Employees who add some flair to their attire in the workplace can appear more successful in the eyes of others, new research suggests.

Society may have unspoken rules for dress codes and proper etiquette. But those who go out on a limb with their clothing selections — such as by wearing bright socks or a bow tie instead of a necktie — have the potential to increase their perceived success, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research discovered.

"We proposed that, under certain conditions, nonconforming behaviors can be more beneficial to someone than simply trying to fit in," the study's authors wrote. "In other words, when it looks deliberate, a person can appear to have a higher status and sense of competency."

Across five laboratory and field studies, the authors looked at the role of nonconformity in different populations. The collective results suggest that people attribute higher status and competence to individuals who are nonconforming in prestigious contexts that have expected norms of formal conduct, such as in the workplace or during a job interview.

In one study, students were asked to rank the perceived professional status of a professor who was employed at either a local college or a top-tier university, and who was either clean-shaven and in a business suit or who had a beard and wore a T-shirt. As the researchers predicted, the students attributed significantly more status and competence to the unshaven professor at the top-tier university.

The researchers believe the study's results show that both niche and mainstream brands interested in the role of nonconformity in advertising can capitalize on the growing demand for clothes and accessories that signal intentional nonconformity. Additionally, nonconforming brands that are associated with premium prices may signal that the nonconforming individual can afford conventional status symbols.

"A key question for companies is to understand how consumers can demonstrate that they are intentionally not-conforming through brands and products," the authors wrote. "In other words, 'What makes nonconformity seem more intentional?'"

The study, "The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity," was authored by Harvard University doctoral student Silvia Bellezza and assistant professors Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan.

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