Hipster-chic may be today’s power suit because science.

When “I can’t believe he’s wearing that!” becomes” “Wow, he must be pretty important.”

Looks like someone's destined for success.

Looks like someone’s figured out how to sling-shot to the top of the corporate ladder.

I knew a professor whose good advice for getting ahead in academia and the professional world included “It’s all about looking good.” With that in mind, and set against the annual round of  “Dropping a fortune on a new wardrobe will get you drafted out of the intern pool” articles that pop up just before college graduation, this WSJ post offers an especially unusual perspective on appearance and success.

In short, researchers at The Harvard Business School recently published the results of studies investigating what others think of individuals who distinguish themselves by adopting means or manners of personal expression that are typically deemed less socially appropriate for various public settings. They discovered that in some specific instances these individuals are actually judged to be more successful than those who stick to conventional norms of dress and behavior. Some examples:

“Those more familiar with the luxury retail environment were more likely to assume that a gym-clothes-wearing client was confident enough to not need to dress up more, and therefore more apt to be a celebrity making a purchase than someone wrapped in fur.”

“Students afforded more respect to a fictitious bearded professor who wore a T-shirt than to a clean-shaven one who wore a tie.”

“Candidates entering a business-plan competition who chose to use their own PowerPoint presentation background were tabbed more likely to win than those who used the standard background.”

Ok, so the last example wasn’t personal-appearance-related, but I’m highlighting it anyway because the number of visually generic PowerPoint presentations I’ve endured at conferences is legion and after sitting through sessions where death by boredom seemed a legitimate danger, I’d probably have awarded a medal to anyone who incorporated an original design into an otherwise interesting talk.

The investigators also observed certain limits to expressions of unique identity and the article notes some interesting examples of how and when setting oneself apart from the group can be advantageous or a liability. Worth a look…


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