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Why We Wear What We WearMalcolm Levene

For a lot of men and women, their less-than-happy relationship with their appearance is often a symptom of conditioning, poor self-image or thinking they just don’t have any taste.

We all have taste; it’s an innate part of who we are. Often, it only emerges when we’re helping somebody else choose a clothing item, or when we’re selecting a decorative piece for our home. It’s as if our "Style Gene" only kicks in when it’s not about us personally. To develop taste and a "good eye" for what suits you, begin by focusing on the details. Start with the three F’s as your guide: Feel. Fit. Flatter. You will be clearer about what to select and what to reject when it comes to choosing any form of apparel. Be super aware of purchasing clothing items that focus solely on fashion. "Fashion fades, only style remains the same" – Coco Chanel


Here are a few pointers on how to develop your Personal Style:

– You’re Unique — don’t try to be a copy of someone else

– Trust your instincts when it comes to making choices about where/how to shop, but do some research in advance

– Spend quality time developing your Personal Style — this is mission You. So ensure you have the time and mental space to shop properly

– You have 10-seconds to make a positive impression — make sure you look the part

– Choose colours that complement your personality, hair colour, skin tone and existing wardrobe. A good way to do that is to have a wardrobe clear out, so you can see what you actually do wear, not what you have

– Someone who’s able to convey great Personal Style does so with subtlety and grace

– Ensure all the details of how you attire yourself are in line with the three F’s: Feel. Fit. Flatter




What Your Clothes Might Be Saying About You

She is not my type. He couldn’t hack it. She looks friendly. He looks efficient. I can tell she is an extrovert.

We make snap judgments about people from the clothes they wear. On what basis?

There is much more to our clothing choices than we might imagine. For many people, what they wear is merely a matter of habit, but when we dress in the morning it might pay us to be a little more careful in the choices we make. Doing something different with your clothes might be a way of changing the impression others have of you.

A study just published1 by our team in the UK and Turkey shows some of the very subtle ways in which clothing influences all kinds of impressions about us. Our clothes make a huge difference to what people think about us – and without us knowing or in ways we couldn’t even imagine. People make their assessments in the first few seconds of seeing another; assessments that go way beyond how well you are dressed and how neat and tidy you might look.

We carried out the research with over 300 adults (men and women). They looked at images of a man and a woman for just 3 seconds before making ‘snap judgements’ about them. In some of the pictures the man wore a made-to-measure suit. In others he wore a very similar off-the-peg suit bought on the high street. The differences in the suits were very minor – we controlled for all the big differences such as colour and fabric, as well as making sure the face of the model was pixillated so that there could be no hidden messages in the facial expressions.

After just a 3-second exposure people judged the man more favourably in the bespoke suit.  And the judgements were not about how well dressed he was.

They rated him as more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner in a tailor-made suit than when he wore a high street equivalent. Since the model’s face in the pictures was blanked out these impressions must have been formed after quickly eyeing what he was wearing.

So, our clothes say a great deal about who we are and can signal a great deal of socially important things to others, even if the impression is actually unfounded. Research suggests that these impressions about us can start in childhood – one study found that teachers made assumptions about children’s academic ability based on their clothing.

In another study we have investigated in our lab an issue that women often report encountering in the workplace -  differential gender-biased standards and being judged as less competent than men, even by other women. What role does dress play in this?

We made minor manipulations to female office clothing to see how this affected first impressions of them. We also researched whether the occupational role of the woman made any difference to these impressions. We tested this with 129 female participants who rated images of faceless (by pixilation) female models,on six competence based dimensions (intelligence, confidence, trustworthiness, responsibility, authority, and organisation). In all cases the clothing was conservative but varied slightly by skirt length and an extra button being unfastened on a blouse. The models were described as having different occupational roles, varying by status (high – senior manager, or low – receptionist). The images were only presented for a maximum of 5 seconds.

The assessment of the competencies we measured should surely not be affected by these minor clothing manipulations? Surely people use proper evidence to make such judgements?

I am afraid we found that the clothing did matter. People rated the senior manager less favourably when her dress style was more ‘provocative’, and more favourably when dressed more conservatively (longer skirt, buttoned up blouse).  I reiterate that the clothing in the ‘provocative’ condition was still very conservative in style and look – it was not a short skirt and a revealing blouse, but a skirt slightly above the knee and one button on the blouse undone.

The rating of the receptionist role was not affected by these clothing manipulations suggesting that there may be more leeway for some jobs than others. 

So even subtle changes to clothing style can contribute toward negative impressions of the competence of women who hold higher status positions. Wearer beware!

It is important to choose our dress style carefully because people will make all sorts of assumptions and decisions about us without proper evidence. We are unlikely to know what these assessments are too, so it is quite possible that our clothes reveal more than we thought.






Fashion a Favourable First Impression

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. That’s great advice. But, the truth is: during a job interview or networking opportunity we dooften judge a book by its cover. So, while it is important to say all of the right things during your job interview and networking opportunities; your actions and body language often speak much louder. Rather than bemoaning this simple truth of human nature, learn to use it to your advantage.

