Study shows ‘red sneaker effect’ demonstrates professional competence

Alex Wilts

Nonconforming clothing shows competence, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The study states that individuals can demonstrate higher status and competence in the workplace by intentionally wearing unconventional clothing such as red sneakers and a suit, a symbol of originality. The study has named it the “red sneaker effect.”

The success of CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg, notorious for his hoodies and flip-flops during board meetings, and Steve Jobs’s seemingly endless closet of black turtlenecks, is evidence of the “red sneaker effect.” However, career services representatives from McCombs School of Business, College of Natural Sciences and Cockrell School of Engineering all agree that at career fairs, before students land the jobs, it may be better for them to dress on the professional side.

“The students who got the most attention were the ones who took their dress a little more seriously,” said Mandi Ford, recruiting coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. According to Ford, the way students dress for the career fair should be dependent on the type of company they want to work for.

“Actuarial students will come in, and they would be at a loss if they didn’t come in business professional,” Ford said.     

According to Ford, computer science recruiters are more lax in their dress standards than actuarial science recruiters, who work in a more traditional corporate world. Ford said computer scientists even come to the expos wearing T-shirts, jeans and sneakers. 

“Computer science recruiters felt uncomfortable with the students who dressed in business professional [attire],” Ford said. “They were dressed up better than recruiters.”

Velma Arney, director of career services for McCombs, said male students should consider wearing a power tie, and females, a broach or scarf, to stand out from the sea of black suits — a different version of the “red sneaker effect.” McCombs is currently the only college on campus that requires students to be dressed in business professional attire before entering career fairs.

“The feedback we receive is that McCombs students have their act together compared to others across the country,” Arney said.

Michael Powell, director of career services for the Cockrell school, said there are other important aspects recruiters look for in students.

“[If I am recruiter], I want to know what you know about me and why you are a potentially good fit for my company,” Powell said. “Preparation goes beyond dress.”