We all know that looks matter. What most of us don’t understand is just how much looks matter, and how difficult it is for us to ignore a person’s appearance when making a social judgment. I’m not talking just about romantic relationships, I’m talking about all our human interactions. And by appearance, I’m not speaking simply of the “beauty,” dimension, but also of many other qualities of one’s appearance.
In all our perceptions, from vision to hearing, to the pictures we build of people’s character, our unconscious mind starts from whatever objective data is available to us – usually spotty – and helps to shape and construct the more complete picture we consciously perceive. In order to offer us this more complete picture, our unconscious employs clever tricks and educated guessing to fill in some blanks. In our perception of people, and their perceptions of us, the hidden, subliminal mind takes limited data, and creates a picture that seems clear and real, but is actually built largely on unconscious inferences that are made employing factors such as a person’s body language, voice, clothing, appearance, and social category. Here I will focus on the important subliminal influence of a person’s looks in the professional environment.
Whether you like it or not, your clothing communicates – and it can have a serious effect on your ability to achieve success.
“Let’s be clear: In the big picture of ultimate reality, what you wear neither defines who you are as a person nor determines your value as a human being,” says Darlene Price, president of Well Said, Inc., and author of “Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.” “However, in the temporal realm of mere mortals, fair or not, people judge us by the way we look and that includes the way we dress.” Especially in the workplace, clothing significantly influences how others perceive you and how they respond toward you, she says.
Research shows that your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion.
And, because perception is often reality, what you wear not only communicates who you are in the minds of others, but also influences your level of career advancement.
Research has also found that when you combine your appearance with communication skills, not only is others’ perception of you affected, but their behaviour toward you is also influenced. Clothing plus communication skills determine whether or not others will comply with your request, trust you with information, give you access to decision makers, pay you a certain salary or fee for contracted business, hire you, or purchase your products and services.
Here are some tips to ensure your clothing has a positive impact on your success:
Don’t show too much skin. That means no short skirts, strapless tops, or shoes that barely cover your feet.
Never wear dirty clothes. This seems obvious – but plenty of people think they can get away with wearing that dirty shirt just one more time before bringing it to the dry cleaners. News flash: You can’t.
Don’t wear wrinkled clothing. Heard of an iron? Use it. You’ll look neat and way more put together.
Wear clothes that fit you well. “Tailoring is a simple way to make clothes way more flattering,” writes BI’s retail editor Ashley Lutz.
She says it’ll give you a polished look, and those around you will perceive you differently. So, stay away from clothing that is too tight or too baggy.
Always follow the dress code.
Wear appropriate shoes and accessories. Don’t wear jewellery that is too flashy or obnoxious – and always wear comfortable shoes that are appropriate for work. Also, if you wear makeup, don’t overdo it!
Don’t wear shorts. In some workplaces it’s perfectly acceptable for women and men to wear shorts. But, if you really want to portray yourself as a professional, steer clear.
Avoid applying too much scent. There is an argument for people to apply no scent whatsoever in a professional environment, but rules have relaxed a little and now the gentlest of applications is permissible.
If you wear a nose ring or stud socially then you need to remove it when at on the job. Whilst they do not hinder you from working they do nothing towards improving your work ethic and they are yet to be widely accepted.
Avoid wearing charity bangles. It’s always jolly good to support a good cause, but unless your workplace is having a day in aid of that charity it is not good practice to wear colourful rubber bangles when interfacing with clients.
How super – you’ve dyed your roots black for the meeting. If you are going to add artificial colour to your hair – whichever sex you are – then make sure the dye is constantly reapplied and visible roots never show. The only thing it highlights is a tardy lack of standards.
Shave off your stubble. Unless you work as a David Gandy look-a-like (or indeed if you ARE David Gandy) then designer stubble is not really on, I’m afraid. Again, it shows that you don’t care or show attention to detail. Go and find a razor, please.
There is never any excuse for a backpack at work.
You’re not scaling Kilimanjaro, you’re meeting to talk about the new diversity directive. Backpacks just scream ‘graduate intake’. Get a satchel, or, better still, a briefcase if you wish to add executive presence.
To achieve career advancement, avoid an unprofessional image that may enslave your career to others’ misperceptions. Instead, choose clothing that accurately reflects your credibility and ensures you sell for what you’re worth. Make sure your ‘exterior’ earns you a ‘silent recommendation, as you are how you look.
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