Are You Dressing to Make the Right Impression?
Did you know it only takes five seconds of visual exposure for someone to make a judgement about everything from your trustworthiness to your likelihood of success? Unsurprisingly, positive impressions consistently favor the well-dressed.
Dressing well does more than merely demonstrate your fashion-savvy or personal taste, and it’s more than superficial frivolity that needlessly drains your bank account. Looking sharp communicates your self-worth and your capabilities. It signals to your colleagues how you want (and deserve) to be treated.
So rather than thinking of dressing well as a tedious task, consider it a persuasive tool for taking control of how you’re perceived. Need some guidance? Here’s how to best align how you want to be considered — whether it’s to be viewed as approachable, collaborative, knowledgeable or more — with your image.
Studies confirm what we already instinctively know: We are more open toward people who look like us. So, know your audience and make an effort to look a bit like them to communicate that you’re approachable. A similar appearance signals to your audience that you can relate and will understand their perspective.
If your target audience is casually dressed, dress down a bit and demonstrate a more relaxed vibe. If they’re more formal, button up and bond over your polished personas.
Creative people wear bright colors, right? Not exactly. Many artistic types opt for a more simplistic, monochromatic look, like all black or predominantly white. A monochromatic base communicates that you’re hip and sophisticated. Then find a small detail to demonstrate creative flair. Perhaps it’s an unusual bracelet or a printed scarf — something that infuses the ensemble with a little edginess.
Studies indicate that women in clothing with masculine influences (think blazers and pinstripes), but who still register as feminine, are perceived as most powerful. This doesn’t mean they’re dressing like men, but rather that they’re invoking some masculine details in their aesthetic.
This style is all about fit, so pay a little extra for expert tailoring to pack the most powerful punch. And remember: It’s not just what you wear — it’s also how you wear it. It doesn’t cost anything to stand up straight; good posture is powerful.
Influential people are not visual wallflowers. And while they’re not sloppy or dressed to blend in, that doesn’t meant they don’t show regard for the norms and customs of whatever context they’re looking to influence.
Think of influential dress as aspirational dress — it’s when you wear your “splurge” items: You’ll look like everyone else, only a little bit sharper. Maybe it’s the impeccable tailoring or the luxurious fabrication of your blouse, or maybe it’s an attention-grabbing accessory, like a striking handbag. Wherever it expresses itself, influential dress persuades by creating visual appeal and, yes, possibly a little envy.
As sociologist Georg Simmel argues, we are constantly negotiating the tension between individuality and conformity. Thus, rising to the top of your professional domain is not exclusively about demonstrating why you’re different (and better). It’s a delicate balance between distinguishing yourself and demonstrating that you’re one of the gang.
Part of being a team player is looking like one. On days that require extra teamwork, like a group work session or team event, consider wearing something that evokes the company’s brand or image, like tights or jewelry in your company color — anything that says you are part of the group.
Despite the fact that we know it’s not true, studies show that we still perceive people who wear glasses as more intelligent and more competent. It’s a result of social conditioning, but the psychological effects persist. And if glasses connote intelligence, all the more reason to wear a distinguished pair. Consider trading in your wireframes for a thicker frame with unusual accents that are sure to be noticed.
Try: Kate Spade Jodie Reading Glasses, $68
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is the "thinking person's stylist" and the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image-related issues and offers holistic wardrobe and image consulting services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.