Q My 32-year-old daughter brought her new boyfriend over to meet me for the first time. I wasn't prepared for his short, square build ... or his balding head, but I could accept those surprises. What got to me were his shirt and his shoes. The shirt had one of those high necks ... a man's mandarin collar. Sure, it was a style I'd seen in stores, but on him, it looked like he was covering something up. Fat men shouldn't wear high, tight collars.
Then I looked down and saw his shoes. The toes came to points! The thing that crossed my mind was, "What kind of man wears pointy shoes?" The story doesn't end here, because, as I got to know the man, I discovered he had plenty of character faults to hide, and I was glad when my daughter got rid of him. So, take this as a warning, you men out there. Watch how you dress when you meet the woman who may become your mother-in-law.
A Well, you just made the point I have been trying to say for years: even if it is not fair, people do make all kinds of judgments about us based on what we wear. After all, at first glance or at a first meeting, that is all they have to go on. They don't know our history; they don't know our IQ; they don't know our strengths. What they do know is what they see.
When I was writing my book, "Dress for Excellence," I interviewed a variety of highly successful business and professional men, asking for their opinions about the connection between how men dressed and how the world perceived them. One of the most succinct answers I got was from the president of a prestigious university. "Everything a person decides upon and uses says something about that person. The car he drives, the movies he goes to, the music he listens to, and the newspapers he reads -- all tell you something. Clothes tell you immediately, of course, because one sees them right away. The signals can be misleading; but since the style and type of clothing are determined by the individual (no one is twisting his arm to wear any particular style), they can be revealing -- often, I believe, accurately so."
A woman I spoke with told me that there are occasions when she attends a large reception with many men standing around talking to one another. In a sea of similarity, she said that she usually walks up to speak with a man who has set himself apart from the crowd by wearing a handsome necktie. Our lives are filled with so many elements over which we have no control: our background, our body type, our coloring, etc. But we do have elements that we can control ... and what we wear and how we choose to present ourselves to the world are among them.
To those who are skeptical, I say think back to a time when you met someone for the first time and you were dressed less than your best. You suspect that he formed an unspoken opinion of you at the time and never changed it. You're probably right. After all, others are no different about changing their minds than you are. When was the last time you revised your opinion of someone you didn't feel was first-rate?
Why put yourself in an uncomfortable position when it is so easy to avoid? If you want to be welcomed, accepted by others, give some extra thought to the clothes you wear. It's not hard to do.
• Make conservative/traditional clothing choices (just as you would for a job interview);
• Learn how to color coordinate what you wear;
• Choose colors that are flattering to your coloring and that do not come on "too strong";
• Be sure your clothes fit you well;
• Be fastidious about your grooming.
I have always stressed the importance of this in business dealings because losing out there based solely on clothing is the last thing you want ... but perhaps losing out in a relationship because of what you are wearing might be even worse. Or in more current terminology, you want them to swipe right, not left!
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