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Wearing a shirt and tie doesn’t simply look smart; it actually makes you smarter.

 Take a pair of identical adult male twins, put one in a nice shirt and the other in the same shirt, but with the addition of a coordinated tie. Which twin do you think would make the better first impression on a job interview or on a blind date? Even without actually conducting this experiment, most of us would assume the twin with the tie. Why is that? What does a shirt and tie signify? After all, we know that the tie is simply an accessory and has no bearing on the wearer’s attributes – or does it?

Experiments have in fact been carried out that have bearing on these questions. For example, The New York Times published findings from one study in which people who wore a white lab coat scored higher in attention–related tests than those wearing their regular clothes. When the subjects wore an identical white coat they were told was a painter’s coat, their attention ratings did not improve. This idea that wearing “smart clothes” makes you smarter is referred to in the psychology field as “enclothed cognition.” Obviously, the wearer has to understand the symbolic meaning of the clothing item for the experiment to prove effective.

Wearing clothing that are recognized as more formal than usual has been shown to make people think more broadly and integratively as opposed to narrowly. Likewise, wearing a suit prompts people to use more of their abstract capabilities. Same holds true for clothes identified with the classroom. It’s as if wearing these “smart clothes” widens awareness beyond the usual parameters, i.e., beyond the comfort zone of casual, uncoded dress attire. In other words, looking smart makes you smarter.

Yet another study showed that well-dressed men are viewed as sexier, smarter, more successful, and more well-liked, as well as more suitable relationship candidates. Over 90% of Americans think dressing well makes a man more physically attractive, while nearly two-thirds believe a well-dressed man is a more likely marriage candidate than one who isn't. No doubt all these findings bear out why many nightclubs have traditionally had dress codes: to encourage the sense of being among a “smart” set. (A room full of lab coats, perhaps not so much.)

So what does this all mean now that the suit is no longer the standard uniform for men? To the extent that men’s dress attire continues to become more casual, dressing up takes on more significance as well. This is to say, in a world where a man doesn’t have to wear a suit to prove he’s successful, he still might wish to show that he’s no slouch. In a way, dressing up, even if entails relatively less effort that in previous years, has more to say now, precisely because it’s not a mandate, but a choice. How else might we explain the proliferation of bowties in everyday attire - often without a jacket - over the past few years, crossing and conflating the boundaries of stardom, nerdom and hispterdom?

The return of the trimmer tie seems especially suited for the jacketless shirt and tie look – a cleaner, crisper kind of smart casual. I myself tried it out recently in a couple of Madrid’s chicest Michelin-star restaurants, and even the maître d’ at the most elegant establishment didn’t bat an eye. In fact, my dinner companion and I were shown to arguably the best table in the room. Was this his way of acknowledging my own smartness, and in turn demonstrating how smart he and the establishment were? I did notice at least one gentleman in a proper jacket casting furtive jealous glances in my direction, perchance wondering if he could “pull it off.” Yet for me, not wearing a jacket was simply a pragmatic travel solution - no wrinkled jacket to worry about. Instead, I’d packed a few smart shirts and ties.      

This brings us back to our theoretical twins and why the one with the tie looks smarter. Scientific studies aside, the vertical emphasis has instant connotations: upright, standup, and yes, erect. A tie pulls in the focus – wearer’s and observer’s alike. On the most concrete level, it indicates that the wearer can tie a proper tie knot. On the more abstract level, it should indicate that he knows how to pick a tie. How a man coordinates his tie with his shirt says much more than simply wearing one. It conveys something about his taste level, creativity and individuality.

Last, but certainly not least, wearing a shirt and tie is just plain sexy. Clearly, we know that wearing certain clothing can influence our behavior. Sexy underwear, for example, may well incite behavior different from that prompted by a lab coat. If nothing else, a shirt and tie can potentially incite the fantasy of undoing them. With this in mind, you would certainly be smart to start conducting your own experiments. We’d love to hear your findings.

Jorge Socarras

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