Whilst keeping up with my online fashion network this morning I stumbled across this image on Net-a-porter’s Instagram feed:
The quote spoke to me because it encapsulates the essence of fashion for me. What you choose to wear says more about you than anything you say immediately afterward. It is your instant business card before you’ve even reached into your pocket and reveals a great deal about how you feel about yourself, what is important to you and what message you wish to convey to the outside world. Do you like to take risks or play it safe? Is your style trendy or timeless? Are you messy or neat? Disorganised or a stickler for detail?
Reading these visual clues is something we all do subconsciously and changing or adapting those first impressions later on is a slow and arduous process. So it is important to get that first impression right and to put some thought into the image you wish to convey. There is of course no right or wrong style, merely social conventions which you can choose to adhere by or (sub)consciously reject. But whether you spend hours in front of your wardrobe planning your outfit or slip on the upper most shirt in your pile the impact is the same.
A great way to demonstrate this effect is by doing an exercise I was asked to do during my fashion design degree. You can do this with a small group of friends, acquaintances or work colleagues. In fact the less well you know each other the better. You will each need paper and pen: In small groups of around 3-4 silently evaluate each other’s looks from top to bottom, beginning with hairstyle and ending with shoes. Make sure to take into account the small details such as jewellery, make-up, the condition of the clothes, seam details, etc… Now write down your assumptions about the character traits of the other people in your group based on these observations. You will be surprised by how much you will put down on your sheet of paper. The final step is to take turns presenting your findings to the larger group and then asking the object of the evaluation whether your assumptions are correct. What you will find is that we each seek to identify ourselves with a particular ‘fashion tribe’. There is a wonderful photography project called ‘Exactitudes‘ that captures this phenomenon in a beautiful and gently humorous way. There is no right or wrong outcome to this exercise – it is merely a tool for demonstrating what impact your appearance has on others. It can be valuable to run this as an image building exercise in your company, particularly for sales teams or other outward customer facing roles. It could also be a great resource for individuals before attending an interview or it could form a small workshop session in your local coaching or networking group. If you do run this exercise, please let me know how it went and what insights you gained.