When’s the last time you took stock of your wardrobe?  You probably haven’t is a safe bet.  And why would you?  Most engineering offices are perfectly comfortable in business casual attire.  In fact, it’s the norm.  The exception are those people who put on the power suit.  A study released earlier this year by sociology and psychology researchers out of California State University, however, may be a good cause for putting some style into your engineering career.


It seems that Shakespeare might have had it right when he wrote “clothes make the man.”

The findings demonstrated that when wearing formal clothing, like a suit, study participants were found to think more broadly and holistically, rather than narrowly about about fine-grained details.  The implications in an engineering career are that you may be able to approach your design work with a larger degree of creativity.  Not bad if you’re attempting to positively influence your career.

In an earlier study researchers concluded that the clothes we wear influence how we think.  Participants were given a white lab coat and were told that it belonged either to a painter and asked not to wear it, or a doctor and asked to put it on.  Those who were told it belonged to a doctor demonstrated a marked increase in attention to a series of tasks they were then asked to perform.  The assertion?  That clothing influences how we act depending whether it is worn and on that clothing’s symbolic meaning.

Business Casual or Business Suit?

So what is the right answer when it comes to dressing for engineering career success?  It depends — on the person.  These studies, and others like them, which have attempted to delve into the inner psychology of the office worker give us inconclusive evidence that chino’s and polo trump a three-button coat and power tie (or power scarf for the ladies!)

Engineering leaders and managers might consider providing full-range flexibility in attire for their offices.  The rationale finds its basis in this quote from Dr. Karen Pine, a specialist in psychology and fashion:

“When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.”

Most of us consider wearing a suit as a necessity when presenting ideas to clients or attending an important meeting or job interview.  This is the best, and easiest way, to quickly transmit confidence, trustworthiness and authority at these key moments of human interaction.

But if wearing a suit helps you focus your attention, makes you feel more confident, and gives you the confidence to deliver the goods in your engineering career, why wouldn’t you wear one every day?


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