Does My Confidence Look Big in This? How Clothes Can Affect Our Behaviour

Businessman Wearing Cape

Mandy Lehto investigates….

Batman and Buzz Lightyear were on their way home from the pub.  On the way home, they see a 20-man punch up going on in a chip shop.  And as superheroes do, they stop and take care of business faster than you can say, ‘ketchup or vinegar?’

Has our black-caped friend got a new sidekick in Gotham City? Nope. This actually happened this week in the town of Stockport in northern England. The two ‘superheroes’ were ordinary blokes on their way home from a fancy dress party at a local pub.

Were they empowered by what they were wearing?  We can’t know for sure.  But the chip shop owner did say,

‘the youngsters had been drinking, but nobody thought about throwing a punch at Batman.’

Welcome to the transformative power of clothes. 

As an image consultant, I work with people every day who have garments and accessories which they feel give them super-heroic powers – or some variation thereof.

Take my client Liza, a big cheese at an I.T. company, who has a pair of shoes that make her feel (in her words) ‘invincible.’ She wears them to meetings when she needs to kick booty – metaphorically speaking.  Funnily enough, the shoes always deliver.

Another client, Sarah, wears a lucky red dress to high-stakes work events when she needs to ooze confidence and charisma.  ‘In a red dress, I can achieve anything,’ she says. Her red dresses (she has a fleet of them) imbue her with the corporate equivalent of Batman’s powers.

The celeb world is rife with ‘lucky’ garments too.  Tiger Woods wears a red t-shirt on the final day of gold tournaments, red being a lucky colour in his mum’s Thai culture.  Colin Farrell apparently wears a pair of shamrock boxers every time he starts a new movie.

Really?  Can a garment actually make us feel empowered?

Yes, research suggests.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, demonstrates that wearing something with symbolic meaning (for the wearer) could impact cognitive function.

Translation?  The red dress or the shamrock pants (or whatever your variation is) can, in fact, enhance your performance and affect your behaviour.

But it’s less about the actual piece of clothing, than the symbolic value that we attribute to that garment, be it luck, confidence, whatever.

In other words, Sarah had a good experience when first wearing a red dress.  Ditto Colin with the lucky skivvies.  So when they subsequently put those garments on, they go into that mental mode, expecting (and thus creating) another successful outcome.

More research needs to be done, but this study contributes to a body of work that suggests we think with our physical experiences as well as with our brains.

So go ahead.  Put your cape on.

About the Author:

Mandy Lehto, PhD, is a personal branding coach and image consultant in London, England.  A former Director at an international investment bank, she now works with companies and high-potential individuals to optimise their image and impact.  Her clients include the financial services industry, law and accounting firms, multi-national corporations, universities, media companies, retailers and charities.  Mandy has featured in Psychology TodayHere is the City, The Sunday Times and on CNBC.

© All rights reserved, Dr. Mandy Lehto, 2013

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