Gaining Status with Red Sneakers

Scientific American:

Early in life, we all learned that there are tangible benefits from following social rules. As a result, across organizations and industries, people make a significant effort to learn and adhere to dress codes, etiquette, and other written and unwritten codes of behavior. For example, we tend to dress up for job interviews, dates, and business meetings. If one is provided, we tend to use the presentation template provided by our company, or use the language and acronyms favored to the organization so that we can better fit in.

Yet, as it turns out, deviating from the accepted dress code or social norms may have surprising status benefits. Imagine you find yourself walking down Via Monte Napoleone, in Milan, Italy, an elegant street famous for its ready-to-wear fashion and jewelry shops. Being familiar with the context, you dressed up for the occasion, hoping to hit a few shops. During your walk, you see a woman, perhaps 35 years old, entering one of the luxury boutiques. Far from being dressed to the nines, she is wearing gym clothes and a jean jacket. What would you think of her, and how likely do you think she is to buy something at the store?

If you are familiar with the dress code for luxury stores on the Via Monte Napoleone, you may assign her greater status than if she had been wearing a dress and a fur coat. In recent research, my Harvard Business School colleagues Silvia Bellezza and Anat Keinan and I found that under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviors, such as not following the expected dress code or the appropriate professional conduct in a given context, can signal higher status. In our research, for example, shop assistants working in boutiques selling luxury brands in Milan assigned greater status to the woman wearing gym clothes and a jean jacket rather than to the woman properly dressed. In another study, students assigned higher status to a 45-year-old professor working at a top-tier university when he was described as wearing a t-shirt and had a beard than to a clean-shaven one wearing a tie. When the deviant behavior appears to be deliberate, it can lead to higher status inferences rather than lower ones.

Read the whole story: Scientific American

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