Does Dressing Down Affect Work Output?

Photo by Ivan Samkov on

The pandemic and working from home have created a new wardrobe reality. Robes and slippers have become best-selling items touted by celebrities. Wearing pajamas all day or slipping into yesterday’s (or last week’s) sweats is commonplace when there’s no one to dress for. But experts say dressing down while working from home can impact performance.

Choice of clothing has long been known to affect mood. It’s no secret that “power suits” help a person go into an important meeting with more confidence or that putting on a special outfit to attend a wedding or prom makes the event more exciting. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that dressing down can similarly affect people’s psychological state.

The reason is that we associate relaxed clothing with, well, relaxing, and working and relaxing are distinct activities. Wearing garb we typically relax in while we work can impact motivation and productivity because we associate those items with sleep or relaxation. Conversely, wearing clothes that carry symbolic meaning—a jacket instead of a hoodie, for example—can subtly help us perform better.

Dressing in work-friendly attire can also increase self-esteem, experts say. Putting some thought into sartorial choices affects how we carry and feel about ourselves, according to research from England. Donning a button-down shirt instead of a worn concert tee triggers the brain’s productivity mode. Similarly, changing from work clothes into comfortable attire at the end of the work day can help create a marker between private and work time.

Interestingly, research has found that people feel more authoritative and competent when they dress for success. It’s a short jump to see that if productivity dwindles while wearing casual clothes, changing that attire may help.

Nevertheless, the occasional PJ day can be a great way to take a needed break from work, as long as it’s not done too frequently—that can lead to sluggishness. The bottom line is to fight the urge to get too cozy all the time as long as working from home remains the norm.


  1. Have you had experiences in which dressing up has changed your attitude?
  2. What’s behind the idea of wearing “power suits”?
  3. What do you think about the notion of clothing having symbolic meaning? What are some examples of symbolic clothing?

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