I was a freshman writing my first article assignment for The Collegian, gathering wisdom from those who had come before.When asking then-senior Jackson Bargenquast ’18 what he wished he knew as a freshman, a part of his answer surprised me: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”
Cliché, perhaps, but it is not uncommon to see students roaming campus in a tweed blazer, pencil skirt, or penny loafers.
But then, it hit me. It was my first finals week of freshman year. I threw on the iconic navy-blue Hillsdale crewneck and some slip-on checkered Vans reminiscent of the early 2000s, “No Doubt”, skate culture customary to my West Coast home. Exhausted, I was running on caffeine and an average of 6.23 hours of sleep.
I thought I would see the student population sporting similar apparel, so I was surprised to find most individuals more put together than usual.
I thought: “How did they have time for that this morning? I expected to see everyone dressed in the bare minimum, in order to cram in some valuable study time.”
Then, I was overcome with responses that echoed another sartorial cliché: “Dress to test, they always say!”
Maybe there’s something there.
After an experiment where individuals were asked to dress in formal or casual attire, Matthew Hutson, reporter for the “Scientific American Mind” online periodical, in his article “Dress for Success: How Clothes Influence Our Performance” writes, “Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking — an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. The experiments suggest the effect is related to feelings of power.”
Perhaps it is true. Does dressing well and putting oneself in a posture of success, in spite of the internal reality of fears and feelings, actually push individuals to be outwardly ambitious and thus successful?
Students appear to think so.
“I remember at least one day last year, when I rolled out of bed on Monday and wanted nothing more than to be able to crawl back under the covers. Instead of just throwing on some sweats and wandering out the door, I showered and put on a suit,” sophomore Colm Maines said. “The whole tenor of the day changed. Suddenly, I felt ready to go. I took my classes seriously, and even studied harder on my homework. I still can’t explain it outside of words like ‘it felt better,’ but I believe it works.”
Studies have shown we become who we think and say we are. If we dress as who we want to be, it so happens that we take on the role and move throughout our daily tasks as this character.
Karen Pine, author of “Mind What You Wear” and professor at University of Herfordshire, told “MailOnline” in 2014, “We know our clothes affect other people’s impressions of us.”
Later, Pine said, “Now research shows what we wear affects us too. Putting on different clothes creates different thoughts and mental processes.”
Ultimately, our clothing choices affect our attitudes toward success as well as our reputations.
“I’ve also found that, no matter how crazy life is, putting a little effort into my appearance changes my mindset and makes me feel much more confident and organized than when I throw on a sweatshirt and leggings,” sophomore Madeline Peltzer said. “I’m more alert in class, study harder, and test better when I feel put together.”
Affecting both others’ and individuals’ own impressions of their potential for success, it seems dressing better not only results in positive physical outcomes, but also can result in an appearance of respect between individuals and the matters at hand.
“Dressing to test, because it provides you a perfect way of practicing decorum, gives you confidence that you belong in that classroom, makes the professor feel less self-conscious about his own paisley bow-tie, and shows respect to the serious work which you’re setting out to do – that is, killing an exam,” junior Isaac Johnson said.
The symbolic interactionism theoretical perspective from sociologist George H. Mead says that individuals choose what particular symbols represent within society, and we interact on the basis of the exchange of the meanings of these symbols.
For instance, the symbol of a nice skirt and heels, or a blazer and penny loafers represents to many the idea of intellect, professionalism, and orderliness.
Relatedly, students find that dressing well prepares them not only for present tasks but for the real-world careers and futures they wish to pursue post-graduation.
Peltzer said, “I know that in the career I hope to pursue after college, professional dress will be the norm, and I think of Hillsdale as the training ground for the next step.”
Using these symbols and associating them with ourselves does not just produce different reactions in social settings with others. When an individual has these symbols, they take on the role and stature proper for these symbols, feeling obliged to do them justice.
“Professors won’t trust you handling the most valuable, and most dangerous, ideas in the world if you roll out of bed every morning in cargo shorts or sweatpants,” Johnson said.