Wednesday 22 May 2019

Setting a style to make your first impression count

'The past week The New York Times dedicated an entire article to the humble garment known as
'The past week The New York Times dedicated an entire article to the humble garment known as "leggings"'

Gina London

The past week The New York Times dedicated an entire article to the humble garment known as "leggings". Controversy was stirred up in my home state of Indiana after a mother of a Notre Dame college student wrote an open letter urging female students to stop wearing the skin-hugging pants because, according to her, it made it harder for men to control themselves.

Obviously the "you wear it/you ask for it" implication from the Notre Dame mom ignited a firestorm. I'm not going to weigh in on that particular debate (especially since right now as I type my column in my dining room, I happen to be wearing my favourite pair of incredibly soft, comfy leggings).

But since January, I've been drafting a book with the working title of "Relearning your ABC's, Appearance, Behaviour and Communications". Looking over my draft so far, I see I've dedicated more than 6,000 words to the chapters covering Appearance.

When it comes to clothing, I promise I don't lay out a rigid, proscriptive check-list of specific items people should or should not wear. (But I do make some general suggestions.)

When it comes to grooming, I promise I don't roll out an exhaustive treatise about the current trend of man-buns and beards for young men or the current propensity for young Irish women to construct black geometric shapes where their eyebrows used to be and attach furry caterpillars to where their eyelashes used to be. (But I do make some general suggestions).

More to the point, using plenty of scientific research, I explain the many reasons why we humans make judgements based on appearance. I then explore how we can begin to take make more conscious decisions regarding our appearance aimed at more rapidly and effectively positively connecting ourselves to others.

So, for today, here's a quick peek at the premise:

1 We are constantly judging on appearances

If we have sight, we make evaluations based on what we see. According to some researchers, a first impression occurs in seven seconds. But I contend it's even quicker than that. We make judgements at the speed with which it takes information to travel from our eyes along our optic nerve to the visual cortex of our brains.

The science journal Current Biology compares it to the speed of the ethernet, which transmits data between computers at a rate of 10 million to 100 million bits per second. I can't get my head around what that means. But it's pretty darn fast.

2 We need to think more consciously about ourselves

If you want to take more control of your life and your goals, the first step is to develop your self-awareness - from the inside out. Inside: What are your values? What do you stand for? What do you want? Reflect and come to concrete conclusions. Then you can begin to cultivate an outside look through clothing and other appearance choices that augments the you that you want to project.

3 We need to think more consciously about our audiences

Think about rapport and respect. Conscious and purposeful communicators strategically consider their target audience and make choices depending on the communication event. Are you an executive who's going to present to your company's board? Are you that same executive who is going to present to your manufacturing team in the factory? Depending on your audience, your clothing choices may be altered.

If you're going to stand defiantly and tell me, "Take me as I am, Gina", that's your choice too. Go to your next professional job interview in leggings. In a corporate setting, I would argue, they're a no-go. Assuming you're not applying to work with Lululemon, let me know how you get on. I save my leggings for the house, the gym or yoga studio - or just plain running. Unless they're made of gold lame or something, they're pretty casual. That's the message you're likely sending. If that's what you're going for, fabulous. If not, reconsider.

Tip of The Communicator hat

This week I have two tips of my hat to give: The first to Sinead - a terrific teen I met with her mother attending the recent Thrive Festival I spoke at in Dublin. We took a selfie together and we're now corresponding through Instagram. Never be afraid to take initiative to reach out to someone, kids!

And my second hat tip is to Olive - who wrote a very nice personal letter to me stating that although she is 85 and "20 years retired from business," she is still loyal to the Sunday Independent business section and "loves" my column. Thank you, Olive! And thank you too, for the hilarious way you described clipping articles for your grandchildren: "I am a joke in the family. The young people say, 'God, who's getting the piece of the Indo this week'?" Fantastic.

Grandparents out there, don't let up. My own "grampa" as I used to call him, did the same thing for me back in the day. He's long passed now. But those clipped articles - complete with his hand-written commentaries in the margins - are some of my favourite treasures.

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