You turn up for a big meeting only to find that the person you’re presenting is wearing all black with a pop of leopard print – just like you.
You’ll now have to make jokes about this not being the company uniform for the next hour. Great.
You look around your desk and see that everyone’s wearing a breton striped top with skinny jeans. Time for a #twinning pic, we reckon.
Or, the worst, you now need to create a schedule to wear that Zara dress, as four other people in your office have turned up wearing it on the same day.
Coworkers dressing near-identically is definitely a thing.
Sadly, there’s no scientific research into this culturally acknowledged phenomenon, but just a look through your Twitter and Instagram on a weekday will show it’s not a coincidence that only occurs in your office. Just spot all the ‘ha, we’re both wearing checked shirts with black jeans’ posts.
All over the place, people who work together often find themselves dressing in a similar way – or wearing the exact same thing.
Why does it happen?
There’s the practical, logistical side to consider first.
People who work together all experience the same things that influence the clothes they choose to buy.
They all live in the same area, meaning they have the same shops available. They’re probably all on a similar level of income, which will influence their budget. They see the same celebrities, the same catwalks, the same magazines, all trickling down to tell them what looks cool.
If your office has a dress code, that limits your options and makes twinning more likely, too. If you’re not allowed to wear shorts but jeans are okay, it’s not too surprising if everyone shows up wearing a slogan tee, jeans, and Stan Smiths on a Friday. If a particular day calls for smartness, you’ll all be wearing some sort of blazer. If it’s freezing in your office, no wonder loads of you have invested in the same cosy cardigan.
The likelihood of people at work dressing similarly is high, simply because they’re all living in the same cultural space, with the same clothing options available.
That’s the practical side of things, but there’s a psychological element going on, too.
Whether you consciously buy the same things you’ve spotted your desk buddy wearing or find yourself dressing in a fashion increasingly similar to your boss, it’s human nature to take your personal style closer to that of the people you work with. It’s all about creating a sense of belonging and togetherness.
Psychologist Dr Barry Cripps explains that coworkers start dressing similarly or wearing the exact same thing ‘because they want to be seen like everyone else in the organisation, fitting into the culture and maintaining their social identity within the group’.
Subtly copying your coworkers style is an attempt to fit in and show everyone that you belong, you’re the right fit, and so you’re doing a great job. You look like you belong, so you’re safer from getting excluded.
Counselling Directory member Dr Sarah Jane Khalid agrees, telling Metro.co.uk that there may be benefits to dressing alike when you’re part of a team at work.
‘It builds rapport and makes us feel safe,’ she says. ‘If there is a sense of conformity, then we feel able to identify ourselves in others, which feels safe and can bring a level of certainty.
‘As much as we like to think ourselves as unique and individuals we are also driven to fit in with a group.
‘This conformity is often driven by identification, this can bring the group together thus forming a sense of belonging and connection.’
Dr Cripps notes that dressing alike can reinforce the idea that you’re working as a team, allowing for better communication among the group.
But of course, while you and your boss might be wearing that exact same dress from & Other Stories on repeat, there will always be someone in the office who has a personal style that’s entirely their own.
That might protect them from all those accidental twinning moments, but it can also reduce their sense of belonging.
‘Dressing differently could make the statement, “I am my own person”, “the organisation is not going to mould me into their way of dressing (and thinking)”,’ explains Dr Cripps. ‘This might upset management and detract from attempts to bond and strengthen social cohesion.’
But it’s not all bad news. Standing out can be handy if you’re no longer trying to just go unnoticed and be a small cog in the machine.
Sarah says: ‘If someone dresses differently, it may make them feel less of a part of the ‘in-group’ but it can help the person with personal branding, which can sometimes enable promotion in the workplace.’
So if you’re showing everyone you’re a team player, dressing like the people you work with is a good shout. But if you’re trying to send the message that you’re a creative rebel ready to bring up out-there ideas and take charge, it’s worth dressing a little differently to the group – whether that’s a sudden power suit or something more colourful in a sea of black.
But, as trite as it may sound, be yourself and dress for yourself.
A work uniform can make you feel like one big happy team, but it can start to chip away at your sense of self. Removing the decision of what to wear can be time-saving and game-changing, but you might find yourself missing the opportunity to show your individuality.
‘Research shows that letting people organise their own working environment increases productivity; similarly letting them dress how they like will keep most people happy,’ says Barry.
Dress for yourself in a way that makes you feel good. If that happens to be similar to the way everyone else in your office dresses, don’t stress – it’s perfectly normal. And if you’re sticking out like a sore thumb, keep going as long as you feel comfortable.
You’re just as likely to be liked by your colleagues for wearing a skirt everyone thinks is ‘so you’, as you are for styling that Zara dress in a way they’ll now copy. Do you.
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