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.) 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.
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?