Clothing and Common Sense
Right or wrong, the way you dress is seen as a reflection of who you are and what you’re trying to prove. Imagine you’re interviewing candidates for a position opening up in your workplace. Your first interviewee arrives dressed in jeans and a wrinkled oxford shirt. Your immediate thought is, “Where’s his suit? I’ve never interviewed anyone dressed so casually.” Now, you might like this casualness about him or you might think he’s a real ding-dong for not making more of an effort. The point is, you’ve already made a huge assumption about his personality based on his outfit.
Until you know someone well, you’re likely to assign certain personality traits based on appearance alone (e.g., how she’s dressed)—and then see what you expect to see in terms of her body language.
Candidate number two enters dressed in a suit two sizes too large, which makes him look childlike and sloppy. Again, your mind jumps to conclusions as you think, “This guy doesn’t even know how to buy a suit that fits!” You might pity him and give him a break or you might think that he couldn’t possibly handle the details of your office if he can’t dress himself decently. But again, his clothes have sent a message all their own.
Your third candidate shows up dressed in what appears to be a custom-made suit, leading you to believe that this man is either already very successful or that he knows what it takes to ascend the corporate ladder. You think, “He has a real eye for detail,” which makes you believe he could be an asset to the company.
Of course, an employee cannot survive simply by wearing his clothing well. Each of these men will also display certain body language characteristics. Some of these gestures may suggest extreme confidence; others may betray serious self-doubts. You’ll view these gestures through the lens of your own judgment—and that judgment begins the moment you lay eyes on the men.
The Clothes Police
If you’re at all doubtful that clothing adds to or detracts from a person’s body language, think about this: When criminals head to court, their attorneys usually advise them to dress as conservatively as possible in the hope that the mere appearance of innocence might hint at good character and consequently sway the jury in their favor. Unfortunately for these hard-working advocates, their clients often do themselves in with their nonverbal behavior.
Fabrics have a language all their own. Cashmere and cotton, for example, are soft and inviting, suggesting that the wearer is a gentle soul. “Hard” materials, like leather or boiled wool, keep others at a distance.
In one legal case, defense attorneys advised their clients to dress in pastel-colored sweaters. The hope was that this look would help the jury envision these men as innocent young boys, incapable of cold-blooded murder. But why not just dress them in sports coats? Why sweaters? Pullovers and cardigans simply look friendlier and less intimidating than a sports coat or suit.