Red Sneaker Effect Signals Authority And Accomplishment

According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, sometimes dressing down can give the impression of competence and success. Researchers caution it only works in specific contexts.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And our last word in business today is: red sneakers.

Some days when getting ready for work, you just want to put on your favorite pair of shoes. They're comfortable, they're familiar, and they just may be a sign of something, as boss man, Jack Donaghy, noted to the creative, Liz Lemon, on the TV show "30 Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "30 ROCK")

ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) You left me dangling, Lemon. I'm not a creative type like you, with your work sneakers and your left-handedness. I can't do what you do.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It seems Alec Baldwin's character was on to something. According to a new study in "The Journal of Consumer Research," sometimes dressing down can give the impression of competence and success. The co-author of the study, Anat Keinan, teaches at Harvard Business School.

ANAT KEINAN: Well, the classical example is, you know, Mark Zuckerberg meeting, you know, investment bankers for the Facebook IPO dressed in a hoodie, and that actually was considered as a signal of power and status. He is big shot; he can do whatever he wants.

GREENE: Indeed, he can. The researchers actually call this the red sneaker effect, when unconventional dress can signal authority and accomplishment.

INSKEEP: But don't just show up to work in anything because dressing down only works in specific contexts, and with subtle stylish tweaks.

KEINAN: It could just be wearing a colorful tie, or colorful socks or, you know, different shoes. It has to be very clear that it's deliberate.

GREENE: Still, this research does show that the best way to project power is to be yourself.

KEINAN: Not only is it OK to be yourself, but it actually be beneficial to be yourself and to be different, and it's actually a way to earn the respect of others.

INSKEEP: Which is why David Greene is wearing that power red-check shirt today. David, I respect you even more?

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: I appreciate that, Steve.

INSKEEP: And that's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

GREENE: And I'm David Greene.

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