The business suit: does it do 'the business'?
: Examining emotional, cognitive and physical effects of wearing a symbolic garment

  • Annie Turner

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The effect of clothing on wearers has been examined for decades, resulting in some understanding of clothing’s purposes and effects. The topic is broad and diverse, with the phenomena only partially evidenced to date. Recently, wearing symbolic clothing has been linked to behaviours relating to the garment’s symbolism. This enclothed cognition model requires the wearer to acknowledge the garment’s symbolism for garment-related cognitive processes to be enhanced. However, wearing clothing is a holistic experience, with sensory input derived from haptic, tactile, and environmental perceptions, based on cultural, behavioural and interactional references. Seminal research surrounding enclothed cognition theory was challenged by the present thesis, which also aimed to extend enclothed cognition theory to an alternative garment (business-suit) and include a congruent context (employment interview). This had not previously been incorporated in the literature yet was argued to be intrinsic to wearers’ experience of symbolic clothing, therefore this research addressed this void.

The target population were undergraduates, yet literature reporting their opinions regarding wearing business-suits was contrary. Prior to testing the effects of suits on wearer’s behaviour, a mixed-methods approach was adopted, and undergraduates’ opinions were sought via a focus group. Five undergraduates participated, resulting in a thematic analysis reporting undergraduates’ sophisticated understanding of a business-suit’s usage. Seven themes, and an overarching theme of ‘symbolic garment’ was achieved, demonstrating multiple uses and attributes linked to a business-suit and a proposal for an ‘enclothed behaviours’ model.

Adopting a quantitative approach and addressing a void in current literature that had previously been based on self-report findings, wearing a symbolic garment was directly tested for its effect on cognition, mood and anxiety. Eighty-three participants in a between-subjects study: wearing, seeing or having no contact with a business-suit (jacket – BSJ) and priming garment-related traits, were measured on enclothed cognition (cognitive aptitude test), trait-anxiety, interview-anxiety and mood whilst having physiological arousal levels measured. A further novel approach not previously addressed in enclothed cognition literature was the incorporation of a context (an employment interview).

Results showed that wearing a BSJ significantly affected trait-task scores but could not be differentiated from seeing a BSJ. State-anxiety and mood were not significantly affected by wearing a BSJ and priming participants to the BSJ’s symbolism had minimal effect and could not support Enclothed Cognition Theory. The context affected behaviour more than wearing a BSJ on some measures, as did trait personality (emotional-stability) levels. A pattern in the data demonstrated emotional-stability affected BSJ wearers, suggesting sensory perceptions to stimulus was interpreted ‘concretely’ or ‘abstractly’ depending on participants’ emotional stability levels. Participants low in anxiety adopted a less ‘filtered’ processing style and wearing a BSJ, were argued to be ‘overloaded’ with sensory and perceptual input. A model of ‘enclothed behaviours’ was further proposed to encapsulate the multi-dimensional effects of wearing symbolic clothing.

This research subsequently tested effects of structural aspects of the BSJ (enclothed cognition) comparing them to postured effects (embodied cognition) that mimic the jackets’ effects on the body. A within-subjects design tested 30 participants on reaction-time (RT) and detection rate (DR), (Me/Not-me) trait-adjective task, and measures of mood and anxiety. Results reported no significant difference between being primed with a BSJ compared to adopting a power-posture on RT and DR, anxiety or mood change. These findings are the first to test and demonstrate that wearing a BSJ affects wearers in a similar way to embodying power, therefore priming was linked to ‘wearing’ rather than simply ‘perceiving’ via the clothing worn.

The studies presented in this thesis were the first to challenge enclothed cognition’s authors insistence on ‘explicitly’ priming wearers to garment-related traits. A further novelty of this research was it assessed the impact of context on wearer’s behaviours. Additionally, BSJ’s inherent qualities were examined in an approach that was the first to directly compare embodied cognition to enclothed cognition, resulting in further support for a proposed model of ‘enclothed behaviours.’ Additionally, in targeting undergraduates as participants, an examination not previously undertaken via a focus group study was able to confirm their opinions regarding wearing a business-suit to work and for interviews. This both clarified contrary literature and offered support for designing graduate-employability interventions that could advise on employability skills and the benefits of wears business-suits to interviews. Literature had not been previously made the link between wearing symbolic clothing and subsequent effects on wearers, resulting in a multidimensional experience of ‘enclothed behaviours’, influenced by the garment’s physical, perceptual, and contextual components. Indeed the ‘Business-suit did do the business.’
Date of AwardMay 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorRebecca Jenks (Supervisor), Douglas Howat (Supervisor) & Gail Steptoe-Warren (Supervisor)


  • Enclothed cognition
  • embodied cognition
  • business-suit
  • employment interviews
  • sensory perceptions
  • enclothed behaviour

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