Dressing against social norms and what it reveals about you

Some people are more adventurous with their dress sense than others. From eccentric socks to dressing against our gendered expectations, many people push the limits of social norms when it comes to fashion. Research has shown that non-conformists can be viewed as being of a higher status and more competent than those who follow the rules of fashion. We take a look at what different clothing says about the wearer…

No more gender expectations?

The clothes that men and women wear aren’t as different as they used to be. Many people are speaking up, opposing the ideas that men and women should be dressed according to their sex. But, are you presenting yourself in a different way when you dress against the gendered expectations?

Although it seems like our opinions are changing in terms of gender rules, research does suggest otherwise. Psychologists in New Jersey found that attitudes towards gender stereotypes hadn’t changed much between 1983 and 2014.

It’s thought that it’s favourable for women to cross the gender barrier but perhaps not men. Back in 1990, it was found that — despite the sex of the applicant – if the clothing that they wore was more masculine, such as a power suit (inspired by men’s suits) they were more likely to be hired. When men dressed in pink however (a colour commonly associated with females), they were seen as less intelligent than women who were wearing the same colour.

Outrageous outfits

If some people want to express themselves, they go for eccentric dress. When we think of outrageous outfits we may think of people with brightly coloured hair, patterned clothing and over the top jewellery. But, there are other ways to express freedom through dress.

This doesn’t have to be a huge statement either. People who wear unconventional socks are viewed as being rebellious and expressive. One of these people is Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada, who shows off his fun side by wearing funky socks with a traditional suit. You can make your own subtle ‘eccentric’ changes through patterned socks accessories. Or make yourself stand out from the crowd through bright scarves and other extras.

By dressing differently, studies have shown that you build a brand of being ‘gutsy’. And in fact, people have the potential to see you as more brilliant, creative and successful. One study, published in 2014, found that those who go against conformity can be viewed as of a higher status than those who don’t. They were also considered to be more competent — potentially influencing the impression that they give off in the workplace.

Did you know that the way you dress can change your feelings and actions too? This is through ‘embodied cognition’. Since eccentric dress gives you greater potential to express your individuality, it’s possible that it can make you feel more confident and comfortable in different situations. This could then go on to improve your performance at work or in challenges where you want to push yourself.

Why do we have dress codes?

We must consider that, in some situations, following the expected dress code is the right thing to do.

One study found that men who wear smart, fitted suits as they are often expected to wear in a formal situation, were perceived as being more confident, successful and thought to be earning a higher wage. This was compared to men who weren’t dressed as smartly — in a loosely fitted suit.

Through exploring the effects of clothing, it was found that senior managers were rated less favourably if they were dressed more ‘provocative’. This was a skirt slightly above the knee and one button on the blouse undone. It’s clear to see that it is important to consider our dress style carefully as people can make many assumptions without any evidence.

Clothing can also change productivity levels. Research found that in a lab, those who were wearing lab coats felt smarter and went on to perform better!

As we’ve discovered dressing against societies expectations can have many effects on the opinion of others and your own performance. Although it’s important to express yourself through dress, you don’t want to hinder your work or your impression on others in formal situations. Wear a pair of crazy socks underneath your day-to-day outfit instead…