When you’re dressing down, your look can go one of two ways: sloppy or effortlessly stylish. Interestingly, there might be something to dressing down. Think about the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world; their go-to uniform involves ill-fitting jeans and a zip-up hoodie. Surprisingly, according some research, dubbed The Red Sneakers Effect, dressing down can improve the way people perceive you.
One study, reported by Quartz, asked both shop assistants and pedestrians in Milan what they thought of people who went into luxury stores wearing sweatsuits. The same group of people were also asked about people who went into luxury stores wearing fur coats. While the people on the street thought that the well-dressed individuals would be more likely to buy something, the shop assistants had quite the opposite view: If the people wearing gym-clothes had the nerve to wear those clothes in a luxury store, then they must feel pretty confident — and probably have a lot of money. The second study on dressing down found that students had more respect for a fictitious professor if he wore a T-shirt and had a beard.
Before you throw out your suits (don’t do it!) consider where you are in your career. “In order to think that the person’s a big shot,” The Red Sneakers Effect‘s co-author, Silvia Bellezza, told The Wall Street Journal. “You have to understand that the person is willingly engaging in this nonconforming conduct.” She points out that walking with confidence into a luxury store (or a classroom to teach) implies some degree of belonging.
Without that essential belonging aspect, the quirkiness of dressing down may have more of an obnoxious effect than one that makes you seem like an insider. So, if you’re a CEO in sneakers, it may appear impressive, whereas if you’re a brand-new employee in sneakers, you’re probably giving off the wrong vibe.
So, if you want to dress down — but look good doing it — here are three rules you should follow.
1. Keep your clothes fitted
Even if you’re running out of the house in a zip-up hoodie, make sure that whatever you’re wearing is fitted. Anything that swallows you whole not only makes you look like a mess but it gives the appearance that you walked out of a different decade.
2. Don’t ever wear shabby clothes
Dressing down doesn’t mean you should throw on old, shabby clothes that have seen better days. In fact, there is no need for you to own those sort of clothes unless you’re painting your house and don’t want to ruin good clothing. Dilapidated clothes are never a good look.
3. Add an expensive piece to the mix
Nothing says “I’m dressing down on purpose” more than pairing an expensive piece with a dressed down outfit. This is also a way to exude confidence and show a sense of belonging. Wear a nice watch or an expensive ring with your casual ensemble. These add-ons shouldn’t be overwhelming; you just want them to upgrade your outfit — enough to say that you’re confident and you know what you’re doing.