Does how we dress really affect how we act?

Yesterday while in the grocery store I ran into one of my patients. When she saw me, her face lit up with excitement. She approached me with open arms as she yelled to her adult daughter “Terri! Look who’s here!”. She gave me a tight hug and a big kiss on the cheek. I really love and appreciate my patients. But as delighted as I was to see her, the first thing I thought about was “How do I look?” I immediately began a mental check of my presentation as I glanced down to remember what I was wearing. Thankfully, I was dressed appropriately. I had just gotten home from church, threw on a long sundress and sandals. My hair was still neat and my face was still fresh from church so I was ok…this time.  Funny thing was, once I realized I was dressed appropriately, I immediately became relaxed, confident and engaging (the way she’s used to seeing me.) feelgood quote There were occasions when I wasn’t so fortunate. Occasions when I decided to run to the store late at night, hoping that I didn’t see anyone I knew…only to run into a colleague unexpectedly. In those cases, I limit my exchange while trying to restrain myself from apologizing for my appearance (just in case they hadn’t noticed). Like it or not, we are often judged by how we dress. Generally, women who dress formally are perceived as being more intelligent while those (women) who dress more masculine in an interview tend to be hired for managerial positions. I don’t think that we have to be near perfect 100% of the time, but I do believe that we should consider our environment and how we want to be perceived when we go out in public, especially as professionals and community leaders.

SloppyDressMan What we wear not only affect other people’s perception of us, it also affects our own behavior. Scientists theorized that when we exhibit behaviors different from how we’re expected to act when wearing certain clothing, it creates a psychological conflict. As a result, we subconsciously change our behavior to be more in line with our dress. In a study of how clothing affects self perception, a group was asked to wear identical white coats. Half were told that they were wearing a doctor’s coat and the other half were told that they were wearing a painter’s coat. The half who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat displayed a heightened and sustained attention to detail. Imagine that!

Of course, I’m not implying that just because we’re professionals, we should be dressed up all the time. In fact, for some professions, “dressing up” is not appropriate. But that doesn’t preclude us from being neat and clean. Whether we dress up or down, it’s nice to take a few seconds to weigh and consider the psychological impact of our appearance and try to be appropriately dressed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this?

  • Do you consider how you’re dressed before leaving the house?
  • Do you have certain expectations or perception of people’s attire when you see them in or out of their “usual” environment?
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46 thoughts on “Does how we dress really affect how we act?

  1. Joi

    Yes, I think about how I look before leaving the house ALL the time, including at the gym. People (women especially) size you up quickly when they see you. Not gonna catch me slipping..sorry haters :) ! Lol, I know that’s not where you were going with this but any who, I’m glad your patient got to see you outside of work looking lovely. I always giggle when people see me outside of the gym, you would think they were meeting a movie star. I’m like..duh, we don’t dress up to work out people.
    Joi recently posted…10 Gifts NOT to Get Your Dad for Father’s DayMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Lol. There are those who size you up just to look for faults. In my world, hater’s don’t exist…my ha-dar filters and blocks It’s so amazing how folks react when they see you out of what they’re used to. It’s more effort, but worth it to look decent, even for a quick trip

  2. Kim

    Well, now that I’m not working anymore I tend to live in workout wear – but I try to make sure it always looks good!!!
    Years ago when I stayed home with my babies/toddlers…I actually made the effort to fix myself up every day even if we were just going to the grocery store – not so much for other people but because it made me feel better about myself.
    Kim recently posted…Summer Is Finally Here!!!My Profile

  3. Evelyn

    If I run into someone I know, I automatically wonder if my appearance is okay. I think it is a normal thing for us to do.

    I make sure I’m looking presentable before leaving the house. Even if I am dressed in jeans and a t-shirt or sweats. I always have to do a hair and face check just before I walk out the door.

    I used to work in a profession that didn’t require me to dress-up, because I would get dirty anyway. I liked looking neat and presentable, even thought I might have gotten my boots dirty. There were some people that I worked with that didn’t come to work looking neat and I just couldn’t stand that.

    I don’t have certain perceptions, but I do expect that whatever a person wears that he or she looks neat and clean. Appearance speaks volumes about the person.

    Good topic and gives me something to think about.

    Take care,


  4. Britton

    I always try to make myself look decent when I go out, even if it’s just to the grocery store because you NEVER know who you will run into. Being that I work in a public agency, I run into my clients all the time, so I try to matain a kept appearance. There may be sometimes when I’m caught out in gym clothes (like if I stop by the grocery store after a workout), but for the most part, I’m always presentable.
    Britton recently posted…Motivational Monday: Are Vitamins Really THAT Important?My Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      It’s awesome that you are able to consistently maintain a presentable appearance. Based on what I see on your blog, I’m sure that even in your gym clothes I’m sure you look good :) Thanks for chiming in Britton

  5. Tamara

    I often keep my hair pulled back when I’m at home and sometimes I’ll see someone I know and I’ll quickly untie my hair. It changes how I feel about myself dramatically and I can only hope I don’t look so obvious..

