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Look good, feel good: Clothes help project confidence, intelligence, power

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
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For Deana Keenan, the matching jacket and skirt really was a power suit.

“Once I was dressed up, I felt confident,” says Keenan, 50, of Swissvale, after being suited by Dress for Success Pittsburgh. “Wearing the right clothes makes you feel alive and that you can accomplish anything. And I know good quality clothing and Dress for Success had really nice suits, so when I put one on, I felt like a million bucks. I felt like I was going to get this job.”

And she did.

The emotions Keenan felt when she dressed in that professional outfit were deeper than just her overall physical appearance. The right clothing can make us feel smarter, successful and confident, according to recent research.

“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” says Abraham Rutchick, a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge, who co-authored a study on the subject. “When you look in the mirror and you are dressed well, you feel good about yourself, and you are investing in yourself.”

It’s not that clothes will make you smarter, Rutchick says, but you might feel more creative or look at things on a wider scale based on what you are wearing.

“There is also the way people perceive you and how you perceive yourself to take into consideration, he says. “We all know that when we put certain things on we feel better. When you are dressed professionally, you feel like a leader, and we know that leaders have big ideas and put those ideas into action.”

Schools have taken notice of how dress affects performance and conduct. Jafeth Sanchez, an assistant professor University of Nevada, Reno, in the college of education, co-conducted research on the impact of school uniforms. She found decreases in discipline, gang involvement and bullying and increases in safety, ease of going to school, confidence and self-esteem with students in uniforms.

“If they worry less about what they are wearing, they can concentrate on performing academically better,” Sanchez says. “One change like a uniform can directly have an effect on areas such as behavior problems, self-esteem and confidence.”

From the classroom to the boardroom, wearing clothes that match the work situation and environment will allow you to feel confident and comfortable in your own skin, says Bear Brandegee, professional stylist for Worth New York, based Downtown. So much of how we present ourselves and how people respond to us derives from how we feel about ourselves in that moment, she says.

“If you are worried that your outfit is not appropriate, that your jacket is too tight or that the fabric is too light or too heavy for the environment, you will not feel at ease,” Brandegee says. “The result is that you will not be totally focused on the business at hand and will not look as confident as you could. You want your clothes to reinforce your business skills and attitude and not be a distraction to you or to others.”

Think about choosing the right clothing as a “Goldilocks outfit — not too much, not too little, just right,” says Dr. Paul Friday, chief of clinical psychology at UPMC Shadyside and president of Shadyside Psychological Services.

“Aim for the middle,” Friday says. “Don’t push it to one side or the other. You don’t want to wear a prom dress and high heels or a pair of jeans and tennis shoes to a job interview. Dress for the organization where you want to work. And go with what makes you feel comfortable.”

Organizations like Dress for Success are wonderful because they are knowledgeable and can offer good advice, especially for those who have been out of the workforce, Friday says.

“It’s not about buying an outfit, it’s about investing in your future,” Friday says. “And if you feel comfortable, you will come across the right way. You want to present the best picture of who you are and be honest about it.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7889.

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