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A Good Reason to Buck the Dress Code

New Harvard research suggests that nonconformists are percieved to be higher-standing individuals -- in certain contexts.
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Whether delivering a lecture in a colorful pair of shoes or showing up to a high-end boutique in sweats, sticking out like a sore thumb can boost your status in the eyes of others, according to new research. 

Recent studies from Harvard Business School, just published in the Journal of Consumer Research, looked at the way that anti-conformity impacts observers' opinions of others, The Wall Street Journal reported.  

Through a series of experiments that took place both in the lab and out in the real world, researchers concluded that it can pay to be a bit offbeat. Here's what they found: 

  • Students who responded to a survey said they were more likely to respect a professor who sports a beard and a T-shirt, as opposed to one who is clean-shaven and wears a tie.
  • Shop assistants at luxury item stores said they thought highly of customers who walk in wearing sweatpants. The assistants believe that individuals who dress down in a high-end shop, in fact, exhibit the confidence of a person with status. 
  • Students who identified themselves as "having a higher need to be unique" on a survey gave better ratings to a guest lecturer who wore red Converse shoes.

"They inferred, 'She's so autonomous, she must do whatever she wants,'" Harvard Business School doctoral student and co-author of the studies Silvia Bellezza told WSJ.

But there are, of course, times when this divergence can backfire -- for instance, when it just looks ignorant. Survey participants indicated that if someone showed up wearing a red bow tie to a black tie event, they wouldn't hold him in high regard.

The WSJ also pointed out that in the office managers can use their dress as a stand-out tactic to differentiate themselves when they need to lead. Conversely, it's a bad idea to try to stick out when it's important for you to fit in with your team. 

 

Last updated: Mar 20, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.




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