According to this Wall Street Journal report on a Harvard Business School study, people confident enough to take a nonconformist attitude to social dress codes are perceived as more successful, so keep your sweats on all day:
Anyone who has felt like the odd duck of the group can take heart from new research from Harvard Business School that says sticking out in distinct ways can lend you an air of presence or influence.
Standing out in certain circumstances, like wearing sweats in a luxury store, also appears to boost an individual’s standing.
One obvious way people signal what the researchers called “status” is through visible markers, like what they wear and what they buy. Previous research has largely examined why people buy or wear branded items.
Less work has focused on what others think of those who try to communicate that they are different or worthy of attention. Efforts to be different are interesting because humans are wired to conform and be part of a group.
In a series of studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research in February, Silvia Bellezza, a doctoral student, and two Harvard professors sought to examine what observers thought of individuals who deviated from the norm in the workplace and in a retail setting. Some of the work was conducted in the lab on students. Other studies took place in the community and involved passersby or attendees of a seminar. Most of the studies included about 150 participants. What they found was that being a little different can socially benefit people—in some situations.
“The problem is that conforming to norms is an easy and safe spot to be in,” Ms. Bellezza said. “If you’re willing to deviate, there are upsides.” It’s also long been known that people veer from what’s expected after they’ve built up enough trust within a group. But, she says, acting differently risks losing the benefits that come with conforming, such as shared group identity and automatic group trust.
In their first study, they asked shop assistants and pedestrians in Milan to rate what they thought of people who walked into luxury stores wearing gym clothes. The subjects also rated those who wore outfits typically considered more appropriate, like a dress and fur coat.
Pedestrians were more likely to think that a well-dressed individual was more likely to have the money to buy something in the store. Shop assistants thought the opposite. Those more familiar with the luxury retail environment were more likely to assume that a gym-clothes-wearing client was confident enough to not need to dress up more, and therefore more apt to be a celebrity making a purchase than someone wrapped in fur…
[continues in the Wall Street Journal]