Dress down to markets

What we wear is a powerful signaling tool in our daily lives.

We do certain actions that lead others to make assumptions about us. For example going to a football match wearing a certain coloured shirt tells others in the stadium which team you support, and therefore gives them an indication how to act around you.

Much office politics revolves around who can wear what. Certain quality ties signal to others that your are superior to your juniors. I worked in an office once were no one else dared wear braces, as that was what the boss wore.

Now this all sounds quite childish, but it would be naive to think the world didn’t work this way.

There are ways you can play on the assumptions that people make about the way you dress. One such opportunity arose yesterday for me when I went shopping to the market.

Dress scruffy for discounts

Dress scruffy for discounts

Rather than by usual attire of (fairly) smart jumper and trousers, I opted to dress as scruffily as possible: hoodie, trackie bottoms, messy trainers. I also spoke with a bit more of an accent.

This meant that the signal I was giving off was: this person doesn’t have money to burn. Whilst I don’t in any case, the assumption of a well dressed white person walking around Watney Market will likely be that they are fairly well off.

Now, the reason signaling is important for markets is that the prices aren’t fixed.

If you go to a supermarket, all prices are clear and labeled, whereas at a market it is somewhat to the traders’ discretion. There is always room to negotiate, and the price at which the trader feels they can get away with will be based upon the signals that you give off to them. Giving a signal you’re not flush with money will lower the expectations of what is the upper limit they can charge.

Asking for a discount wearing scruffy clothes will get you nowhere at Tesco, but might at a market

This applies to any scenario where the price is not made clearly available, and the transaction takes place face-to-face. Think mechanics, car boot sales, food markets. In all these instances you can lower the expectation of the price you can pay by what you wear.

Next time you go somewhere and you’re looking for a discount, try dressing down before entering negotiations. You might be surprised what you come away with…


Have you had any joy negotiating at market stalls? Do you find wearing scruffy clothes is a factor in this? Leave your findings in the comments section.