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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Looks Matter - a guest post by Gerry Seymour

I have written on fashion, style, and the importance of appearances many times over many years. I am frequently dismissed as superficial and frivolous - and I suspect a large part of the dismissal comes from the fact I am a woman. After all, would a sensible guy or a tomboy gal bother with such nonsense? Well, judge for yourself. I have invited my husband Gerry Seymour to write a guest post on the subject. Gerry's career spanned a variety of environments and his style runs the full gamut from Japanese pajamas to a tuxedo.

Maria K.

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"Looks shouldn't matter."

I can't begin to count the number of times I have heard someone say this or have seen them post a similar sentiment on Facebook.

Firstly, let me borrow a phrase from a friend and colleague: "Stop should-ing all over yourself!" Here begins the first lesson in this post. In many cases, what we think "should" be is relatively unimportant - the world is, today, as it is. Yes, we have the power to change the future of the world, but we must live in it as it exists now. That is the truth behind the often misused "It is what it is."

Secondly, I actually disagree with the original statement. Look should matter. They shouldn't matter more than everything, but they should count. If you are interviewing two people for a retail job, and they seem equally qualified (experience, education, erudition, etc.), then you need a tie-breaker. If one came in dressed in sweats, while the other came dressed in smart business clothing, which is likely to be a better choice? Given no other information, I would choose the smartly dressed person. Their choice of clothing shows an eagerness for the job, an interest in presenting their best side, so I can see their value, and an understanding of the fact that we all (yes, from my experience every single person in the world) make some sort of judgment based upon a person's appearance.

In fact, that last point is a powerful indicator that the person being interviewed has great potential. It doesn't guarantee anything, but someone who lacks that understanding, and who chooses, instead, to wear something not quite up to societal norms for the position, will be much harder to prepare for success in the job. I want to hire (and you should, too!) for the greatest chance of success for the person being hired, and for the company doing the hiring.

Let's take this a level deeper. I have been talking about interviews, and understand that the principle is the same for any first-time interaction: first date, meeting your partner's parents, meeting a new client, etc. Let's use the first date as an analogy. We all know that a reasonable person will make every attempt on the first date to put their best self forward. We expect this, and actually try to see past it. If the person shows up and rolls out their sloppiest, least organized, crankiest, or most shy self, we (having no other evidence to work with at this point) tend to assume that person is that way at their best. So, by not presenting their best self - in this case, actually presenting their worst self - they have convinced us that they are far less. Is this recoverable? Of course. Assuming, that is, that there is another date - do you always go on a second date, just in case, regardless of how boring or un-fun the first one was??

Here's the kicker: nearly every place you go, there is a chance you will meet or run into someone for whom the impression of the moment will be important. If you are single, why not assume that at any moment you could run into someone who could be a wonderful life partner? If you are looking for a job (whether you are unemployed or are simply looking to improve your station), why not assume that you might meet someone who has an opening that is perfect for you, or who knows someone else who does?

For those who argue that you don't judge people based upon looks, I challenge you to look deeper inside. I have heard people say this, and then turn and point at someone dressed in really nice clothes with carefully applied makeup, and say, "Like that person - they pay way too much attention to their appearance." You got it - they just judged someone based upon appearance, alone. Maybe that person was on their way to a TV interview. Or maybe that person was going to their wedding. Or maybe...almost anything. We simply can't help judging based upon appearance. We expect people to dress and act a certain way for certain situations. We would see it as odd if a bank manager was wearing sweats, and we would find it equally odd to see someone running at the track in a pinstripe suit.

Now, please understand that I'm not saying we (yes, I include myself in this discussion) must always go around wearing our best attire. I certainly don't walk around in a pinstripe suit and tie everywhere. I'm saying we should (yes, I'm "should-ing", I know!) do what we can to present the best version of ourselves in each situation. So, at a client's office, I dress one level nicer (usually) than the managers. Around town, I dress in the nicest clothing that feels comfortable to me (oh, and denim crowd, please don't argue that denim is more comfortable - well-fitted dress slacks can be far more physically comfortable in most situations). When I feel like wearing jeans, I wear them. I just make sure I wear jeans that look good on me, and wear well-fitting shirts and nice-looking, comfortable shoes with them. I just make the effort at every turn to present the best version of me, wearing clothes that are both comfortable and appropriate.

Now, I've saved for last the most important point in this entire article...

What you wear matters for you!

Yes, that is the most important point. Others will judge you partially upon your appearance, and that will matter sometimes. You will also judge yourself based upon your appearance, and that matters all of the time.

Stop for a moment and picture what you think someone successful in your profession (or the profession you want) looks like at their best. Don't look for outliers (the few who break the rule) - look for what you expect someone successful to look like. Now, ask yourself why you don't dress and act as close to that as you can, today.

A side note for those who say, "I don't want to do what they had to do to be successful!" (or any similar comment): that's not success. You must first define success for yourself, then find a group of models of that type of success. Don't bow to any societal model for this - success is what you decide it is. Only once you've defined it properly for yourself will the rest of this matter, at all.

So, consider dressing and acting successful. That doesn't mean buying expensive clothing - just doing the best you can within your budget. And here's how it affects you. When you dress and groom for the day, you tell your subconscious mind two things: 1) what you expect of the day, and 2) how important the day is to you. You (and your subconscious) know how you dress for things you think are important, how much time and attention you put into getting ready. Spend that same attention on most days, and you communicate to your subconscious that your days are all important. I don't have the space in this article to get into the full explanations around working with your subconscious, but I'll give you one bit of information. A study by the Kellogg School of Management suggests (as Christian Jarrett states clearly in his article, cited below) that how we dress affects our performance at various tasks, so you should choose your clothing to help communicate to your subconscious how you need it to perform that particular day.

The big takeaway

The studies have shown fairly clearly that your image matters to your customers, to your coworkers, and to your own mind. Be mindful of these effects. Each day, purposely choose how you will dress, and consider how that will affect you. Present the best "you" possible for each situation, so people around you have the opportunity to see that best part of you, and get to know you better.

Some studies and reports that illustrate the effect of clothing:

* NY Times reports on a study in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, showing the effect of a white lab coat

* The Fast Track reports on a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, regarding the effect of designer clothing

* A study from California State, Northridge, on the effects of experimenter dress on participants

* A study on the Undergraduate Research Community website, showing some of the ambiguity of casual dress in the workplace

* A study on "enclothed cognition" - the impact of our clothing on our cognitive processes

* Christian Jarret of 99u covers the impact of clothing on performance, including some notes from the studies above

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