Does Image Matter in an Increasingly Online World?

Necktie sales fell by half  from the mid-90s to 2015 as new standards for workplace attire took hold. Casual Friday has now became the norm for every day of the week in most office settings.

And as organizations increasingly operate virtually, does it matter what someone is wearing if they are working in farflung offices around the world or sitting in their kitchen doing their job?

The expectations for appropriate work attire do change over time, just as standards for communications, availability, commitment do. But image remains an important factor in how you and your colleagues are evaluated both personally and professionally.

In fact, image is one of the four criteria measured when calculating a person’s Versatility in the SOCIAL STYLE Model.  And Versatility is closely related to many aspects of workplace performance.

Image is an evaluation of the appropriateness of your dress and demeanor, and indicates your capacity for dressing in accordance with established norms.

But how important is image really to how others see you and how you see yourself? According to a new National Public Radio article, “a study by California State University psychology professor Abraham Rutchick found that, in fact, formal clothing made people think more expansively and abstractly — more like a leader. The study of men and women found that those less formally dressed tended to focus on more immediate, pragmatic concerns.”

Rutchick says clothes don’t actually make the [person, but says they can set off a positive chain reaction. “They self-reinforce, they reverberate,” Rutchick says.

When we are dressed and we feel that we look exceptional, we are able to be more confident in the office setting. This boosted confidence could mean pursuing more clients that we wouldn’t have otherwise, spawning more innovative ideas, or working that much more efficiently to get the job done.

While our image and our perception of image might be slightly dependent on our SOCIAL STYLE, even within the constraints of professional attire, most people always find room for their own expression and this helps boost confidence. Whatever attires makes us feel the best and most well-equipped for our job will allow us to exude confidence and determination.

The NPR article also discusses another study on image done by Michael Kraus, a professor at the Yale School for Management. In a 2014 study, Kraus researched the connection between clothing and financial advantage in negotiations by comparing the performance of people in suits against peers in sweatpants and flip-flops in a mock real-estate negotiation. Those in suits negotiated, on average, about 10 percent more profit than their casually dressed counterparts. The people who were casually dressed lost money in their deals — more than $1 million below the fair market price.

But according to Kraus, the effect goes both ways: “the observer and the formally dressed person change their behavior.”

The people who were casually dressed actually felt like “losers” heading into the negotiation. “Those individuals having the negotiation with sweatpants showed greater heart rate variability reactivity, so they felt basically nervous,” Kraus says.

Even for people who work remotely, your image is important to your professionalism and how you feel.  Lounging in your pajamas everyday might sound fun, but our standards for our work are also oftentimes related to our standards of our appearance.

TRACOM’s Dr. Casey Mulqueen says, “The research on the effects of image are really compelling. Not only do we have evidence that image dramatically affects others’ impressions of us, but we now know that how you dress can affect your own mindset and behaviors. You can actually perform better and be more successful by dressing professionally and appropriately for the situation.”

So whether the chain reaction is that when we feel good about ourselves we act more confidently, or when others respond well to our image, we feel better about ourselves – one thing is for certain, our image does play a powerful role in how we perform our job and interact with others. Similar to a peacock showing his beautiful feathers, the importance of image demonstrates our extremely visual nature.

Measuring image is an important aspect of TRACOM’s SOCIAL STYLE & Versatility Model.  To view a sample of a TRACOM SOCIAL STYLE Universal Multi-Rater profile click here.