Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age and class to me through what you are wearing…I may not be able to put what I observe into words, but I register the information unconsciously; and you simultaneously do the same for me.
- Alison Lurie
I looked terrible. I knew I looked terrible and I could tell by the look in her eyes that she thought I looked terrible too. Yes, it took a while for me to become the center of her attention. Only after she finished doting on the J. Crew model man and his adorably pregnant and perky, blond wife did she turn to me. What the saleswoman did not know was that I always dress down when making a large retail purchase.
Ah, the power of perception.
Fair or not, we make subconscious, split-second decisions about people all day long. One glance to decide if a person is dangerous or docile, nice or nasty, smart or stupid, interesting or insipid, handsome or homely… Yes, in a perfect world, we would all reserve judgment until we really knew the person. How long would that take? Maybe a week or two? Perhaps, more accurately a year? But for all practical purposes, that is just not possible. We must make basic decisions quickly. We make these decisions by the way people dress, the way they walk, the way they stand and the way they speak. And just as we are making assumptions about them, they are making decisions and assumptions about us. The question is how do we use this knowledge to our advantage?
Our clothing does not just magically appear in our closets. When out shopping, we look for items that resonate for us. Some people shop for comfort. Some people shop by color. Some people shop for cache. But few shop while consciously considering how our clothing influences the perceptions of others. Before dressing in the morning, it behooves us to consider our expected role for the day. Think of where you are going, what the weather will be, what you are going to be doing, where you will be, who will be there, and what you hope they will expect of you. Are we dressing to impress or dressing in distress? In many ways, you are an actor preparing for your part. Choose your wardrobe wisely. Pick an ensemble to enhance your image. Dress in an expected manner or in a way that enhances the image you hope to project.
Everyone understands the concept of costumes - to don attire that elicits a specific response; mean monster, a pretty princess or a cute cartoon character. But outside of Halloween or the occasional costume party, few people truly take the time to consider their “costume” day to day. I purposely dressed down (way down!) to obtain the best deal I could for a very costly purchase. I would hardly wear the same costume when interviewing for a job or even to go out dancing. Understanding your role for the day allows you to consider the power of perception and to use this power to your advantage.