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The Red Sneakers Effect – Sriram Prabhakar


Babasaheb Ambedkar wore elegant, expensive clothing, and Narendra Modi does the same. Ambedkar loved to wear nice clothes, in contrast to the Congressmen of his era. It’s interesting to note that these members of lower social classes dressed elegantly for the same reason that members of powerful families, like Gandhi and Nehru, dressed simply.

The Red Sneakers effect is the name given to this phenomenon. Individuals give non-confirming behaviors a high status. It is considered polite for a millionaire like Zuckerberg to enter a room wearing red sneakers, yet it is trashy for a recent graduate to wear those to an interview. While a poor graduate would seem cool by dressing up, a millionaire would look cool by dressing down. Others perceive folks who deliberately wear anything that deviates from the norm—like red shoes in a formal setting—as having more prestige and skill than those who do not. This term is also frequently used to describe people. This is because nonconforming behaviors can communicate sentiments of independence, self-assurance, and creativity if they are done consciously and in the right environment. However, the outcome can be the opposite if the nonconformity is thought to be unintentional, improper, or rude. This is why the Red Sneaker effect is a situational and nuanced strategy that can be used to stand out from the crowd and make an impression on others, rather than a simple rule of thumb.
People would expect you to wear pricey suits if you come from an aristocratic family that could afford to send you to London for further education at a time when most people cannot even afford to send their children to elementary school and enable you to be a member of the most prominent legal society in the world. Additionally, you would be respected for being the nonconformist if you wore a plain loin cloth.

So what happens when someone engages in nonconforming conduct, like walking into a high-end store dressed more like a gym participant than an attractive dresser or sporting red sneakers in a business environment? As expensive and obvious signals, nonconforming actions might serve as a specific type of conspicuous consumerism and provide the impression that one is competent and well-off to others. Numerous studies show that people value nonconforming people more highly than conforming ones in terms of status and competence. Perceived autonomy mediates and moderates these positive inferences drawn from nonconformity signals, as do individual variances in the observers’ quest for uniqueness. We define boundary conditions and show that the favorable inferences vanish when the nonconforming behavior is portrayed as inadvertent, when the observer is not familiar with the area, and when there are no common standards of formal conduct and expected norms.

Studies indicate “Instead of showing you can afford to spend money, you’re showing you can afford to spend your social capital,”. “You’re saying, ‘I’m so autonomous and successful that I can afford to dress in a nonconforming way.'”

In one study, women recruited from Milan’s central train station and luxury shop clerks in Milan, Italy responded to survey questions regarding possible customers visiting a luxury boutique. Some respondents were dressed in Swatch watches and workout clothing, while others were wearing fine dresses, fur coats, and Piaget or Panerai watches.

Shop employees believed that a customer wearing gym clothes or a Swatch was more likely to purchase and be a celebrity than one wearing a stunning dress or a Rolex, as they knew that wealthy people occasionally visited luxury boutiques in casual attire. Those who are not familiar with the clientele of luxury boutiques at train stations have a tendency to regard the well-groomed consumer as having a higher status than the one who is poorly dressed.

The client who was dressed down was perceived by the study’s shop personnel as deliberately dressing poorly for a high-end establishment. Another stated that “wealthy people sometimes dress very badly to demonstrate superiority” as well as “if you dare enter these boutiques underdressed, you are definitely going to buy something.” Even yet, passersby were unaware that a customer may deliberately enter a boutique wearing incorrect clothing.

The study found that store employees are more likely to give someone who dresses differently more status points because they are accustomed to the surroundings and people’s fashion sense.
Undergraduates at Harvard were questioned about their opinions on teachers’ appearances. Harvard students thought that male instructors who were not wearing ties and were unshaven seemed more competent than those who were.

An online poll asked about a man who wore a red bowtie instead of the typical black one to a formal black-tie event at his golf club. Survey respondents believed the man with the red bowtie was a higher-status member and a better golfer than the one in the black bowtie, provided that he deliberately dressed differently. A man lost status when he mistakenly wore the wrong bowtie.

An online survey about an MIT young entrepreneur competitor was completed by respondents. Respondents to the survey believed the candidate had greater significance when he used his own presentation layout rather than the MIT pattern. When researchers looked at observers’ “need for uniqueness,” they discovered that those who shown a larger affinity for it awarded the non-conformer more autonomy, status, and competence than the conformer.
Researchers watched executives’ reactions as a speaker at a prestigious business school gave a talk while sporting red Converse sneakers. The professor received a greater professional status from the CEOs who claimed to wear “distinctive shoes” than from those who did not, indicating that individuals with “high levels of need for uniqueness” award nonconformity with a higher status point value than those with “low levels.”

“People who like to diverge from the norm themselves, the ones who like unique products, are more likely to see the signal and interpret it positively,”.

This can also be applied to HR, for as when a candidate from a highly regarded university shows up for an interview wearing less clothing than a candidate from a lesser-known university.


The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity – Article – Faculty & Research – Harvard Business School (

The Red Sneaker Effect – Why and how to make the most of it – weareshowstoppersDressing for Success: From Lucky Socks to the Red Sneaker Effect – Association for Psychological Science – APS

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