Dress for Success: Is There a Link Between Red Sneakers and Performance?

What would you think if your lawyer showed up to a meeting in sweatpants? Or your doctor rocked a tank top and ripped jean shorts at your annual check-up? Or the President gave a press conference in an old t-shirt. It would be a little disconcerting to say the least. You might even question their competence and authority. In general, we prefer it when people wear clothes that match our expectations. We like them to dress the part.

There are, however, some major exceptions. Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino found that under certain circumstances, violating fashion rules makes people seem more powerful and competent. In the paper, The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity, Gino highlights the benefits of dressing differently and not following established norms. Women shopping in luxury boutiques such as Dior and Armani who wore gym clothes were believed to be of higher social status by clerks than women who wore a dress and fur coat. Students thought more highly of a professor wearing red Converse sneakers than traditional shoes. A casually dressed unshaven teacher earned greater respect from his class than a teacher in a suit. In another scenario, people were surveyed about someone attending a black-tie event at a golf club. A man wearing a red bowtie was deemed to be a better golfer and more powerful in the community than a man wearing a regular black bowtie.

As the researcher explained:

Nonconforming behaviors can be more beneficial to someone than simply trying to fit in. In other words, when it looks deliberate, a person can appear to have a higher status and sense of competency.

When it comes to getting dressed, be an original. Feel free to break the written and unwritten rules of fashion. Yes, that means you can wear those white shoes after Labor Day!

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman