Over the past weeks psychology.fashion’s responses to research commissioned by Printerland.co.uk about what to wear for success at work have been reported across the world. Here are some of the links:

How workplace dress codes can affect you. Printerland.co.uk

The best colours to wear to work if you want to look professional, Harpers Bazaar Australia

Is your workwear making you look Lazy? Daily Mail 

Formal dress codes can lead to happier employees, HR Review

Formal dress codes can have a major effect on your work ethic, Evoke ie.

Sometimes there are rules about what to wear at work, e.g., a uniform, other times there are unwritten rules, e.g., navy, black or grey suits in the City. The rules may depend on the organisation, its culture, its business, as well as your level in the hierarchy. Of course there’s no simple answer, and because there’s very little reliable empirical research, it’s a question of joining the dots in from a range of psychological theories and applying them in a specific context…your organisation.  

We’re all familiar with the sayings “Dress for success” and “dress for the job you want rather than the job you have” and there’s some truth in these, but exercise caution. Judging the appropriateness of what we wear as well as its functionality can help us decide on what’s good for us to wear to work.

“Dress for success” and “dress for the job you want rather than the job you have.”  

While there are few studies on the psychology of fashion, there is some interesting work on the influence of coloured clothing, particularly red. For example, researchers have shown red clothing is associated with higher ratings of physical and sexual attractiveness, but wearing red for an interview may not work in your favour. Why might this be?

For example, Elliot and Niesta (2008) found that different colour backgrounds (red, white, green, grey, blue, or green) influenced men’s ratings of attractiveness and sexually desirable images of women, but not men, in photographs. These findings were supported in 2010 when researchers Niesta-Kayser, Elliot, and Feltman (2010) asked men to generate to create questions to ask women dressed in red or a green shirt. Their findings showed that those who were told they’d be speaking with a women wearing red, generated more intimate questions than those who were told they’d be speaking to a woman wearing green. Many other studies have shown the powerful positive influence of red clothing for women and also men in competitive sport as well as social situations.

So how does red work for us in a job interview and the workplace?

In a 2007 study, Maier, Elliot and colleagues found simply writing a participant number in red as opposed to green or blue negatively affected performance on a test. In their 2013 study, Maier, Elliott and coworkers found that applicants wearing red shirts were perceived as less intelligent than those wearing green shirts. They also found that those wearing red ties, as opposed to blue ties, were considered to lack leadership potential and be less capable of generating profits. Unsurprisingly, they were also rated as less likely to be hired.

Once you have a job, wearing red in certain situations can influence those you interact with. For example, researchers found that a wearing a red tie when making a presentation, but not as part of a job interview, can make the message more persuasive. Red is associated with a multitude of emotions from romance and passion, to anger, danger and blood so think carefully about the impression you hope to make when you choose to wear red. 

What’s the take home message?

Avoid wearing red when attending a job interview, but wear it when you want to get your message across and impress your date!


Elliot, A. J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: red enhances men’s attraction to women. Journal of personality and social psychology95(5), 1150.

Elliot, A. J., Maier, M. A., Moller, A. C., Friedman, R., & Meinhardt, J. (2007). Color and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance attainment. Journal of experimental psychology: General136(1), 154.

Maier, M.A. and Hill, R.A. and Elliot, A.J. and Barton, R.A. (2015) ‘Color in achievement contexts in
humans.’, in Handbook of color psychology. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, pp. 568-584. Cambridge
handbooks in psychology.

Maier, M. A., Elliot, A. J., Lee, B., Lichtenfeld, S., Barchfeld, P., & Pekrun, R. (2013). The influence of red on impression formation in a job application context. Motivation and Emotion37(3), 389-401.

Niesta Kayser, D., Elliot, A. J., & Feltman, R. (2010). Red and romantic behavior in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology40(6), 901-908.

Wiedemann, D., Burt, D. M., Hill, R. A., & Barton, R. A. (2015). Red clothing increases perceived dominance, aggression and anger. Biology letters11(5), 20150166.