Considering how most people would probably be rejected out of principle if they ever walked into an interview for a serious job wearing casual clothes, you would think the same thing would apply to business leaders. While it’s true that the majority of business leaders maintain elegant appearances in professional settings, big names like Mark Zuckerberg do the exact opposite and yet this only seems to enhance their status in many ways.
The casual outfit that Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sported in front of elegantly dressed bankers and investors just before his company went public generated much clamor in the media. While some observers judged the young entrepreneur’s choice to wear his typical hoodie and jeans on such an official occasion as a mark of immaturity, others defended it as a sign of boldness that helped spread publicity about the deal. Why is the “CEO Casual” look sported by Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and certain other business leaders interpreted as a sign of status, while other professionals in casual dress would be laughed out of a job interview? Our research explores the conditions under which nonconforming behaviors, such as wearing red sneakers in a professional setting or entering a luxury boutique wearing gym clothes, lead to attributions of enhanced status and competence rather than social disapproval.