Peacocking — the art of dressing ostentatiously to attract positive female attention — has been a staple of game theory for a long time, ever since Mystery proved in-field that gaudy outfits were like flames to moths.
But peacocking has been controversial from the start. Some players thought it looked try-hard, and whatever initial impression was made on women would dissipate soon after. Some thought it would invite antagonism from other men. Still others argued that too much peacocking made a man seem unattainable and this was ultimately self-defeating to his goal of getting loved.
All these were plausible objections. CH has long been on record for finding a peacocking “sweet spot” — unique, but not too outrageous, and accented with peacocky accoutrements. The goal should be to stand out without looking like a dork completely out of his element.
Thankfully, the ❤️science❤️ is rolling in to help clear the confusion on this perennial topic. One important result emerges from the latest slew of studies: Context, and self-confidence, matter.
Anyone who has felt like the odd duck of the group can take heart from new research from Harvard Business School that says sticking out in distinct ways can lend you an air of presence or influence. [...]
Less work has focused on what others think of those who try to communicate that they are different or worthy of attention. Efforts to be different are interesting because humans are wired to conform and be part of a group.
In a series of studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research in February, Silvia Bellezza, a doctoral student, and two Harvard professors sought to examine what observers thought of individuals who deviated from the norm in the workplace and in a retail setting. Some of the work was conducted in the lab on students. Other studies took place in the community and involved passersby or attendees of a seminar. Most of the studies included about 150 participants. What they found was that being a little different can socially benefit people—in some situations.
The following parts of the experiment were heavily context-dependent:
In their first study, they asked shop assistants and pedestrians in Milan to rate what they thought of people who walked into luxury stores wearing gym clothes. The subjects also rated those who wore outfits typically considered more appropriate, like a dress and fur coat.
Pedestrians were more likely to think that a well-dressed individual was more likely to have the money to buy something in the store. Shop assistants thought the opposite. Those more familiar with the luxury retail environment were more likely to assume that a gym-clothes-wearing client was confident enough to not need to dress up more, and therefore more apt to be a celebrity making a purchase than someone wrapped in fur.
The same pattern emerged in subsequent studies conducted in other settings: Students afforded more respect to a fictitious bearded professor who wore a T-shirt than to a clean-shaven one who wore a tie. Candidates entering a business-plan competition who chose to use their own PowerPoint presentation background were tabbed more likely to win than those who used the standard background.
Lesson: You don’t want to look like every other button-down, jeans-wearing dude. The safe play won’t get you much negative attention, but neither will it earn you much positive attention. You have to dress with deliberate “social risk amplification” in mind. In the courtship arenas of bars et al, you should strive to look like a man who has nothing to prove and isn’t concerned with people’s expectations.
But, there are limits to the effectiveness of nonconformism:
There are boundaries to the benefits of looking different, the Harvard work showed. If an individual was viewed as accidentally out of sync with everyone else, such as mistakenly wearing a red bow tie rather than black at a formal event, that erased positive feelings about him among those surveyed. Those opinions only improved when the survey group believed their contrarian acted differently on purpose.
“In order to think that the person’s a big shot, you have to understand that the person is willingly engaging in this nonconforming conduct,” Ms. Bellezza says.
One reason Mystery’s peacocking worked so well was because his attitude and the context within which he operated (nightclubs) conveyed intention. No woman would assume he “accidentally” wore a feather boa. He wore his flagrant peacocks’ attire with purpose. That is, he owned it. Contrast is king, but only when overconfidence is co-king.
There’s one more important caveat:
In addition, the environment must give cues that suggest a person’s talent or wealth. Standing in the front of the classroom or walking confidently into a luxury store already imply some level of belonging. But when an observer didn’t know whether the person they view is part of the group, eccentric dress was seen as a negative, according to the researchers.
Peacocking has to be framed. If you’re a newbie to game dressed in Victorian coat, spats and Celtic pendant, but carrying yourself with the body language of an anxious and uncertain man in a roomful of strangers, you will signal too much outsiderness. You will be shit tested and ostracized as a dork. Your already weak frame will be smashed to smithereens.
The solution is 1. peacocking only in the company of people who are already familiar with you (social proof) or 2. tempering your flash in the company of strangers so that you don’t unduly alert any of them to your outsider status.
Body language, as usual, is key here. The stronger — i.e., more alpha — your presence, the easier it will be to stand outside the crowd dressed in odd or inappropriate clothing. The irony of successful peacocking is that you have to act like you belong to afford the social risk of dressing like you don’t belong.
Maxim #42: Contrast in how you dress is received better by the group when you are socially proofed.
Corollary to Maxim #42: If you peacock, don’t wait long to befriend the group. Peacocking should be framed as “This is totally normal. The problem is everyone else’s weirdness about it.”
There are times when communicating high rank and competence becomes more important, such as during a shake-up in management at work. Signaling one’s place in a group reduces uncertainty, but sometimes the goal may be to fit into the group, and sometimes to signal that one is a high-status person in the group, says David Dubois, a marketing professor at Insead in France and Singapore.
Given the strong female predilection for higher status men, signaling high rank within a social milieu is more crucial to seduction success than is signaling group membership. You can dress conservatively and fit in, and you’ll make lots of asexual friends that way, or you can dress a little crazy and attract women intrigued by your handicapping boldness.
Dr. Poole’s best practical advice: “Don’t talk a lot if you have high status. People will assume you’re competent and when you talk, they will listen to you.”
Mystery’s peacocking was not a superficial ploy. He thrived on negative attention from women because he knew that it was simpler to attract an antagonistic woman than it was to attract an indifferent woman. He knew he had the game cattle to go with his furry hat. This latest series of studies examining peacocking may overlook that calculation: Eccentric dress to provoke negative social appraisal as a means of accelerating courtship.
The Bottom Line
Don’t peacock until you’ve improved your body language and have learned how to talk to women confidently and handle the inevitable shit tests you’ll get when you start dressing in a unique manner. The clothes alone won’t make you a player. If you peacock, don’t stand around waiting for women to notice your courageous sartorial ensemble; approach promptly, and act like there’s nothing unusual about how you’re dressed. Remember that a major goal of peacocking is to provoke negative attention which, in women, is a direct pipeline to their sexual interest. If you struggle with negative attention, don’t peacock. You don’t need to go full-body peacock to raise your relative in-group status; subtle cues of risk-taking alphatude — jewelry, tattoos, shoes — can work just as well if the social context is skewed toward a conformist, bland dress code.