Why Appearance Matters

We live in a world where judgments happen quickly. Often based on superficial factors. It may be unfair but it is true. Our clothing choices are an outward expression of our judgment. Our appearance sets a tone. It sends a message. It can show attention to detail and thoughtfulness. But it can also show carelessness and lack of preparation.

“The way you dress creates your image,” said John T. Molloy, author of Dress for Success. Whether we like it or not, people form a first impression of us based initially on our appearance, especially in an interview situation where evaluation is the overriding purpose. How you are perceived by others before you open your mouth depends mostly on the physical signals you send with your appearance. Dressing appropriately shows you know how to read a situation. In an interview, it demonstrates that you are serious about the job, respectful of the interviewer’s time and genuinely interested in the position.

When someone does not look the part, they can be taken less seriously. Someone with wonderful talent and skill can be dismissed because of doubts about appearance if that appearance does not match the expectations for the situation. If someone walks into a law firm interview with a t-shirt and jeans, it will not matter if she has a 3.8 and is on Law Review. She has an uphill battle to convince folks that she will be a good hire. She displayed very poor judgment in an important situation. Many more questions will arise in the interviewer’s mind. What else might she do that is unprofessional? Can we trust her with clients? This candidate does not start with a clean slate; she now has to dig herself out of a hole. When you dress professionally, you are more likely to be perceived as coming from a position of confidence and leadership, so people are more likely to listen to you and believe you to be credible.

Some say caring for your appearance can actually make you a more responsible person. You have to keep track of details about maintenance (e.g., cleaning, ironing, shining, upkeep) and usually have to do many of those things yourself. It reinforces mental habits of attention to detail and planning ahead that translate usefully into any career or skill.

People are superficial, not just as a cultural phenomenon but as a hardwired instinct going all the way back to when our brains needed to make snap judgments in order to survive a harsh world. Did cavemen wait to judge personality or capability when confronted by a threat? Of course not. They judged visible cues and signals in order to survive. This is true throughout the animal kingdom in all species. We can be finished formulating our initial opinion of someone before we’ve actually spoken to them.

First impressions, if negative, can be difficult to overcome. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Trite but true. People will make assumptions about you based upon your appearance at your first meeting. It is true in social situations as well, of course. Think about it. You’re out and about and you see someone beautifully dressed (male or female) and looking sharp. They seem to exude confidence. You make assumptions make based on their appearance. They’ve got it together. They’re successful, happy. Now picture the opposite. Rumpled mismatched clothes, unbrushed hair, slouchy posture. You’re not thinking “successful professional” in this case!

It is important to note that the discussion about appearance is not about attractiveness. But it does include grooming and aspects of your appearance that are within your control. Unkempt hair, unruly facial hair, dirty fingernails, overpowering scents. All bad. They all communicate a lack of attention to detail, lack of professionalism and/or overall insensitivity.

People judge others every day, no matter who you are or what you do. Judgment is passed and decisions are made within the first seconds of meeting someone new. As shallow as this may seem, it is true. Know that and use it to your advantage, especially in professional settings.

The way we dress projects our mood and the way we feel about ourselves to others. So when you’re getting dressed in the morning or before a particular event, think about what your outward appearance says about you and whether it’s in line with the message you want to communicate to the world.

Until you read again…