According to the Wall Street Journal, two Harvard professors and Silvia Bellezza, a doctoral student, carried out several studies investigating perception of dress-code deviations in the workplace, in a retail setting, and in the community. They found that in most circumstances dressing differently caused the individual to be perceived as more affluent by people familiar with the environments.
One of the studies found that luxury store shop assistants in Milan rated people dressed in gym clothes as being likely to have more money to spend in the store than people “who wore outfits typically considered more appropriate, like a dress and fur coat.” Pedestrians posed the same question generally felt that the person in formal attire would be more likely to spend more money. A similar study on Harvard students found that students perceived a hypothetical teacher with a scruffy beard wearing a t-shirt as more capable than one who was clean-shaven and wore a suit and tie.
However, another study showed than a person wearing a red tie at a black tie event did not benefit from this perception boost when the survey group believed he had dressed that way accidentally. The positive perception returned when subjects were told he had dressed that way purposefully.
"In order to think the person's a big shot,” Bellezza said as a basic summary of the findings, “you have to understand that person is willingly engaging in this nonconforming conduct."
The sociological examination is one of relatively few to focus on individuals who feel the need to stand out from the crowd. Previous Harvard studies explored matters such as the reasons people are attracted to brand name clothing.