By Debra Simon


Whether you want to ace the interview in Research Triangle Park or wow 'em at the medical conference in Durham, what do clothes have to do with it?


As a feminist, I'd like to think the answer is nothing, zero, nada. The idea that a piece of cloth can lend you courage, my gut tells me, is a throwback to a sexist past.


But a fact is a fact, and this is a scientific fact: Dressing well boosts your self-confidence.


For many of us, day-to-day experience bears this out. When we put together an ensemble that fits us to a T, we tend to walk with head held high, shoulders thrown back and mouth curved into a broad smile.


If a flattering dress or a scarf tied just so can make a woman fearless, that's great! It's certainly not shallow to grab every opportunity to meet the world with your A-game.


Research demonstrates that there's a powerful link between a garment and your sense of self. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology discovered that an outfit may alter how you approach and interact with the world.


Some people in the study put on white coats that they believed belonged to doctors. These participants did better on tests than subjects who wore street clothes or who thought the coats were associated with artists.


According to this research, if you have a strong association with a garment, donning it can have an impact on your cognitive processes. "Enclothed cognition" means that if your brain links upscale pumps with powerful, intelligent women, you're likely to act that way when you slip on those Manolo Blahniks.


Other studies in this field were set in simulated business meetings at which subjects wore formal and casual clothing. The results showed that better duds raise your confidence level, affect how others perceive you, and may improve your thinking.


For example, Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, demonstrated that clothes with high social status can increase dominance and job performance in high-stakes competitive tasks.


What's the takeaway? Give yourself the opportunity to be fierce.


Choose clothes that make you feel happy, self-assured, polished and authoritative. Go through your closet and donate the dress that's too tight, the shirt that's too short, and the pants that went out of style a decade ago.


This empowerment isn't limited to women of a certain body type. Plus-size or petite, use your wardrobe as a method to boost your self-assurance. Change the way you dress and you will, in fact, feel better.


Photos courtesy Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week