Grooming and Fashion

 

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

~Mark Twain (from More Maxims of Mark)

W
e wrap presents to hide them. Gifts are more fun to receive, supposedly, when there is a surprise element. But why use colorful paper and expensive ribbons? Why not just enclose them in garbage bags sealed with duct tape?

The wrapping conveys a message. It says, “I put time, thought, effort, and money into this gift, because I sincerely care about you. What is inside is something exciting, and I hope it pleases you.”

Like it or not, how you wrap yourself conveys a message. This has been confirmed by a multitude of studies. In one study, researchers discovered that fashionably dressed people are perceived as being more sociable.[1] Another study discovered a correlation between the clothing worn by TAs and the ability of students to learn.

Professional TA dress may convey a message to the student that the TA regards the class is an important event where important concepts are discussed and important activities are provided. Because of this, the TA dresses like an individual would to attend an important event. If the classroom “event” is seen as important, particularly by the instructor, it is likely that students will respond by opening themselves up to learn and by being diligent in the completion of class assignments/activities. This student behavior would, in turn, lead to higher levels of affective and cognitive learning. Conversely, it is logical that if the TA dressed toward the casual or sloppy end of the attire continuum, the perceived TA attitude toward teaching, content, students, etc. might promote student behavioral responses that would lead to lower levels of affective and cognitive learning.[2]

An intellectually minded slob of a rebellious nature might here interject, “This just goes to show that people are miserably shallow. If they can’t see my worth despite the holes in my pants and the food stains on my shirt, fuck them.”

I’m personally sympathetic to this sentiment, I must confess. And yet, I find myself making the same sorts of shallow judgments of others that I’d condemn them for making of me. The impulse to judge books by their covers is deeply ingrained within us. If I cannot help but make such judgments, is it fair to condemn others for making them?

A book on Nikola Tesla, the great inventor, says this of him:

Until the last, Tesla was meticulously careful about his clothes. He knew how to dress well and did so. He declared to a secretary, in 1910, that he was the best-dressed man on Fifth Avenue and intended to maintain that standard. This was not because of personal vanity. Nearness and fastidiousness in clothes were entirely in harmony with every other phase of his personality. He did not maintain a large wardrobe and he wore no jewelry of any kind. Good clothes fitted in very nicely with his courtly bearing. He observed, however, that in the matter of clothes the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.
[3]

The last line sums up my point beautifully, and bears repeating: “the world takes a man at his own valuation, as expressed in his appearance, and frequently eases his way to his objective through small courtesies not extended to less prepossessing individuals.”

When you’re sitting around your house, or digging in your garden, or trekking through the wilds of Alaska, your outward aspect doesn’t matter. But when you venture into public, keep this in mind: Other people will accept whatever value you set for yourself. You set your value via your appearance. You can’t control everything about your appearance, but you can groom yourself and dress smart. Put forward your best self and you’ll receive the best results.


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  1. [1] Clothing Style Differences: Their Effect on the Impression of Sociability, see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1177/1077727X7700600107/abstract?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+14+May+from+10-12+BST+for+monthly+maintenance
  2. [2] See http://www.zoology.wisc.edu/grad/attire.pdf
  3. [3] From Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O’Neil. See here.
 Posted by on February 21, 2012
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