Imagine this: You’re interviewing two people for a job. They’re equally competent, capable, and qualified—but you can see that one is wearing an outfit from H&M and the other’s clothes are clearly from Louis Vuitton. Whichcandidate will you hire?
A new study in the Journal of Business Research suggests you’re more likely to choose the latter. Surveying students at a large urban university in Seoul, South Korea, researchers from Yonsei University and Coastal Carolina University examined how we react to others depending on the brands they’re wearing. To do so, they tested several scenarios of someone wearing a luxury brand logo, a logo from a non-luxury brand, or no logo. They found that in nearly every situation, people gave preferential treatment to the person wearing the luxury logo.
The researchers call this effect an example of costly signaling theory, which says that people show off to “signal” to others that they can afford to do so. In the case of luxury brands, the theory predicts that people wear expensive clothing to flaunt that they can afford it, thereby increasing their status in the eyes of others.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should rush out and splurge on Gucci shoes before your next job interview. The researchers caution that several additional factors are at work.
For one, the observer must recognize the brand logo without assistance. If the wearer has to point out what she’s wearing, the effect is destroyed. And, of course, the observer must know the brand to recognize it in the first place.
For another, how someone wears the brand matters. The researchers say that a gaudy outfit will probably backfire with wealthy observers. Wealthy people tend to value subtlety in showing one’s social standing, viewing “loud” displays of clothing as being in bad taste. Cheaper designer items cater to the opposite impulse, often featuring large logos that allow their purchasers to conspicuously show off the brand.
The hiring process is known to be fraught with biases—now it seems we can add fashion to the list too.