The First Seven Seconds How you present yourself – from grooming and dress to body language and level of confidence – plays a major role in how others will evaluate you during an initial meeting.

"You have approximately seven seconds in which to make a good first impression," says wardrobe stylist, Kristen Kaleal. "That’s the amount of time it takes to shake somebody’s hand and then take a seat. That’s before we’ve had a chance to thell them how great we are or how qualified we are. It’s before we’ve had a chance to become ourselves."

The initial impression made in that first seven seconds will often lay the foundation for the remainder of your interview or first meeting. If the impression made is less than favourable, you’ll spend the next seven minutes trying to overcome the poor impression made during those first seven seconds. The good news? You have a say when it comes to how others think of you.

Impression Management "We have the power to control what people think of us. It’s called impression management. It means that we can control what other people think of us based on our appearance, our grooming, and how we communicate with them," Kaleal says. "We can use [impression management] to spin our brand in the direction we want it to be perceived."

By putting careful thought and effort into self-presentation we can greatly influence the first impression others form of us. This requires being deliberate in our choice of dress and grooming, being conscious and in control of our body language, and being focused in our communication with others.






Clothes DO Make the Man

How important really is what we wear?  Is there a cause/effect in how we are treated by the world? Does it make a difference in getting someone to help you in a Department store, or being seated at a good table in a restaurant? Can’t people look through all the superficial and see the real us?

Fortunately, guys, we have some scientific evidence to support what you wear does make a difference in how you influence the world around you. Maybe we didn’t want to believe (but suspected) the real reason that guy down the hall who always dressed great, but didn’t know poop is now a vice president!

When your credibility is crucial, in situations such as job interviews, court testimony, sales presentations and first dates (or even second and third dates) it is important to made a “good” first impression.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression– Will Rogers

Behavioural scientists tell us that this “first impression” is a strong one. And the process of sizing you up is on a subconscious/emotional level of the brain. Your evaluation by a stranger takes 30 seconds or less and can be so strong that it could take as much as five years to erase.

Don’t you think it’s easier to make a great first impression with you appearance and then follow up by showing what a capable, impressive and trustworthy person you are with a winning performance?

We’ve all heard the expression “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. If you agree, it’s a good thing you’re not in publishing. Publishing houses have long since proven that a cover may not tell you what’s inside a book, but the cover is the reason that we pick up one or the other off the rack. Until a book is picked up, no sale is made!

A good example of “how you look being more important than what you say” is the first Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate. Radio listeners thought that Nixon had won while TV watchers gave Kennedy the win. Kennedy looked great, fresh and vigorous while Nixon appeared tired and rumpled. The TV audience gave more credibility to what they saw than what they heard.

When I describe someone as an assistant manger at a fast food restaurant you immediately conjure an image of that person, maybe without much conscious thought. When I mention a high level executive you get another, different image in your mind. There is a definite picture of a person with credibility, authority and power – a professional image.

Here are some basic tips, and faux pas to avoid in order to look your best:

1.  Never wear a short sleeve shirt with a tie.  Short sleeve shirts are perceived as lower class apparel.  Fine as part of a uniform or if you aspire to be a fast-food manager, not if you want to project a professional image.

2.  Shoes are one of the most evaluated elements of men’s wardrobes.  Your shoes should be clean, shined, in good repair and appropriate for the occasion.  If you are wearing a suit, wear lace-up shoes.  Don’t wear the same shoe on consecutive days and keep shoetrees in your shoes when you’re not wearing them.

3.  Trousers should be long enough to cover your socks, and socks should cover your shins even when you cross you legs.   Pants are long enough if they have a slight break in the front.  Pleats and cuffs are traditional and functional.  Pleats let you sit down comfortably and cuffs add weight to the bottoms allowing for proper drape.

4.  Wearing both a belt and braces (suspenders) make you look insecure. One or the other please. And if you opt for the braces, please make certain they are the kind that fasten inside your trousers with buttons.

It’s very easy to have a tailor or the alterations person at your dry cleaners put brace buttons on your pants if they don’t already have them. The metal clip-ons are for the guys who wear short sleeve shirts with ties.

5.  Socks should match your trousers.

6.  Belts should match your shoes in colours and texture.

7.  Ties should reach your belt line. This is neither arbitrary nor negotiable.  Too short of a tie makes you look like a rube.

8.  Properly knotted ties have a “dimple” under the knot.  Clips and tacks are out of date.



Why do men never button the bottom button of your suit, sports jacket, vest or Cardigan sweater?

King Edward VII, “Bertie”, son of Victoria (1841 – 1910, King 1901 – 1910) was so heavy that he could not get the bottom button fastened on his vest or to be more historically kind, maybe he just forgot.  His subjects taking it as a fashion statement followed his lead and today most men’s suits, sports jackets or vests are notdesigned to button the bottom button.

The tradition of not buttoning the bottom button may have also come from the early waistcoats, which were very long.  It may have been out of necessity of being able to walk that the bottom buttons were left undone.