Hillsdale stu­dents dress well to test well. Pexels

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.