The psychology of wearing a suit

20 August 2015

The psychology of wearing a suit

When you slip into a formal suit, you give off an increased sense of being competent, assertive and professional. At least that’s the general thinking when it comes to how a suit can alter the way others think of you.

But that’s just half the story.

As it turns out, wearing a suit can also change the way you think about yourself. And it can even alter the way you see the world around you.

In a study carried out by researchers at Columbia University and California State University, it was found that wearing a suit changes the way you perceive objects, events and other people. “Clothing formality was associated with abstract processing, including higher levels of action identification, greater category inclusiveness, and more favoring of global over local perceptual processing,” the authors concluded.

In simple terms, this means that you’ll have an increased ability to view a situation more broadly. Essentially, you’ll be more likely to look at a complete scenario in its entirety, rather than focusing in on the small details.

To reach this conclusion, a series of five experiments were carried out involving a group of students. The first set of experiments asked students to grade the formality of the clothes they happened to be wearing that particular day. The second set of experiments specifically asked them to come along in more formal wear.

In each case, a number of cognitive tests were conducted to assess the students’ processing style. What the researchers identified was that there was a noticeable shift in the way the test subjects were thinking and processing information.

So, in a very real sense, the way they were dressing altered the way their brain was responding to the world.

Changing your outlook

But the impact of wearing a suit doesn’t stop there. Research has shown that an outfit can also change the way you think about your persona and your ability to handle a situation.

A study conducted by university experts from the USA and Australia looked at how city employees in the public sector viewed the importance of formal clothing.

One of the most interesting findings was that the typeof business clothing people wore altered the way they perceived themselves.

Wearing either formal or casual business clothing was found to give individuals an increased feeling of authority and competency, whereas casual business attire boosted their sense of being trustworthy, friendly and creative.


When you reach into the wardrobe tomorrow and decide what to wear, you might want to take a moment longer to think about your choice. Beyond trying to set a certain image and influence how others perceive you, there’s perhaps a simpler question to consider: how do you want to feel today?

If you’re going for a job interview, giving a presentation or generally want to feel more competent and in control, a sharp business suit is the best way to go.

Likewise, if you work in a creative environment, want to go on the charm offensive or just want to feel like an all-round nicer person, you might want to keep your ensemble more relaxed.

The takeaway message? Dress to the demands of the situation and think about the specific character traits you want to enhance.

The way you see yourself and the world at large is, in part, within your control.