Q & A With Dr. Boardman: How To Dress the Part

Q: I once heard you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Does this really work in getting a promotion?

People make snap judgments about us based on our appearance, especially when it comes to what we are wearing. But what we wear has meaning beyond what others see; it also affects the way we perceive ourselves.

The symbolic power of clothing became crystal clear to me when I put on a white coat for the first time in medical school. Like magic, I became a doctor before my own eyes. I stood taller, held my head higher, and felt more confident. Whenever impostor syndrome would rear its ugly head, the white coat was a reminder that I belonged.

I learned that dressing the part can help us rise to the occasion. In fact, there is scientific evidence suggesting that clothing can influence your posture, body language, motivation, and even mood. When you wear something that makes you feel great, the effects may be subtle—the way you tilt your head, your facial expressions—but they matter.

If you are looking for a promotion, wear clothes that make you feel strong. The right outfit may even enhance creativity, focus, and negotiation skills. Related research highlights how getting dressed up promotes abstract thinking and provides perspective. Yes, a power suit can be literally empowering. This may be particularly helpful when things aren’t going your way or you have a tough day ahead. When you look your best, it’s easier to see the big picture and not take criticism too personally. The right outfit can help you feel more confident when you need it most—it can serve as both armor and inspiration. Studies have found that people say they feel friendlier and more competent in business attire than in T-shirts and jeans. Of course, it depends on the work that needs to be done and on personal preferences. Whatever you do, choose clothes that bring out the best in you, that elevate you, and that make you feel strong and beautiful.

This article originally appeared in Marie Claire.