    A quick funny story is that I wanted to hit an early morning tag sale last month and I didn’t feel like getting dressed. I was wearing sort of a t-shirt nightgown and I figured that was fine with flip flops. Of course I ran into friends and wound up out to breakfast like that! They all claimed they didn’t even know..but I did and surely I projected that!
    Tamara recently posted…Break It Down Again.My Profile

  6. Yum Yucky

    One time I ran into an ex-boyfriend at the pharmacy a few days after sinus surgery. I still had gauze up my nose with a string attached. And another time, the ONE TIME I decide to run out real quick without a bra on… grrrr. Of course I ran into people. LOL!
    Yum Yucky recently posted…Look at how greedy I was yesterday.My Profile

  7. veronica

    I couldn’t agree more. I do notice that if I am not dressed neatly with at least some makeup on and hair fixed then I tend to be selfconscience if I happen to run into anyone I know. If I am dressed nicely then I feel confident and I am sure it shows.

  8. Chris Carter

    This is SO TRUE Hope… If I am not feeling like I look okay/good, and I run into someone or I even go somewhere wanting to look better than I do- it changes my outgoing personality to one of timidity or embarrassing humility. Today has been one of “those days” where I felt that very way…

    I actually try to dig deep into this issue often, because quite frankly… I think the person inside the clothes is what’s valuable, not the clothes themselves. Thank GOD most people still see ME behind my shabby appearance, which is honestly- happens OFTEN! I am casual all of the time. I can be though- unlike your profession. It’s all relative, eh?
    Chris Carter recently posted…Devotional Diaries: Hope… Jeremiah 29:11My Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      It’s so true. it is all relative. Honestly, I’m much more comfortable dressed casually. I still try try be neat though. The person inside the clothe IS what’s valuable, but unfortunately, in certain environments, those persons get overlooked because their clothing doesn’t “match up”.
      The majority of my patients don’t dress up to come to the office and I don’t expect them to. And truth be told, in professional environments I don’t even notice how people are dressed

  9. Michell

    Haha Hope! I learned my lesson a while back when I woke up late and had to get our kids to school on time. Well wouldn’t you know it, on my way back home I had a fender bender and OF COURSE I looked a hot mess! LOL! 😀 Needless to say, now I ALWAYS pay attention to what I wear WHENEVER I leave the house! Have a good one lady!
    Michell recently posted…Michell’s Weekly Pearl…My Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Ha! Wow! Michell. It’s like that saying that says make sure you’re wearing clean underwear in case you have to go to the hospital (or something like that).lol Of all days to get in a fender bender. Funny story. thanks for sharing that.

  10. Alison

    I often tell myself I’m being vain when I make sure that I at least maintain a basic decent look when running out (even to Food Lion at the foot of the road). But you’re right; I get self-conscious on those occasions when I don’t think I’ve pulled my look together as well as I should have. A college friend always used to say: “Hey, you might meet your husband-to-be (on that quick run to the store), so make sure you’re looking fly!” LOL She’s right!
    Alison recently posted…To catch a thief…My Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      LOL. She’s right! You never know. I don’t think it’s vain to double check yourself before leaving the house. Sometimes I forget but will use my car mirror to do it en route.

  11. Michelle

    Yes, I agree with you, how you dress does make a difference. Most of the time I try to look well put together before I leave the house, but I will never forget the time I just ran out to the drugstore and ran into someone who ALWAYS looks well put together (way beyond my well put together) and she took one look at me and said “what happened to you?” Yikes.
    Michelle recently posted…Welcome to my Life…Hard to Believe Funny StoriesMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Wow. I don’t think I’d ever saw that to someone (but maybe you all have that type of relationship). It’s still amazing that being “put together” is relative. lol

  12. Sherelle

    I totally agree with you. People usually judge you by your appearance and attire. I keep it neat and comfortable at work. I like to maintain a certain level of professional dress at work, especially when meeting with Deans and such. I don’t have to dress in business attire, but I keep my blouse and bottoms neat and creased. When I’m running errands on the weekends, I usually wear a t shirt and cotton pants.
    Sherelle recently posted…Media Mondays: Courageous Women In Television And A Big AnnoucementMy Profile

  13. Cheryl Nicholl

    You are SO right about this. Dressing appropriately is a form of politeness! So let’s make a case for how we SHOULD dress around our significant others. Why do so many people just ‘let it go’ after a while? I realize that a person gets comfortable in a relationship and that that can translate into sweatpants and a tee- but everyday? We should all probably try harder at home as well. I do and it seems to have always worked. My husband and I are VERY happily married even after 31 years.
    Cheryl Nicholl recently posted…The Interior of a Sister-n-lawMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      That is such a good point Cheryl. I’m dressed professionally all day, most days, so when I get hope, I take off my heels and get into comfy clothes. My hubby’s the same way. But I can imagine how he’d feel if on our off days I sometimes dress how he likes to see me. 31 years of marriage, you must be doing something right…

