First impressions are everything.
They say you should never judge a book by it’s cover, but we can’t help it. It’s human nature to form a picture in our mind of a person when we meet someone new. And while it’s certainly possible to overcome a bad first impression, it’s anything but easy.
Better to come in strong, make a positive impact, and convey exactly who you are – and how you want people to feel about you.
There’s a lot of stuff that goes into that, but how you look is probably one of the most important. Again, this is something that’s wired into our psyche. From the moment we’re able to perceive the world around us, we have a tendency to judge people based on appearance.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that by choosing the right clothing, we can present ourselves in more or less exactly the light we want to be perceived. To drive this fact home, I think it’s best if I offer you an example.
Let’s say you have a meeting with two prospective business partners, both of whom can bring a great deal of value to your organization. They’re both equally engaging, equally brilliant, and equally charismatic. There’s only one difference between them.
The first shows up clean-shaven in a bespoke suit and polished shoes, wearing a Rolex. The second is dressed in dirty sneakers, ill-fitted jeans, and a hoodie. Which of the two would you prefer to do business with?
Of course, that’s a bit of an extreme example. You aren’t likely to encounter such a huge dichotomy in the professional world. But you will find yourself in situations where you judge one person more favorably than another based on how they’re dressed – and in situations where you are the one being judged.
Consider: in a study carried out by Ben C. Fletcher and Doctor Phil Oxon, participants were shown pictures of a man with his face hidden before being asked to make ‘snap judgements’ about him. The differences were quite minor. In some of the pictures, his suit was perfectly fitted; in others, there were minor inconsistencies or flaws.
People judged the man in a bespoke suit more favorably than any other picture, rating him as more confident, successful, flexible, and higher-earning.
It seems obvious, right? If your outfit makes you look commanding, confident, and put-together, people will assume that’s what you are. But it goes even deeper than that.
See, there’s evidence that how we dress even impacts how we think and behave, something that may well play into how we perceive different outfits. A tailored, formal outfit, for example, makes us feel more powerful and confident. There’s even evidence to suggest that such clothing increases the hormones associated with dominant behavior.
Other examples of this phenomenon at play include:
- Casual outfits make us more relaxed, friendly, and creative. People tend to be less open and find it difficult to wind down in formal dress – a professional in casual dress (provided they’re put together) will likely be seen as more approachable and less intimidating than someone in a three-piece suit.
- Gym clothes such as shorts and sneakers make us likelier to exercise. Plus, people who see us in such clothes will assume we care about our health (even if we don’t).
- A uniform associated with a specific role or activity – such as a lab coat, police uniform, or surgeon’s smock – carries obvious connotations. Someone dressed like a doctor will obviously be seen as more intelligent, while someone dressed as a police officer will be seen as more of an authority figure. But wearing uniforms of any kind actually makes us more focused, conscientious, and attentive.
- Luxury goods impact more than our perceived social status – someone with a Prada handbag or a Rolex watch might start leaning towards more conservative political values.
- Underwear matters, too – even if people don’t (usually) see it. A woman wearing lingerie under her suit will likely feel sexier and more confident, for example.
First impressions are everything, and whether or not you make a positive one is largely dependent on how you present yourself. Certain outfits carry with them specific connotations and expectations. You can use that – just make sure you meet those expectations in the process.
It’s not just the type of outfit that matters, either. There are plenty of other details you’ll want to nail down in order to make the best first impression possible. But that’s a topic for next time.