea is that when people feel relaxed and a bit more like they’re in their own home, the pressure eases off and they’ll be more productive.
But is it actually true?
According to new research from Columbia University and California State University, Northridge, called ‘The Cognitive Consquences of Formal Clothing’ – dressing up as opposed to dressing down is actually the way to go if we want to boost creative thinking. Scientists found that people who dress up tended to feel more confident and more powerful, and as a result they feel like leaders. When they feel like leaders, people tended to have a clearer idea of where they want the team to go and had ‘bigger picture’ thinking.
Writing for CNN, journalist Melissa Dahl reports that the study – published in Social Psychologies and Personality Science – makes a strong case for the virtues of dressing up. She points out that the importance of clothing has been studied for more than a century, most notably by Harvard psychologist William James. He figured that clothes were so inextricably linked to identity that they were more important to your sense of who you are than your own family.
The new research, she explains, was based around an experiment in which people were asked to turn up wearing either casual clothes or outfits they’d wear to a job interview. Michael Slepian, author of the paper, says that the wearers of the smarter clothes gave answers to a series of questions that were more inclined towards abstract thinking. They would be more likely to argue, for example, that a camel could be categorised as a vehicle. The sloppy-dressers tended not to see it that way.
So is this report a nail in the coffin for offices where casual dress is the norm, or those which subscribe to the idea of dress-down Fridays?
Surely not. Dress-down Fridays are more about trying to change the mood of the office and to ease people into the weekend than tricking people into creative thinking. I’d argue that they suggest an employee-focused company with staff morale at heart. I know plenty of people who really enjoy the slightly less stuffy vibe that they feel in the office that day. I’m a big supporter of letting people wear whatever they like (within reason!) to work, and would even argue that at some agencies a more formal dress code would seem stifling.
So what about dress-up Fridays? If creativity is about doing something out of the ordinary then it might just be worth getting your best clobber out and seeing what it does to your mood and creativity!