Dress Down, Come Up: The Connection Between Sweatpants And Success

by Dan Scotti

It’s hard to say I don’t appreciate nice clothes. I studied fashion in Italy. I’m capable of tying a windsor knot, symmetrically and in proportion. I can recognize a nice pair of jeans, past the price tag.

Nevertheless, if I could have things my way, I’d be wearing fleece sweatpants to my wedding. In fact, I still may do so.

After all, as much as I do appreciate nice clothes, I will simply always be a “comfort-first” type of guy. On the other hand, while jeans might limit the degrees of freedom between your legs – while sitting at your desk – it’s presumed that sweatpants will limit the amount of opportunities you’ll encounter in the working world.

It’s ironic. Whenever you’re preparing for an important interview, or a crucial presentation, there will always be somebody in your ear stressing the importance of your “appearance.” They’ll tell you “in order to stick out,” you’ll need to “dress the part.”

That never added up in my mind; how can you truly stand out when you’re following the same age-old clichés as everybody else?

I mean, if you truly want to “stand out” during an interview – try sauntering through the door in a pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily expect a follow-up call anytime soon.

However, a recent study published in the Wall Street Journal might suggest otherwise. In fact, Shirley Wang reports on how straying from the pack, so to speak, can “lend you an air of presence or influence.”

And she supports her claim through, yes, my favorite, sweatpants [cue Kevin Garnett screaming “anything is possible”].

With that being said, Wang didn’t solely confine her report to fashion-based daringness in the workplace. Using a study conducted by Silvia Bellezza and two Harvard professors, Wang explored the impact of stylistic non-conformity not only in the workplace, but in a retail setting as well.

So, if you are a “comfort-first” person as well – and have just been waiting for more practical proof that sweatpants are supreme – this might be your lucky day.

You display confidence.

According to Wang, those familiar in the luxury retail setting are not easily fooled by the smoke and mirrors created by shoppers wearing expensive clothing. While good salesmen should always strive to cater towards “good shoppers,” as it seems, those customers are typically more successful.

Wang explains how shoppers who frequent luxury retail stores in sweatpants are almost always perceived as more confident people, with less to prove, when compared to a shopper walking in, draped in fur (or faux fur).

Most of the time, successful people won’t be looking to flaunt their success – they’ll be looking to downplay it – at least not in public places.

This means your confidence is coming from other places, outside of material worth.

You’re a nonconformist.

At the end of the day, there is no formal law that regulates WHAT we wear as American citizens. With that said, there are many “informal” laws that may determine what’s socially acceptable to wear, from each occasion to the next.

By going against the grain – from a fashion perspective – it “signals that one has the autonomy needed to act according to one’s own inclinations,” as reported by Tom Jacobs in Pacific Standard.

Nonconformity, in any situation, displays a certain level of fearlessness. If you’re fearless about matters regarding your own style, it’s likely that a prospective employer could derive a sense of fearlessness about your overall character, as well.

Jacobs makes mention of a classical pianist by the name of Jean Yves Thibaudet, who took pride in his nonconformist mindset. Thibaudet used to wear red socks on stage, to set himself apart visually. While Jacobs clearly doesn’t relate this to his genius causally, he doesn’t rule out the fact that they are connected.

You’re a freethinker.

By expanding your wardrobe outside the boundaries of societal norms, you’re more also more likely to think outside of the lines as well. Abstract thought is imperative to success, as an individual and in groups, alike.

According to Charles Pavitt, a University of Delaware communications professor, the importance of freethinking towards group projects revolves around gaining perspective on ALL sides of a prospective situation.

“The person who brings up alternative points of view to make sure the group has sufficiently examined all options can help the group reach a better decision,” Pavitt says. This is a critical element of decision making, especially for the long-term.

You’re comfortable.

Not only physically comfortable, either, but comfortable with who you are – as a person – additionally.

In order to wear articles of clothing that are widely considered “slouchy” or “bummy” by societal standards, you’re going to need to display enough confidence to prove to others that you’re neither a slouch nor a bum, in actuality.

A lot of times, dressing down shows that you’re comfortable with who you are – and that you have nothing to prove.

A lot of people will rely on the price tags of their garments, and if a shirt isn’t Yves Saint Laurent, they’ll be less self-assured than if it were. While these type of people may appear more prominent, to the naked eye – this quality is ultimately a sign of vulnerability.