We Dressed Like Mark Zuckerberg For A Week To See If We'd Experience The 'Zuckerberg Effect'

Is the Facebook CEO's signature style the key to his increased focus and productivity? We were about to find out.

Lifetrial is an original A Plus series where we try our hand at lifestyle trends, new and tried-and-true, that promise to have a positive impact. Whether it's the latest and greatest in technology or a wacky new fitness trend, we're excited to give it a go and report back on if it helped make life even better.

For the tech-savvy and fashion-forward alike, Mark Zuckerberg is known for two things: Facebook and grey t-shirts.

The Facebook CEO famously wears the same outfit every day — a grey shirt and pants —  because he says cutting out decision-making on the less important things in his life, such as his wardrobe choices, helps increase his overall productivity. 

"I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community," said Zuckerberg in 2014 when asked about his signature style. "I'm in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life." 

To see if this philosophy would work for us, my fellow A Plus colleague, Isaac Saul, and I challenged ourselves to dress like Mark Zuckerberg for a week. Would this simple change increase our productivity — and perhaps inadvertently our own net worths?

Dawnn-Karen, a pioneer in the fashion psychology field explained to A Plus the benefits of "the repetitious wardrobe complex," a theory she coined describing this tendency to wear the same thing every day. "So, in Mark Zuckerberg's case, we're talking about improving work performance, increasing productivity," she said.  

We were confident we'd feel at least some of these "Zuckerbergian" effects since even experts agree that limiting wardrobe choices can increase one's efficiency, productivity, and mood. 

So, on the first Monday morning of the experiment, Isaac and I both coincidentally chose a light blue shirt for our work "uniform," for a summery pop of color. We took one look at each other and immediately burst out laughing. 

If great minds think alike, we must be geniuses. Either that or two characters in an episode of some odd couple sitcom where two coworkers make a weeklong bet. Obviously, I'm Dwight.

Knowing exactly what I was going to wear that first morning, without thinking twice, already felt like a small weight lifted, and made the morning go even smoother. Usually, I go to the gym before work, which means packing my bag with work clothes and toiletries the night before so I'm not scrambling in the morning. This experiment made that process faster because I didn't waste any time — in the morning or at night — worrying about what I should wear. 

Isaac agreed, adding, "It definitely felt like my morning was a little easier and required less thought. Something about knowing what outfit you're wearing gives you some free time and reduces the rush to make breakfast, brush your teeth, get the morning coffee and pack your bag." 

Dawnn-Karen explained that we were already feeling better in the morning because we'd eliminated a small, yet daily, source of anxiety far too many people experience when choosing an outfit. "Perhaps people who wear the same clothing every day, they may ... feel some type of anxiety when it comes to selecting clothing from their closet every day," she said. 

In 2006, researchers conducted laboratory and field studies and found that making lots of small decisions, such as what to wear and what to eat, decreases your mental energy throughout the day. That can negatively affect your ability to make more significant and/or urgent decisions, a phenomenon called "decision fatigue." By eliminating one choice from our days, we were able to start each day feeling fresh rather than fatigued — especially when combined with a few extra minutes of sleep. 

The rest of the mornings went similarly, with some variations. On the third day of the experiment, for example, I paired my outfit with an I Dream of Genie ponytail, mainly because I didn't feel like washing my hair, and only the great and powerful Zuckerberg can judge me now. Especially since Isaac took the day off, though he assured me he would still be wearing his requisite uniform. 

So it was just me at the office, carrying on the productivity torch — and doing a fine job at it, I might add. Since we were about halfway through the experiment, it sort of dawned on me that normally I feel some kind of way about each day's outfit, but at this point, I felt pretty neutral. I didn't love my outfit, but I certainly didn't hate it either. If anything, I acknowledged its practical purpose in keeping me a member of polite society, but it wasn't a source of happiness or regret. 

And funnily enough, Isaac had a similar experience. "I definitely didn't feel anything towards my outfit one way or the other," he explained. "I think the plain tee-shirt and the regular pants did little to dictate my mood, versus sometimes when I wear a button down or a sports jersey, I may feel particularly business-like or athletic." 

When I spoke to Dawnn-Karen a few days later, our reactions, or lack thereof, didn't surprise her. Fashion psychology, she told me, exists on a spectrum from mood illustration (choosing clothes based on your state of mind) to mood enhancement (choosing clothes to bring about a certain state of mind). The repetitious wardrobe complex falls in the middle of this spectrum "where your mood isn't fluctuating — it's just set, it's neutralized." 

