A series of studies by the Harvard Business School has confirmed what Lady Gaga has known ever since she debuted her lightening bolt-covered eye and meat dress: people tend to like outlandish dressers.
The research, by doctoral student Silvia Bellezza and two Harvard professors, examines how individuals perceive status and competence from those “not conforming” —
particularly in their style.
And what they found was somewhat surprising: that people grant higher status and competence to the more unique individuals, viewing them as more autonomous.
In order to reach their conclusions, the researchers conducted their research in the lab on students and evaluations in the community, reports Shirley S. Wang of The Wall Street Journal.
One experiment included sending two types of people into luxury boutiques in Milan: one wearing gym clothes and the other in fancy clothes. The salespeople in the shops actually assumed the schlumpy-looking clients were going to be the big spenders. They perceived them as confident enough to be dressed down, and therefore “more apt to be a celebrity making a purchase than someone wrapped in fur,” Wang wrote.
The abstract from the study goes further by stating that odd behaviour “can act as a particular form of conspicuous consumption and lead to positive inferences of status and competence in the eyes of others.”
Another experiment included students judging a bearded professor wearing a T-shirt over a clean shaven one wearing a tie. It was scruff for the win.
However, there are no rules without exceptions. And one of the big exceptions in this case is if the behaviour or style is perceived as completely unintentional. “In order to think that the person’s a big shot, you have to understand that the person is willingly engaging in this nonconforming conduct,” Bellezza said.
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