Judging a Book by its Cover...
Do you know why first impressions are so important? Because they last! A recent post on Psychology Today highlights some new research findings on first impressions and the difficulty in changing that impression over time, even despite factual evidence contrary to the impression. An impression is defined as a “retained remembrance” and a first impression is your initial chance, and in may cases your only chance, at making that remembrance a positive one.
The stakes for making a first impression can be high in this day and age. The impression you make can be the difference between getting that job by winning over the interviewer or getting the second date with the person you are interested in seeing again. For some, that impression can have life or death circumstances - think of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year old young man who was shot by George Zimmerman where commentators speculated that his ethnicity and wearing of a hoodie led George Zimmerman to believe he was a threat.
For better or worse, we make snap judgements about people - within a few seconds of having a brief encounter and after a few minutes when having an interaction with someone. This happens very quickly and we rely on our own understanding of the world and past experiences (e.g., gut reactions and instincts) to influence our perceptions of others.
In their book, First Impressions, Drs. Ann Demarais and Valerie White suggest that there is no “right” first impression. Everyone has to express their authentic self in the way that best suits them. But there are some universal aspects to connecting with one another as humans and these can be practiced and implemented effectively within your own authentic style of communicating who we are. For more information on this, please sign up for my free video “10 Key Strategies for Making a Positive First Impression” by clicking here.
One of my key strategies for making a positive first impression is being well-dressed. While this may seem superficial, our clothing and appearance are the first things people see when we encounter them - we judge books by their covers! Even if you do not care how you look to others, they are making judgements and assessments about who you are anyway. Instead of fighting this, why not use it to your advantage?
I am not suggesting that everyone should follow all the latest fashion trends, spend lots of money, or conform to societal ideals of attractiveness. But cultivating one’s own authentic style of dress and appearance, a style that effectively communicates who you are, can go a long way in shaping perceptions about you in a positive way. Everyone has to find what works best for them (hopefully I can help you with that).
Being well-dressed also means wearing what is appropriate for a given situation, context, and audience. Have you ever found yourself in the wrong outfit? Maybe you were dressed casually for a fancy dinner out with someone important or you had to wear a work uniform to an activity outside of work or you were dressed in a suit to an event where everyone else was in yoga pants. Whatever the situation, you were undoubtedly very uncomfortable and thinking how you missed the memo on what you were supposed to wear. Dressing well and appropriately for a given situation communicates that you have social savvy and understand the social code of the situation and this in turn guides others to think more positively about you.
Ultimately, the best benefit of being well-dressed and appropriate is the positive sense of confidence you will project by knowing you look good and that you have social savvy in knowing what to wear, all of which contributes to a positive first impression. And everyone looks great in confidence - it’s the universal accessory that compliments everything!
Here are some of my favorite sources on first impressions:
Cabane, O. F. (2013). The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism. New York: The Penguin Group.
Demarais, A. & White, V. (2004). First Impressions. New York: Bantam Books.
Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. New York: Litte, Brown, and Company.