Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
19. Trapped in the role:
clothes make the man
Power dressing is a powerful tool. That is the conclusion of the Stefanie Tzioti’s thesis. Her
empirical research shows a consultant’s advice is more readily followed when the consultant
has a suit and a car of the right brand. Dressing to impress increases authority in the eyes of
the customer and therefore the credibility of the advice.
We also saw this effect in Milgram’s experiment (described in the previous chapter).
The researcher’s white jacket gave the impression of expertise and authority, making the
participants more inclined to follow the order to administer electric shocks. Clothing can have
all kinds of surprising effects at work as well: research by Dan Ariely shows that provocatively
dressed women make men think more in the short term. For a meeting about long-term policy
female personnel are best advised to dress demurely.
Clothing not only determines how someone is seen, it also betrays the way in which the
wearer sees himself. As Princess Perdita in Shakespeare’s The Winter’sTale says, ‘This robe of
mine does change my disposition.’ Scott Fraser demonstrates the speed with which clothing
can change attitudes.
He had children choose what kind of game they wanted to play. Wearing their own clothes, 42
percent chose aggressive games, but when the researcher had them wear a military uniform,
the choice for aggressive games increased to 86 percent. When the children subsequently
exchanged their uniforms for their own clothing again, the percentage fell, even dropping
below the original reading, to 36 percent.
Clothing can be a relection of one’s role, and we easily fall into that role. On the one hand
this is positive; it shows a good ability to empathize and adapt. On the other hand it can be
risky. We can lose ourselves in a role. This is shown by Philip Zimbardo, who conducted a
controversial experiment in the cellars of Stanford University in 1971.
19.Trapped in the role: clothes make the man