I’m thinking today about honoring and expressing yourself in the midst of a work environment that has certain restrictions on what you can and cannot wear. It seems that each time I do a session for corporate folk, this question comes up and I wonder how other people do it, or if they’re just stuffing themselves into suits without giving much thought to who they are as people.

Although we know quite a bit about how clothing affects the perception of others (here’s one of my favourite interesting ones) there is a new body of research coming out on how clothing affects your psychological processes. Called ’embodied cognition’ or ‘enclothed cognition’, it’s basically a research thread that looks specifically at how what you put on makes you behave. With the wide availability of almost any kind of clothing, the choices we make are becoming more personal than ever and it makes me wonder how our performance is affected when we’re in environments where we can’t wear what makes us really sing. For example, one of the clients I work with is an accountant who is a very creative person, but who works in a very conservative firm. To honour who he is as a person and also combine that with his lifestyle (of which his work environment is a part), we make sure his suits are very well-fitted and great for his body type and colouring, but he always wears crazy socks. I chatted with him about this concept and asked him to try wearing super conservative socks for a week and he noticed that he felt his mind was a bit cloudier, he felt a bit down during the week and not really himself. When he went back to the crazy socks, he was surprised that just that small adjustment (which not everyone sees) made him feel more clear and energized and that’s just something for his feet. Imagine what might happen if we had a bit more latitude in his corporate context for just a touch more self-expression.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the entire corporate world kick over the suit for sweatpants and flip-flops – there is some research that supports the idea that casual dressing encourages casual behaviour and a drop in productivity, which may not bode well for the workplace. I know very well that some of my clients who are in more conservative environments really need to feel comfortable. It’s their highest priority. As a result, we end up molding their wardrobe into a combination of the creative/conservative in a number of ways, either with accessories, such as socks, glasses, pocket squares, ties, bags and shoes, or with interesting details in their suiting such as fun lining, piping, structural details or interesting fabric. Above all, we make sure the fit is good, so they’re comfortable without sacrificing their professionalism.

Some clients choose clothing based on their mood and some choose it based on what they have to do in a day. I find for me it’s a bit of both. I’ve got jeans on today because I was feeling like a bit of fun, but I added a cool jacket, scarf and accessories.  Still I’m noticing I feel a little underdressed and I have to say it’s pulling my focus a bit. Although I’m in my own business and technically can wear whatever I want, there are more subtle restrictions – is it current? Is it interesting? Do I look like me and still fall into the wide parameter of what an ‘image consultant’ looks like? Are my jeans really okay for office wear when I want to get things done?

Though I’m not seeing clients today, I still have things to do and when I’m thinking about my clothing, I’m not sending all my energy towards my work. Today I’m noticing what I’m wearing. Are you?