Successful people display non-conformist tendencies such as wearing bright coloured socks: Harvard

Findings indicate unusual dressing in professional settings reflect competence and higher status

Entertainment Desk June 30, 2017

A recent study by Harvard University has found an interesting marker of success, reported Indy100 and it’s not anyone would expect: Socks!

Yes, the stereotype of the outlandishly dressed entrepreneur, leader or successful person may be based in some truth after all. Researchers have found that successful people often display non-conformist tendencies, such as those in the world of serious dealings choosing to wear brightly coloured socks.

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The study, entitled 'The Red Sneakers Effect', studied how people reacted to non-conformity, and how it shaped their perceptions of the non-conformists, such as someone who wore red sneakers, in a professional setting.

As it turned out, the non-conformity was interpreted as conspicuous consumption, and an assumption of high status and confidence. The research examined how third-party observers interpret such violations of conventional norms in terms of status and competence attributions.

It demonstrated that nonconforming behaviour, can operate similarly to conspicuous consumption and, as compared to conforming behaviour, lead to inferences of enhanced status and competence in the eyes of others.

On the contrary, low status individuals in an organisation were more likely to strictly adhere to dress codes.

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Gym chic

This theory was tested in high-end and boutique stores as well. About 109 female adults in downtown Milan were recruited, 52 of whom were assistants in boutiques selling brands like Armani, Burberry, Christian Dior and Valentino). The remaining 57 were recruited at Milan's central station, with little experience of working in boutique stores.

The participants were asked to describe their perception of a person based on a written scenario of a woman entering a high end boutique store. In one scenario, the fictitious woman was described as 'wearing gym clothes and jacket'. They were asked a serious of questions in order to determine if they believed the woman was a luxury or VIP client.

The results found that both shop assistants and the other women assigned a high status to the non-conforming woman in gym clothes. The trend was stronger with the shop assistants who were more accustom to the boutique sales environment.

Business time socks

In a second study, researchers looked at non-conformist dressing in a professional setting.

For this, 159 participants were recruited and once again, they were given descriptions of the dress and biography of a fictitious person, in this case a professor at a university. And once again, the more dressed down a person was, the higher their status was deemed to be. In the professional setting the professors wearing t-shirts were also perceived to have a greater level of competence.

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It should be noted that hoodies and T-shirts can common in the tech-world, particularly Silicon Valley.

Professional peacocking

A third aspect of the Harvard study was the degree to which non-conformity can be done intentionally, in order to make oneself appear independent and attract attention.

The study found that higher status was granted to a non-conforming dresser in the workplace, if it was perceived to be intentional, and not accidental. It was noted that products catering to this, are already available in the market place, such as packs of socks which contain no matches.

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