"Don't judge a book by its cover" are old and familiar words used to express the idea that outward appearances can be deceiving and it is only by taking some time to get to know the inner part can we decide if something is of interest or of value. This is true for books, but life experience tells us that it is also true for much more, including people. Good-looking "covers" can be shallow and disillusion us and tattered "covers" can turn out to be treasures.
Why then do many people take the time to dress in a certain manner for various professions or occasions as if it matters? Fashions may change, but this overall theme does not. That is because whether we like it or not, outward appearances affect how we are perceived, both with first impressions and in on-going personal and professional relationships.
Dress can also greatly affect how we feel about ourselves, thus we take measures to be fashionable for our era as seen in the three recent columns with "Keeping beautiful since 1921," "Fashion must haves for spring and summer 2012," and "Battle of the bulge." Simply put, outward expressions through dress matter and often communicate the respect we have for ourselves, our job and the people around us.
As an example of professional dress, think about who is likely to be perceived with more credibility by the public when seeking legal or medical advice and purchasing other goods and services such as education, financial planning, insurance, a home or other valuable items. Is it the person in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt or is it the professionally dressed man with a dress shirt and tie and woman with similar attire? Of course, the latter is much more likely to be considered the one with more knowledge and authority, and is therefore afforded more respect and acceptance.
Likewise, the same holds true for those in other industries such as the clean and crisp appearance of the waiter and waitress in the restaurant and the store. We have more confidence in who might cut our hair when they themselves seem to have taken time with their own style and fashion. A "uniform" look in most businesses is important. It says, "I am a professional and know what I am doing." This communicates a level of respect for self to have taken the time to gain knowledge and that people can trust us with that background.
In most businesses, past and present, this outward appearance of dress has an effect on the bottom line - its profit. In some other environments however, success is a bit less tangible to determine, specifically in the field of education. One book called, "The First Days of School," speaks of the importance of dress and that research has shown how a teacher dresses affects the level of respect a student has for the teacher, as well as the student's work, attitude and discipline. All teachers know that without respect and these other traits that learning will be greatly hindered. The reality of teaching is that success is student learning. The book boldly states that this begins by "gaining and keeping the respect of students which begins with appearance."
Furthermore, coming to school inappropriately dressed communicates to the student that the teacher does not care about her/himself, so neither should the student. It's just seems to be a psychological fact that when students care about the teacher that the result is respect. As stated, "When people care about you they will respect you, learn from you, and buy from you. As a professional educator, you are selling your students knowledge and success for the future."
One trend related to dress and fashion that has developed over the past decade or so is the "casual Friday" which in some cases has spilled over to other days. Of course, each person and business needs to judge what is appropriate. Does it mean a collared shirt with no tie, or is it jeans and even sneakers? From a consumer point of view however, could it give the impression that the work for that day is also casual without more serious effort as other days? That could be very counter-productive in academic environments. All in all, our outward expressions of dress and grooming send messages about ourselves and others and also have an influence on the way we act. Does our appearance convey respect for ourselves, others, and the occasion? While clothes of course, "don't make the man," as said in the book for educators, "clothing can be a contributing factor in unmaking the person." This seems to be a "yesterdays" message that also holds true for today that could be modeled and taught to children in their daily endeavors and preparation for the future.
Make it a good week. Feel free to share your memories or comments. We welcome ideas and insights to share in the future.
Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org