“Thin slicing” — the psychological tendency for people to make assumptions about your attractiveness, personality, and all sorts of other things within seconds of meeting you— happens all the time.
Including at work.
Research suggests that colleagues and would-be clients make snap assessments about your earning potential, chance of getting promoted, and level of success.
In a 2011 Canadian study, 87 university students were shown photos of a man in professional or casual dress, and were asked what they expected his workplace outcomes to be.
The differences were obvious. Not only were the well-dressed men expected to make more money, they were expected to be promoted more rapidly. Meanwhile, the sloppily dressed guys were expected to receive more verbal harassment at work.
In a 2013 British-Turkish study, 274 participants had five seconds to look to at photos of men wearing suits — one group in tailored garb, the other in off-the-peg outfits.
The results may make you want to visit a tailor.
“The man was rated more positively on all attributes apart from trustworthiness when pictured in the bespoke suit,” the authors wrote. “On the evidence of this study it appears men may be advised to purchase clothing that is well‐tailored, as it can positively enhance the image they communicate to others.”
Sexism is present here, too. A 1990 study found that when women dress more masculinely — straight silhouettes, angular lines, and dark colours — they are considered to be more hireable than women in more flowing, feminine garb.
So what can we do with all this info?
Here’s what the experts advise:
• Look like you care about how you look. “Carelessness seems to signal that you don’t respect your coworkers or yourself,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of “Executive Presence.” “You certainly don’t respect the client if you show up with soup on your tie or bitten nails, anything to make you look unkempt.”
• Tailor your look to the situation. “If it’s Microsoft, it’s one outfit; in the US Army, it’s another,” says longtime executive recruiter Russell Reynolds. “You have to look like you belong to the group, [and] you have to look a little better than the group.” To do that, Hewlett says to “pattern yourself” after someone who’s particularly good at dressing a bit better than the rest of the group.
Stay away from the suggestive. “For women, a major blunder is sexually provocative clothing,” Hewlett says. “It’s tremendously undermining of your gravitas, because it’s either distracting or threatening. No matter your projection of your capabilities, if your skirt is too short or your neckline too plunging, you get struck off the list for a big client meeting or a promotion.”
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