I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the TV mini-series Suits, but I for one really love it. When I saw this title, “10 Things we can Learn from Harvey Specter” it really caught my eye. I’m sure Harvey Specter could most certainly teach many of us ten things worth knowing, but I want to talk about just one thing specifically, that I believe him to be an incredible example of. Yes, I’m talking about what it really means and looks like, to ‘Dress for Success’. If you’ve never watched ‘Suits’, then I recommend you do, because the lawyers in this show dress impeccably. You can learn a lot about what looks good with what, just by watching their attention to detail, especially the clean cut, sharply dressed main character, New York Lawyer, Harvey Specter.
What Does Power Dressing Really Mean?
How people dress, and the impact it makes on others, is today universally acknowledged and accepted. Think about those who work for the Military Services. How do you think they feel when they put their uniform on? When the Air Force Pilot, or the Navy Officer, puts on their striking uniform, it immediately creates their image, and their identity, and their confidence and their ability to influence others, takes a sudden leap to a whole new level.
There is no doubt, that when these people wear their symbolic attire, their confidence goes through the roof, and this is because they feel good, they feel like a million dollars, and they feel as if they can do almost anything.
Some of you out there, barely pay any real attention to your presentation, simply because you do not think it makes such a massive difference, but I’m here to tell you, it makes all the difference in the world. There is a science and research that has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the way people dress has a direct impact, on the level of influence they have over others.
One of the six principles of persuasion, is the ‘Principle of Authority’, and this principle states, that those who are dressed in a particular way, tend to come across as having more authority. It also states, that people look up to those, who look to have authority, mainly attributed to the specific clothing or uniform worn, one’s title, one’s education level or the vehicle one travels in.
This science and this research has shown conclusively, that if you dress with ‘Authority’, then you’re going to have more influence, you’re going to be looked at as being more dominant and more powerful. I really want you to understand how very powerful this is, because then you’ll understand the importance of creating the habit of dressing better. Unfortunately, even when we may want to look past a person’s appearance, it’s very difficult for most of us to do.
What You Wear Effects Your Thinking and Behaviour
When you wear a great fitting suit you feel different in yourself, but why is this? The New York Times wrote about something called ‘Enclothed Cognition’. A study was done whereby they divided people into two groups. Group ‘A’ wore their normal street clothes, while Group ‘B’ wore their normal clothes and lab coats. When these people performed tests of mental agility, the group wearing the lab coats made about half as many mistakes as the people not wearing the lab coats.
In a similar experiment, both groups wore lab coats, but one was told they were wearing painter’s smocks, and the other was told they were wearing doctor’s coats. The group who was told they were wearing a doctor’s coat preformed much better in the brain games they participated in, than the painter’s smock group.
Scientists call this weird phenomenon which puts people in a certain mindset, ‘Enclothed Cognition’. They say it depends on both the symbolic meaning of the clothing, and the psychological experience of wearing the clothes constantly reminding you of what those clothes represent. The symbolic meaning of wearing specific clothing, and what they represent, can causes a feeling that translates into actual changes in your behaviour and performance, depending on the situation.
Remember, the clothes you wear doesn’t just change the way other people see you, they change the way you see yourself. Wearing certain kinds of clothes, can affect the way you think and as a result, the way you behave. In short, clothing has power over your mind.
This may be an extreme example, but imagine how a football player would feel going onto the field to play his game in his normal weekend shorts and t-shirt, as opposed to putting on his football jersey, socks and boots and dressing the same as his team. There is no doubt, that wearing his own weekend clothing, would make him feel a little odd, because when those guys get into their team attire, their mindset changes and they’re on, they’re ready to go. This is exactly how you want to feel when you put on your lawyer’s jacket or suit.
The Power and Persuasion of Wearing a Little Bit of Red
Many studies have revealed the power and persuasion of wearing a little bit of red. We know that the colour red has an effect on the human brain. This has been embedded in our culture, for example, wearing a red tie – known as a ‘power tie’ – for a male lawyer, and for the female lawyers, tastefully adding some small component of red into your power suit or blouse can speak volumes.
