Dressing Well for an Unfair World

The Perks and Advantages of Dressing Well

What the well-dressed knows …

As a younger man, I inherited a set of informal customs regarding dress and grooming. For example, when you ‘went out’ on a Saturday night there was the ritual of ‘dressing up’ for the occasion. When shopping ‘downtown’ or ‘on the avenue’ you made sure to dress a bit nicer. When traveling, especially by air, you wore, at the minimum, a sport coat, well-shined shoes, and a crisply pressed shirt.  Looking the part was always more important than personal comfort. And, of course, you always wore your ‘Sunday Best’ for religious observances.  Nowadays, many may ask, why bother to go through all of that?

The Perks and Advantages of Dressing Well

Here’s what the well dressed knows: There are day-to-day perks and advantages that come with giving careful thought to personal appearance. The table you’re given in a restaurant, the seat you’re assigned on a flight, how you’re treated by a salesperson, is often influenced by how you dress and groom yourself. More importantly, life-changing decisions such as employment opportunities are greatly influenced by your dress and grooming choices. You dress better to be treated better.

Some may say that these are old-fashioned ideas and rituals that no longer have value in this overly-casual modern age. On the surface, that may seem true. But consider this finding from a recent study led by Princeton University researchers: “People make split-second judgments about a person’s competency based on their own perceptions of the person’s clothing … If the clothes look “rich,” the person is perceived as more competent than if the clothing looks “poor.” These judgments are made immediately and are very hard to avoid.” –Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

People make split-second judgments about a person’s competency based on their own perceptions of the person’s clothing. -Princeton University researchers.

Using our power to shape the perception we create is a life skill. Making a good impression cannot be left to chance. It can have positive or negative outcomes. The well-dressed man thinks about the people and events that are part of his daily routine. He presents himself in a way that is appropriate for each occasion. Not doing so can result in less desirable outcomes or rejection. We can improve outcomes by the choices we make in dress and grooming.

Dressing Well for an Unfair World

The advantages of dressing well carry greater value if you are a part of a so-called minority class. It can help to mitigate the burdens of prejudice and bias. Consider this: The Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, can conduct day-to-day business dressed in a hoodie and sneakers with little or no consequence. He is not judged harshly for his choice of attire. But others are. Do you think that Martin Luther King Jr. would have gained the respect and admiration of millions internationally if his public appearances were made in a hooded sweatshirt and gym shoes? There is no question that he would have received a much harsher judgment. If his attire was perceived as slovenly, immature, or flaunting the norms of society, it would have weakened his credibility as a leader. It would also have served the interests of those who wanted to denigrate him. King dressed well for an unfair world.

Dress well for an unfair world
The historic 54-mile 5-day March from Selma to Montgomery by Martin Luther King

Interestingly, a recent study showed that the choice of clothing worn by young black men can increase their likelihood of being shot by the police. “Black suspects faced more shooter bias (were more likely to be shot by the police) when they wore stereotypically threatening attire (e.g., hooded sweatshirt, baggy pants) compared to when they wore stereotypically safe attire (eg., business suit or professional attire). There was no effect of suspect clothing on decisions to shoot White suspects.” – How Neighborhoods, Clothing and Suspect Race Impact Decisions to Shoot Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Clothing is a form of identification. What do your clothes say about you?

How you choose to dress can bring potential benefits or adverse consequences. Think strategically, and use clothing to your advantage.

Now, this is not a matter of how much you spend on clothing. Rather, it’s making the choice to dress thoughtfully and appropriately. It can serve as a form of visual graciousness that wins the respect and goodwill of others. It can inspire confidence and add to your persuasiveness. It can even be a form of protection. While there are factors influencing our lives that are beyond our control, this is one factor we can control to our advantage. Use it well! -SplurgeFrugal!