  14. Menopausalmother

    I’ll admit–I look pretty grungy when I am home alone all day. Yes, I do something with my hair and put on a little bit of makeup…but my clothes leave a LOT to be desired. I can usually be found in yoga pants and faded t-shirts with weird sayings on them like, “Squirrel Whisperer:….which is why when I hear an unexpected knock on the front door, I hide!
    Menopausalmother recently posted…Father’s Day FailsMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      LOLOL!!! I love the squirrel whisperer. At home I’m same as you. I’m hardly home so when I’m there, I like to relax. I’d hide with that knock at the door too except my kids start running a shouting ‘Mommy, someone’s at the door”

  15. Andrea

    This is a really good post! How we dress, how we look in general, can really affect our self-esteem and behavior. If I’m exhausted and go to my “throw on” outfit, but I always like to look presentable because it makes me feel good. I’m a bit edgy and know that people judge me based on my appearance. I’m okay with that. Lovely post!
    Andrea recently posted…And then…He Became My FatherMy Profile

  16. Nellie

    I know exactly what this is. So many times I simply don’t have the energy to get all glammed up especially when I have to make a late night run for the kids! So many times I say a little prayer Lord please don’t let run into anyone! Lol! What you are wearing makes a huge difference in how you act in general :)
    Nellie recently posted…Brooklyn Baby Expo Recap – All Baby All EverythingMy Profile

  17. Whitney

    I work from home, so I’m always casual except on Sunday when we go to church. I try to make sure I’m decent but don’t dress up when running errands, but I always make sure I’m presentable. When I network or have an event to go to, I’m correct. Great post Hope.
    Whitney recently posted…Pinterest WednesdayMy Profile

  18. Kita

    How do I start this post…..I don’t care how I look not saying that in a mean way or anything but I just never did. Ever since a little girl I would ask my mom why was she combing her hair or taking her rollers out just to go pick up one item from the store I never understood that. As I got older I got it but I still don’t do it. I go to the store in raggedy clothes, a scarf on I have even went in slippers if people see me they see me and they can judge as a matter of fact I welcome the judgement it’s fun to see their reactions when I start talking and using big words the look on their face is priceless and I live for it. Now when there is an event I dress in my best sweats (I am kidding …..*side eye*) but normally I don’t bother to look glam people will judge if you dressed up or dressed down.
    Kita recently posted…LeeHenry EventsMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Lol. Kita. I so appreciate your candor and honest. I get it though. I’m not a glam girl at all. But I feel uncomfortable if I’m not neat and clean looking. I’ve gone out in slippers (not bed room slippers…more like flip flops). But I just wouldn’t be comfortable leaving my house with rollers in my hair :). I guess for me, it’s driven by the fact that I own a business and I’m constantly teaching an promoting professionalism in the community. So I want to maintain a certain image. All in all, I think it’s what you’re comfortable with :)

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      That’s great Melinda. I know I feel more motivated and productive when I’m completely dressed to. It’s not only an external, but also an internal pick me up.

  19. Alexa (Kat)

    That’s a really interesting study, and I completely believe it! I agree with you, the way we dress impacts the way we feel and behave. I had a college professor who used to encourage us to wear something a little nicer on test days because you perform at a higher level when you are “dressed for success.” I can see a difference in my personal life as well. The way my husband responds to me when he comes home and I’m in yoga pants vs. nicer clothes. I feel better about myself when I know I look better, and that translates into me being more self confident and in a better mood, generally speaking.
    Great article Hope. I am not perfect about it (I don’t get fancy before going to the gym like Joi!) but I have been trying to make more of an effort.
    Alexa (Kat) recently posted…Breaking the SilenceMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Thanks Alexa. I think it’s great that your college professor suggesting to dress for success. It does make a difference in how we feel. It’s an amazing catch 22 because when we dress good, we feel good and when we feel good , we act “good” and people responds better to us. That a great observation with your hubby too.
      I’m totally not there either, but I’m working on being more consistent.

  20. Veronica

    I so straddle the fence with appearance. Some days I am so particular that it takes forever to get dress but on weekends I am guilty of running out the house to the market or home depot looking cuhrazy. I wear scrubs Mon-Fri. IMO there is is NOTHING professional about them. They are frumpy. But they are soooo comfortable. To balance it out, I am sure that my face is beat and hair whipped. I’m saying this to say….find your balance. I think it’s impossible to be on your A game at all times in the dress department.
    Veronica recently posted…Mama Loves to Shop: Upcoming Sample SalesMy Profile

    1. Hope@DefiningHope Post author

      Girl, I know how comfy scrubs are. I wore them for years and one day a new patient said she confused me for one of my assistants because we were all dressed alike. I reluctantly made the switch and noticed the impact immediately.
      I think you can look neat and presentable in almost everything. I’m still rough around the edges but I make an effort daily…especially when I don’t feel like it.

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