09/12/2013 02:21 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

The Power of Dressing Up

One of my life philosophies is to always be overdressed. This may be rooted in the fact that I grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, where everyone is, by average U.S. standards, overdressed. After 17 years in the U.S., where yoga wear is considered stylish outside of the yoga studio, and sneakers are worn off the running path, I have had to create a daily motto for myself to maintain these Swiss standards in my appearance.

It may seem vain, it may seem arrogant. But this past week, spent, well, yes, in Europe, reminded me that dressing up is not about pretension or vanity. It is about how you present yourself to the world, and hence, how you behave. Specifically, two situations reminded me of the power of dress.

I had the pleasure of spending the night at my friend Erin's chateau, a true old-style French castle, where she lives with her husband and their two children. We spent the afternoon hiking in the gardens, and then came back in time for "apero" and dinner. I was wondering what to wear (I had in mind to change out of hiking wear, and was thinking about a nice casual dress) when I saw Erin, who was in a floor-length deep green dress, and gold jewelry. We are, after all, in a chateau... Luckily I had a wedding to attend later that week, so I had packed a flesh-colored cocktail dress, which I hurriedly put on.

In our fancy dresses, we had a fabulous home-cooked meal. The dinner itself was not any fancier than any "normal" dinner (grilled fish, green beans, salad, red wine), but it was made extraordinary because we dressed up. The occasion was made more special because of what we were wearing.

A few days later, I was in Glasgow for a friend's wedding. In speaking with the bride, the subject of "dressing up" once again came up. She mentioned how nice it was to dress up to go out to drinks and dinner, and that in her "normal life" she wanted to do that more, instead of having dinners with her now-husband dressed in jeans and/or exercise clothes. Again, this made me think of the power of dress in how we live certain situations.

Why does a nice dress change the feel of a dinner? Here are some theories.

1. When I dress up, I want to live up to my outfit. If I look good, if I feel beautiful, I want to behave that way. I am less likely to be rude when I am wearing Jimmy Choo shoes. I am more likely to smile and be polite when I am wearing a fancy dress. After all, when I dress up, I am putting my best self forward -- and my behavior needs to be coherent with my appearance.

2. When I dress up, when I look good, people compliment me on my outfit. That means two things. First, I am happy and I feel good about myself, so I am nicer. Second, I smile and say thank you after each compliment, and the more I smile the easier it is to keep smiling.

3. When my husband and I both dress up for date night, I feel that we are doing something special for each other -- we are putting effort into how we look, for each other. That makes me feel good, like he did something for me, which in turn makes me act nicer, and less likely to pick a fight. It also makes it harder to pick a fight because he looks so good!

Somehow, how I dress really does make a difference in how I feel, and thus how I act. It is not about expensive clothes. It is not about vanity. I have come to think of it more as a uniform. When I put on something dressy, I am putting on my "best behavior uniform." And it works every time...