With a neutral mood toward my clothes, I didn't waste time second guessing my outfit choice — whether it was figure-flattering, if other people liked it, all the other silly things that can affect my mood — which I believe did help my productivity and focus. Isaac, on the other hand, didn't think his clothing choice dictated his mood or self-esteem perhaps, he reasoned, because he's "never been good enough with fashion to feel one way or the other." Still, he added, "I did feel comfortable about what I was wearing, and I definitely didn't feel like it made me feel more formal or relaxed. The repetition definitely made me more neutral." 

Thursday was an interesting day to be doing this experiment because it happened to be the one day a month I actually need to dress nice at work. That's right, it was the A Plus Book Club. ICYMI, A Plus has a Facebook Live series where I and my cohost Emily interview authors. It's lit-erary. With this event in mind, I didn't want to wear a casual t-shirt for this regularly professional interview. So while I still wore my Zuckerberg outfit to work, I packed a second blouse to change into before the interview. How much time did I waste picking out one blouse people would only see for 15 minutes? More than I'd like to admit. 

So ironically, I suppose I proved the success of the experiment by deliberately failing to abide by it. Even though I wasted some time Wednesday night picking out my outfit and worrying about whether I'd made the right choice Thursday morning, I did actually feel a slight surge in my morning productivity. 

Meanwhile, Isaac remained a Zuckerberg purist, sticking to his uniform throughout the day. "By the afternoon, I didn't feel much different than on most days, though I probably was getting more done in retrospect," he explained. "It's amazing how much time you can save by making a time-consuming decision like what to wear a bit more simple." 

Though he didn't yet know it, Isaac was living proof of what someone can accomplish when they're not bogged down by decision fatigue. "Part of me was curious if ordering the same lunch or making the same dinner every night could also be a way to improve productivity," he added. (Perhaps we have another experiment article in the making?) 

With the experiment ending, I have some mixed feelings. On one hand, I did enjoy this little bit of added certainty in knowing what I was going to wear every day. This experiment occurred during a week when I was dealing with some personal stressors (mainly, moving from one apartment to another) outside of work, so it was nice to be able to focus on solving real problems instead of silly, superfluous ones while at work. That's probably why I appreciated the basic staples making up my work "uniform." Because I wasn't going for any specific "look" in coordination with my outfit, I could simply style my hair and makeup in whatever way was most convenient and efficient that day.

"I enjoyed participating in the experiment, though I am not sure I experienced the Zuckerberg effect," Isaac said, "There were definitely some pros — less time thinking about what to wear in the morning meant more time to get work done or wake up and get going in a less stressful manner." 

That said, I am looking forward to choosing my own clothes again, namely as soon as I leave work on Friday. I'm going to dinner and a comedy show with friends after work, and I don't particularly want to do so in a blue t-shirt I've worn two days in a row. Isaac, too, couldn't wait to have his outfit autonomy back. "I missed dressing for the day, throwing on what I wanted to wear, and that little bit of expression you get by choosing your clothes," he said.

And there's actually some pretty interesting science behind that desire, too. Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, a psychologist and author of "You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You" told Forbes, "Changing your outfit after work is a concrete representation that you are not in work mode any more." A quick outfit change can be an integral part of a post-work ritual to decompress, even if it's just a shirt. Because we're so plugged in, especially those of us who just happen to work in online media, it can be harder to turn off our body's work mode when it's still in work clothes. And on a Friday afternoon, I was more than happy to send my body a floral-printed signal that work time was over and fun time could begin. 

We made it! 

Overall, though I didn't see any massive increases in my level of work productivity or focus, I would do this experiment again, perhaps even for an extended period of time to see if there were any more significant, longterm effects. And while I'm looking forward to choosing my own clothes again, this experience did serve its purpose in making me more mindful of my work process and little things I can do to make it better. 

"I definitely think the experiment and not spending time choosing clothes improved my productivity, but I think it was pretty marginal," Isaac concurred. "If I were to do this again I'm pretty sure I'd choose an outfit that was more flexible — i.e. good for rain, heat, cold office, and so on." That being said, he did acknowledge that, "There was one day where I went through my drawer for five minutes trying to pick a shirt, and then remembered I didn't have a choice. It was actually a relief!" 

We both learned that not worrying about what we're going to wear is definitely one way, albeit a small one, to increase our productivity and focus, though neither of us will ever be able to go full Zuckerberg. Nonetheless, I think we'll both be wearing our blue shirts again, perhaps not every day, but the next time we need an extra morning boost. 


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