Being perceived as being dominant may be an advantage in some situations, for example some negotiation situations, or a matter in court. Be aware however, that wearing red can also be a disadvantage, especially where teamwork or trustworthiness is important.
Durham University researchers have previously shown that wearing red can have effects in promoting aggression and competitiveness within teams and intimidating opponents. These studies found that men wearing the colour red were perceived as “more aggressive and dominant” than those sporting blue or grey. Next time you decide to wear red, just consider your situation, and whether it will be an advantage or disadvantage.
Dressing Appropriately for your Environment
Naturally, you have to dress appropriately to function properly in your environment. For example, if you were to be working in a mining area that was sweltering hot, then I’m not too sure if the business suit is really the best choice of attire. Depending on your environment and situation, dressing in business casual, this stylish manner, can often be far more appropriate, and create a far better match emotionally, when it comes to the type of people you will be meeting, and how they themselves might dress. You don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself, by being dressed in a way that looks almost ridiculous, in comparison to your environment.
I’m sure I don’t really have to talk about piercings as such. Whilst I know some people may like them as a way of standing apart from others, or to draw attention to themselves as being different, again you must always consider the profession you are in. I don’t think visible piercings are advisable, if you are wanting to be taken seriously, and want to be well respected within your own profession.
You Should Wear the Suit – The Suit Shouldn’t Wear You!
Some people may not feel all that comfortable wearing a suit, but the suit shouldn’t wear you, you should wear the suit, which is why you should consider the fit and the fabric. You want your suit to fit your body properly, and you want the fabric to be of good quality. Nothing looks worse, than a badly fitted cheap fabric suit.
It’s really difficult to just go into a store and buy a suit off the rack, because if I’m to be perfectly honest, they rarely ever look that good. However, the suit that’s been adjusted to fit you properly, will feel like a suit of armour when you put it on. Those suits make people feel powerful, which I guess is the reason these types of suits have become known as the ‘Power Suit’.
Believe it or not, there is a real difference when it comes to spending an extra few hundred dollars on your suit. You may not think there’s a difference in the fabric, or perhaps you cannot tell the difference in the fabric yourself, but when you spend that extra money you’ll be paying for things that make a very big difference. For one, you will have an inner lining that’s handmade and a floating canvas, the buttonholes will work properly and you won’t end up with bits of cotton thread hanging here and there.
The interesting thing is, even if you don’t think there is a real difference between a higher and lesser quality suit, the right people will notice the difference, and on top of that, you will notice when you put that suit on, and you sit at that table. The way you’ll feel in a well fitted, good quality suit, will make you feel far more confident and far stronger in the way you present yourself to the other people at the table or in the room. In other words, people will take you more seriously.
Your presentation as a law professional is incredibly important. Nobody knows what law school you attended or whether you were an honours student. People will form their opinion of you by the way you look. If you’re just starting out, and money is tight for you, then look out for the sales, and find the very best you can possibly buy for your money, and make sure you have your suit adjusted to fit you well.
It’s so hard to find anything that fits you properly these days, because clothing is made for a hundred different body shapes. That’s why having your suit adjusted by a tailor is such an excellent thing to invest in. If I were to ask you your tailor’s name, you’d probably tell me you don’t have one. These days, we have gone away from the times when it was common practice to have a tailor for your suit or clothing.
If you happen to find a great suit, at a great price, that’s high quality fabric and beautifully made, then consider buying it, and take it to a tailor to have it fitted and adjusted to fit you perfectly. When your suit fits you well, people think you look fantastic. A suit that actually fits you, can make you look like you’ve lost weight, simply because it fits your properly. That’s why a properly fitting suit, will make you look sharp, concise, and not someone who can have the wool pulled over their eyes.
Your presentation does matter. People will form their opinion of you in the first 3 seconds. Consider how you are presenting yourself to those you meet, in those first three very crucial seconds.
In short, invest in your image, and you will be repaid ten-fold.