Why ‘Dress for Success’ Still Matters (Perhaps More Than Ever)

More than ever, employees are confused on how to dress for work. They shouldn’t be.

First impressions are unavoidable. You can spend a long time trying to convince others of your qualities, but you’ll have a difficult time being perceived as genuine if your appearance doesn’t sync with the values you’re trying to express.

The image you choose to portray to others is a big reflection of your true self, but the opposite effect can also be achieved. Ever heard the slogan “dress for success”? It’s true.

Research psychologist Jeffrey L. Magee surveyed over 500 firms to assess the impact of dress in the workplace. His studies led to the conclusion that continually relaxed dress ultimately leads to relaxed manners, relaxed morals and relaxed productivity.

Magee’s findings shouldn’t come as a surprise. Here’s why.

It’s simple psychology.

Think about your own experience. On a typical morning, you might wake up feeling groggy, stumbling around the house in sweatpants and a t-shirt. The coffee is your only highlight. The day seems blurry and your ambition is low.

But take a few minutes to get dressed, and the results are wondrous; it’s as if you just drank another coffee. It’s amazing what a simple outfit can do; button up that shirt, and your whole mood shifts. The sky is suddenly brighter, and you summon up energy you never had before. Tie up those oxfords, and you’re ready to conquer the world.

It’s simple psychology, really. Your clothing affects how you act and feel. Sneakers put you in the mood to exercise. Heels enhance posture and along with it, a feeling of glamorous confidence. So too, a suit and tie will put you in the mode to work, performing at your best. You’ll think smarter, make decisions quicker, and assume a more professional demeanor.

Clothing companies recognize how much of an effect dress has on people, so they take extra measures to provide comfort and ensure functionality in their products. Eli Blumstein, creative director and co-founder of dress shirt company Twillory, sheds a new light on the unique nature of today’s demand, and what brands are doing to earn their way into consumers’ closets.

“Clothing used to be about fashion,” says Blumstein. “Today, it’s about style and function. In the past, business travelers used to stress over how they would get their shirts ironed for meetings, but today we have the technology to create fabrics that don’t need any ironing, and special moisture wicking materials to cool and combat sweat.”

Your appearance is influential to others as well, not just yourself. It’s important to portray a good image to coworkers and clients. Being in the workplace often entails meeting new people, interacting with coworkers, and communicating with managers.

It’s vital to give off your best impression in every way possible, so that no one can hold shallow biases against you. Let nothing stand in the way of paving your road to success.

A balance can exist.

Positive employee morale is integral when it comes to workplace productivity. Efforts should be made to improve worker satisfaction, and if a dress code is showing to be a hindrance then appropriate measures may be taken to make the guidelines looser.

“The relationship between you and your clothing is individually unique from the rest of the world, so building a wardrobe that represents you is most critical,” says David Kaye, master stylist and clothier for men’s custom clothing company Badger and Welsh Bespoke. “The way you dress is the ultimate expression of self, and largely impacts how you go about your business.”

It’s not easy to navigate this fine line. Employee empowerment is always a challenge. The trick is striking the right balance. After all, workers do need to feel comfortable and free to strive high.

But if this calls for a lowered standard, then that standard needs to be created with sense so that performance isn’t lowered as well. Many companies are models of a proper balance. It is quite possible to retain a sense of individuality within the lines of professionalism.

The bottom line.

The debate of whether businesses should maintain traditional dress codes or adopt new casual policies is still ongoing. But putting all arguments aside, the bottom line is clear: Dress matters a lot.

What you wear impacts you, affects others, and can influence an entire company’s reputation. With the proper goal in mind–of aiming towards optimal productivity–a good dress sense can enhance the work ethic, and consequently achieve maximum results.

This article was originally published at Inc.com.