A Look at Clothing and First Impressions (in Your Career)

First impressions matter in all situations. Whether you’re building friendships, a romantic relationship, or entering a new social group for the first time, your first impression will precede you for a very long time. And in terms of your career, your first impression could sink you or put you in a position to be highly successful.

A Look at Clothing and First Impressions (in Your Career)

4 Thoughts and Considerations

It takes just seconds for someone to form a first impression of you. It can take months of repeated interactions for that first impression to be replaced by a different one. This can be good news or bad news – depending on how skilled you are at establishing positive rapport.

First impressions are a byproduct of a variety of factors coming together at once. This includes body language, voice, and any other information or context the other party has going into the introduction. But if there’s one element that steals the show, it’s what you wear.

Call it shallow if you want, but your style accounts for so much of your visual representation. And people are much more likely to remember what they see than what they hear. So if you can find a way to master your style, you can convey a strong image in any situation or scenario. In turn, this gives you the ability to influence the trajectory of your career and professional pursuits. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. You Never Know Who’s Paying Attention

It’s typically the moments when you don’t realize anyone is paying attention to you where you can slip up. You’re obviously going to dress well for an important job interview. But what about smaller things?

For example, let’s say you’re trying to find a new place to rent. When a landlord or property management company screens your application and interviews you, they’re going to pay attention to every little detail. And while they can’t discriminate based on what you wear, they will make decisions based on first impressions. If it’s you against five other applicants and all other factors are considered equal, the fact that you delivered a positive first impression could help you land the apartment. 

  1. Enclothed Cognition

Most people think about clothing and style in terms of how other people perceive them. And while that’s certainly what we’re talking about here, there’s also something to be said for what your clothes say to you. 

Researchers have stumbled upon a concept known as “enclothed cognition.” This theory says that the clothes someone wears has a direct and noticeable impact on how the wearer feels (psychologically). 

It’s this concept that people are referring to when they tell you to dress for the job you want – not the job you have. When you dress a certain way, you can shift your internal view of yourself. In turn, this confidence is exuded and other people soak it in. The result is a more positive first impression. 

“Enclothed cognition gives scientific proof to the idea that you should dress not how you feel, but how you want to feel,” Forbes.com explains. “Which clothes make you feel powerful? Sexy? In control? Wealthy? The clothes you choose are sending a message to those around you, but also to you, yourself.”

So, what message are you sending?

  1. Make Sure it Fits

Finally, make sure your clothes fit. This is an especially important concept for men, who often overlook details like this. 

“Minor clothing manipulations can give rise to significantly different inferences,” researcher Neil Howlett explains in a study published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management. “Even small changes in clothing choice can communicate different information to a perceiver. On the evidence of this study it appears men may be advised to purchase clothing that is well‐tailored, as it can positively enhance the image they communicate to others.”

The good news is that finding clothes that fit well isn’t nearly as complicated as it used to be. There are a variety of apps and stores that now make the process of getting tailored clothing a breeze. 

  1. Know What’s Expected

The business world is not a place where you take stylistic chances. With few exceptions, most industries have standards and expectations. This is not your time to defy norms and blaze new trails. Know what’s expected and dress accordingly. Dress well, but do so in a manner that’s going to put people at ease.

Adding it All Up

Whether you’re in corporate America, you’re a real estate investor, or you teach a classroom full of kids, what you wear will always influence the way people see you. And if you want to establish positive first impressions in any situation, a little preparation and mindfulness in this area will serve you well.