Communication happens long before you open your mouth. Whether you’re a presenter, a salesman, a preacher, or a guest, people will make categorical judgments based on how you look long before you have a chance to have a meaningful engagement. It might not be fair, but, nonetheless, it’s what happens. You can choose to deal with it or live with the consequences.
Recently I had a meeting at a very conservative client’s office where I was supposed to meet with a new team and the CEO. I dressed appropriately to the occasion, a suit and tie. But I forgot that I was meeting a potential new client, an author, during one of my afternoon meetings. Interestingly, one of her first observations was “I expected you to be dressed more casually, since you’re in marketing.”
Some might say that you need to be yourself, dress the way you want and be done with it. No need to try to impress people (as my 15 year old will argue when I tell him: “no, you’re not wearing that”). I disagree. I believe you should be yourself but dress appropriately to whatever environment you’re trying to impact.
Some clients will discredit me if I show up in a suit for a meeting. In their minds, I could not relate to their, cutting-edge business or ministry. They would see me, at least initially, as old school and not relevant. Others, however, would feel very nervous taking strategic and creative direction from someone wearing faded jeans and a white belt (ok, even I feel nervous about the white belt–it only lasted a short season). So why should you fight an insignificant battle or begin your engagement at a “deficit” of influence just because of what you’re wearing? You can still be yourself and dress appropriately to the occasion.
Interestingly my personal sense of style allows me to wear anything from suits to jeans without losing my own identity. For example, I don’t have to wear dated, doubled breasted suits to a meeting. Personally, I like the more tapered, smaller lapel and thinner pant-leg suits that are currently popular.
How much thought do you give about what you wear?