The New Attire of the Elite

The new sign of success is no longer the Brooks Brother’s suit. The best dressed CEO’s are not clamoring for the latest Armani suit or the best shirts money can buy, the new breed of CEO is wearing sneakers jeans and a hoodie to all the important corporate announcements. The question is why and more importantly why are we so accepting of these divergence from the norms?

Mark Dressing Down Zuckerberg“Dressing Down”

Why is it that these seemingly anti social behaviors are not frowned upon but instead welcomed even applauded? This “dressing down” has become a status symbol of sorts. CEO’s and other successful people have reached a pinnacle point in their life where they can wear what they want, they can afford to thumb their nose at the norm and wear those red sneakers to board meetings.

Are they changing the face of what we consider to be normal business attire? That is not likely. If you showed up for an interview for a professional position in red sneakers a t-shirt and jeans you can pretty much rest assured that you would not be getting the position.

We do our best to adhere to social norms when it comes to dress and behavior to avoid being socially outcast or ridiculed. Non-conforming behaviors are often frowned upon and can negatively affect others perception of your abilities. To avoid the negative perceptions most people will dress accordingly.

A Study

Recently a study looked at the effect of dressing in a less than conformist way effects perception. The study looked at everyone from shop keepers in high end luxury boutiques, business professionals to professors to gauge the response of what others perceived when they viewed people that were dressed in a more casual look.

The results were pretty surprising. “The Red Sneaker Effect” found that not only did people not seem to mind when someone was not necessarily conforming to a specific perceived dress code but they found that they viewed some people as having a higher status. The idea is that by bucking up to the status quo it must mean that the person has enough status already and that they did not need to conform.

Of course it is not quite as simple as throwing on a pair of red sneakers and giving a lecture at Harvard. There are other factors involved as well that shape perception.

The Environment

As an example consider this:

One part of the study included shop keepers from a high end boutique in Milan, Italy. They were asked to describe what they saw when they saw a patron wearing a inexpensive watch or casual clothing. They responded that they thought the person was a celebrity or someone of great wealth. When pedestrians were asked the same question about the patrons of this particular high end luxury boutique they described the women that was well dressed as the person that would be spending the most money at this shop.

There is an element of understanding the environment that plays a role in how people that are dressed down are perceived. For example the shop keepers that were familiar with the environment and had experiences with the environment for a determination that someone that was dressed down was actually a person of status. Outsiders that were not familiar with the environment actually looked at people that were not dressed to the norm expectations in an unfavorable light.

On the Other End of the Spectrum

In some cases the casual look did nothing to impress. If the look was not perceived as intentional or as a chosen option than the perception was not positive. In other words the perception has to be that the wearer is making a conscious choice not to conform. It has to be believed that the wearer has other options available but has chosen to take a non-conformist approach to their clothing.

If someone is faced with making a decision about someone that is known to have a low social status for examples someone that is homeless than their clothing choices will likely not impress or distract from their status.

Steve Jobs Dressing down

Birds of a Feather

The study also found that people that considered themselves as having a unique perspective on their own fashion choices held people in high esteem when they made their own declarations with fashion.

What does all this mean? Basically if you are wealthy or have succeeded in life you do not have to try so hard any more to impress people with how you dress. Your status is already established so you do not have to work as hard at raising your status by conforming.

As a matter of fact once you get to a certain status level the ability to endear yourself as being “down to earth” and high enough ranking that you can wear what you want, casual dress can elevate your status.


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