Looking Good IS Important!

We are a very visual society!  With YouTube and the variety of entertainment shows, gossip magazines as well as the hundreds of reality shows, we give a lot of clout to what we see.   As someone in the advertising and marketing industry, exposure on TV is where it’s at.  Trends and fads get their forward motion via the media either by TV or the internet, both being visual in nature. 

            All across the world there are distinct definitions of what is beautiful.  What is beautiful in one country may be perceived as ugly in the next.  Why is beauty so important?  It seems that most people associate with what is beautiful with what is good.  There has been a lot of research on this topic with the same findings.   For example, a study done in measuring student success found that students that were perceived as “beautiful” were also perceived to be smarter and more inclined to succeed in school.  Outward beauty is defined by a culture and drives a multitude of product and service offerings.

            As I mentioned earlier, human beings subconsciously or perhaps unconsciously, size up other people, places and things on first encounters on very little information.  Attribution theory states that for human beings to function in a society where we face a barrage of stimuli constantly, we need to be able to categorize it quickly and do so on limited information.  It’s kind of like organizing your computer files, putting all the files in various folders as well as the recycle bin.  Or think about all the emails you receive, some you read some you delete and some you save for later.  It’s how we, as human beings, can simplify our lives and move on. 

            So understanding this mental process what are the nonverbal messages or cues that human beings use to categorize people that they encounter on a daily basis.  Some of these factors include clothes worn, body image, mannerisms, and overall appearance.  Everything about a person communicates messages about them.  For example, if you see someone and they have acne you might infer that they’re young, like teenagers.  If we see someone with glasses perhaps we might infer that they’re smart (or want to be) or do a lot of reading.  If we see a woman covering her head we may infer that she is a member of a particular religion or from another culture.  Bottom line we make inferences about people on very little information that subsequently influence how we interact with them.

            That’s why so much consideration is given to appearance.  The sum of the factors, such as clothing, body language and type, that constitutes an individual’s appearance and is perhaps considered beautiful and favorable in the eye of the beholder, subsequently promotes interaction between these individuals.  In fact appearance is about 55 percent of the evaluation in first impression situations.  Frankly, in the first 3-4 seconds people size up the people they meet on all the cues that are available such as hair, body type, clothes and mannerism.  All of this is done before we ever say hello!  And once that happens does what they say fulfill those expectations or break them?  As they say first impressions count and are so critical in the workplace, in interviews and on first dates!

            Further, in 30 seconds people make at least 11 assumptions about you including your occupation, social status, marital status, trustworthiness, credibility, ancestry, and most important, your likelihood to succeed!  Everyone wants to be around a winner!  In interviews, about 75 percent of the decision to hire you is based on your appearance.  The actual interview itself is whether you fulfill the expectations set when you both saw each other.   Additionally, there is an 8-20 percent difference in the entry salary you receive based on your appearance.  Maybe you look like a person that the company wants to invest in and maybe you don’t – it’s up to you.

Moreover, research has shown that people are attracted to others that dress like them.  Often, someone’s appearance infers their political beliefs, values and attitudes.  Let’s say you are interviewing for a position at Saks Fifth Avenue.  Do you look like a Saks Fifth Avenue employee or someone from Walmart?  You decide – do you want to look the part?

            However, realize that impressions can be broken.  For example, if we have little experience working with persons with disabilities we may hold a negative impression based on an outward physical disability.  Yet when we get to know them we may find that they are brilliant and wonderful to work with.  If you meet someone, extend a hand to shake it but they give you a very weak shake, this may be due to problems with arthritis.   If we encounter someone that has their arms folded we may infer that they are in a defensive posture and reluctant to meet others when in actuality they may be cold.  Or perhaps you’re trying to do business with someone from another country, perhaps Japan.  You are frustrated because they don’t give you eye contact.  Well in many Asian countries eye contact is perceived as inappropriate and where they do look might be your forehead.  As with impressions, nothing is in stone; however, we want to put our best foot forward.

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About vseitz

Marketing Professor at California State University, San Bernardino and author of "I Don't Wear A Suit."

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