NFL free agent and activist Colin Kaepernick spent his Sunday donating and passing out free custom-made suits outside of a parole office. Partnered with the organization 100 Suits for 100 Men, Kaepernick’s donations went to formerly incarcerated people, former gang members, and homeless individuals. His efforts were far from frivolous: Dressing formally is a scientifically supported way to achieve employment and success in the workplace. Kaepernick’s efforts may be the final push that helps these people transition into mainstream society.
Scientists have shown that dressing in business attire affects both how people are seen and how they see themselves. Suits are associated with leaders and CEOs, for example, and that impression sticks to the wearer of the suit. Research also demonstrates that the way someone dresses influences the way others perceive their intelligence and academic achievement, especially if what that person is wearing is a suit. Case in point: A 1990 study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that the more “masculine” someone’s clothing is, the more likely they are to be hired.
What clothing may influence even more than the people looking at a person wearing a suit is the actual person wearing the outfit. In a 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers described this phenomenon as “enclothed cognition,” explaining that clothing carries both a symbolic meaning and changes the physical experiences the person has while wearing those clothes. This applies to all clothing: In an experiment where doctors either wore a street coat or a lab coat, the researchers found that those wearing lab coats were more attentive to patients and simply felt more like doctor.