- Displaying your status and wealth, like wearing luxury clothing, might not help in every situation.
- Wearing non-luxury brands may give the impression that you’re willing to work as a team, while wearing luxury brands may signal you’re less cooperative, study findings show.
- Dressing modestly may work in your favor when cooperation is the goal, say researchers.
If you’ve been working at home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably haven’t thought too much about your clothes. But as we peel back restrictions and get back to in-person work and social activities, your clothing choices may signal more than just your personal style, according to one recent study.
The research reveals that people may choose to avoid wearing luxury brands when they want to convince others they can collaborate well on a team.
On the other hand, people who display their wealth with status symbols like luxury clothing brands may come off as uncooperative in a group setting, the study also found.
“It is generally assumed that signaling status can strategically benefit people who want to appear high class — why else would people pay a premium for products with luxury logos that have no other functional benefits? But it can also backfire by making them seem more self-interested,” lead researcher Shalena Srna told the American Psychological Association. “In social situations that depend on cooperation, people will often choose to present themselves more modestly.”
As part of the study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, researchers recruited more than 2,800 participants online and from university behavioral labs in the Midwest and Northeast U.S.
Researchers did six experiments to see how people would respond to status signaling, and examined the choices they made about whether to signal status or not.
In one experiment, participants were asked to imagine they were being selected for an online group and choose what to wear for their social media profile picture. Only half of participants were told that the group they were hoping to join was looking for someone extremely cooperative. Participants were given a choice of branded clothing including luxury and non-luxury options such as:
- Old Navy
They could also choose to wear unbranded clothing in their profile photo.
At the end of the experiment, researchers concluded that participants were less likely to choose clothing items with luxury logos when they wanted to seem cooperative. However, participants were equally likely to choose non-luxury brands regardless of whether they knew cooperation was an important factor in the selection process.
Evidence from the other experiments also shows that people may be more willing to collaborate with those who choose modesty over displaying status symbols.
The researchers concluded that people may want to strategically choose modesty over status signaling when cooperation is important. Findings suggest that modest, non-luxury brand clothing may leave a better impression and signal that you’re willing to collaborate and work as a team player.
It’s important to note that these findings aren’t a judgment on what you wear. They’re an interesting way of showing how people make judgments about others, whether or not they’re true. Knowing this can help you catch yourself from making a negative assumption about someone that’s purely based on their personal style.
In the end, you have the right to wear whatever you want.
Kendra Wong is a freelance journalist in Victoria, British Columbia. She worked for 5 years as a journalist at a number of newspapers, where she enjoyed reporting on breaking news, becoming entrenched in local communities, and telling people’s stories. Kendra currently works in communications and lives with her husband and daughter.