Dress for Success

Why Dressing For Success Is NOT Enough

You meet two men. One is wears waist-length dreadlocks and a bright T-shirt over cargo pants and sandals, and has a loose, shambling walk. The other wears short, neat hair and a gray suit with a tie and polished shoes, and walks upright.

Which one is the accountant?

Obviously either man could be an accountant, but the man in the suit seems more obviously like an accountant. His hair, clothing, and body language provide cues (evidence) about what he does.

A cue is something that signals some information about a person, group, or business. It’s a shortcut to information.

Cues aren’t necessarily accurate. Perhaps you know someone who is straight, but gets mistaken for gay. Or someone who is fantastically competent, but no one takes them seriously at work. Somehow, they are presenting cues that give people inaccurate information about them.

People use cues to guess about things they can’t know or don’t understand. A surgeon with a filthy office and ragged fingernails is less likely to get hired than a surgeon with a clean office and clipped nails. People use the cues they do understand to estimate the surgeon’s performance doing what they don’t understand. A surgeon who takes care of details like his fingernail is probably more likely to take care of details when removing an appendix, right?

That’s why dressing for success works. People are more likely to hire or promote you if your clothing cues say that you’re competent and appropriate. A clerk who wants to get promoted can dress like a supervisor. A house painter going door-to-door got get more jobs by leaving his suit at home and dressing in paint-spattered overalls. Getting results is often about the signals you send via the cues you provide.

That’s why simply dressing for success isn’t enough. People also evaluate other cues – your gestures, posture, body language, voice tonality, word choice, hair style, accessories, and more.

Multiple cues of the same information, such as gender, “stack” and reinforce each other. Conflicting cues tend to cancel each other.

The next time you’re in a checkout line or in a supermarket or mall, look around. You’ll notice women wearing dresses who don’t look very feminine because their other cues are gender-neutral or masculine: no makeup, no jewelry, unisex shoes and haircut. You’ll also see women in unisex T-shirts and jeans who look feminine. They do that by stacking lots of other cues: makeup, jewelry, hairstyle, shoes, handbag, gestures, body language, voice tone and word choice. The most feminine-looking women wear feminine clothing and provide the other cues as well. Caution: stacking too many cues can cause problems also. Use moderation.

Your boss, clients, customers, mate, potential dates, social contacts, business contacts, and everyone else you come in contact with uses cues to evaluate you and judge your social status, attractiveness, and competence. It’s worth getting your cues to work for you.

Want to tune up your cues to start getting more of the results you want? We will offer a course about this soon. -Wilma Keppel

Peace Love Trance,

Dr. Michael Harris, PhD